Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Saturday scrimmage wrap

Another spring practice is in the books. Just a quick note first. I will soon be handing this blog over to Register colleague Jim Fuller, who will take over the UConn football beat starting in August. Jim is a bulldog of a worker who has spent the last several years covering Yale football and UConn women's hoops, among other things. I will be taking over as the full-time columnist at the Register, and will start a new blog for anyone interested in reading random thoughts and ideas as well as references to obscure 80s movies and heavy metal.

On to today's practice.

  • First scrimmage of the spring was a rough one for the quarterbacks. Defenses are usually well ahead of the offense at this time of year, and it's no different this time around. All five had their struggles adjusting to game speed and situations. Casey Cochran, who has been sharp so far, took a big blindside hit from Wilbert Lee. Paul Pasqualoni was impressed with how quickly Cochran bounced up and got ready for the next play, however.

  • New quarterbacks coach Shane Day is still sorting out the best ways to evaluate a five quarterback rotation. The first day wasn't great, but he says all five are progressing. "There's a lot of work to be done," Day said. "We're still trying to learn the offense. Now they've gotten their feet wet with the first scrimmage, this is the first stage of many more we're going to have to go through."

  • Several players on the sidelines with what Pasqualoni termed minor injuries, including receivers Shakim Phillips, Kamal Abrams and Geremy Davis and tailback D.J. Shoemate. Guard Joe Danielson and linebacker David Kenney also among those not playing.

  • Be glad Michael Smith is back. He's making big catching, picking up yards after the catch and showing leadership. Smith, who missed last season with academic issues, says he's better than he was two years ago when he led the team in receiving and still a play-maker. "I'm still that guy, don't worry," said Smith in his trademark rasp, which gives him a voice that reminds me of Louis Armstrong or Redd Foxx. "I'm still a play-maker. That's one thing about me that will never change."

  • Freshman tailback Joe Williams is special. Lyle McCombs is still the No. 1 back, but Williams may find his way onto the field this fall.

  • Brandon Steg chased down quarterback Chandler Whitmer for the sack, knocking him into Pasqualoni in the process, knocking the coach onto his rear end. Pasqualoni was OK after the play.

  • Whitmer's first three snaps from scrimmage included a fumble and an interception. McCummings was banged up at one point, and taken out for precautionary reasons. Michael Nebrich looked as solid as I've seen him this spring. Johnny McEntee had a decent day, too. McEntee also trimmed 15 pounds of fat off his frame and looks lean. "I thought it might help my speed," McEntee said. "But it doesn't. You're either born with it or not."

  • The big hits of the day came from defensive tackle Ryan Wirth (on McCombs) and Taylor Mack (on DeShonn Foxx).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Some first-day musings

First day of spring practice? Felt more like preseason camp with temps hitting 80 degrees today. Practice was held indoors, where it was much more comfortable than the sweat-shop like conditions here in the bowls of Gampel. Either the heat is cranked in this building or I have malaria. Either way, some quick notes from today...

  • Quarterback competitions have been the norm at UConn since Dan Orlovsky left in 2004. It's an open audition for five guys vying to be the next starting QB. It's a lot like American Idol, only if Randy Jackson critiqued contestants with an occasional profanity-laced tirade.

  • You know the five quarterbacks. Who is the favorite? It has to be Chandler Whitmer, the Juco transfer from Butler CC in Kansas. UConn needs consistency, leadership and a vertical passing attack. That's exactly what Whitmer can give them, and why he was brought to Storrs. Originally an Illinois recruit, he left because the Illini passing game looked a lot like UConn's -- at least what UConn's has become since DanO left, not what Pasqualoni and George DeLeone envision in the future. " we got going and (Nathan) Scheelhaase got named the starter, we tailored our offense to his strengths. I don't believe we had the same strengths. We did some pistol with the zone reads and short quick throws. I wanted to get into a pro-style offense with play-action and deeper routes and play to what my strengths are."

  • Casey Cochran is sound fundamentally, understands the game and has a work ethic well beyond his years. He remained after practice to run wind sprints and do pushups well after everyone else had left -- John Silver of the J-I and I actually had to interrupt him to get a quick interview. Shane Day, who came from coaching the Chicago Bears QBs to UConn, said, "He’s just out of high school, but it’s like he’s 25 years old. He’s as serious as guys who I’ve worked with in the NFL. And that’s just his personality. That’s who he is.” Cochran could win the job outright, though given the fact that UConn has Whitmer and two other quarterbacks with three years of eligibility, it seems more likely he'll be redshirted. Unless he's just too good to sit right now.

  • D.J. Shoemate apparently got his sixth-year waiver. He was at practice, and looked bigger. Stronger. Faster. UConn may need a little size at tailback, though it might come from freshman Joe Williams. Aside from being 201 pounds on a 5-10 frame, the one word to best describe Williams would be 'explosive.'

  • Liked what I saw from new receiver Shakim Phillips, the BC transfer, who adds size to the receiver position. Penn State transfer Alex Mateas may have the inside track on replacing Moe Petrus at center, and Ryan Donohue, the transfer from Maryland, had a decent showing at linebacker.