Saturday, March 30, 2013

Looking back at Pro Day

                                                                                      (Associated Press photo)
Former UConn teammates Nick Williams and Sio Moore share a laugh
during a break at Wednesday's Pro Day at UConn.
There's no question who the headliners are among the current group of former UConn stars taking part in pre-draft preparations.

There are some who believe that comeback Blidi Wreh-Wilson may have run his way into first-round consideration after a pair of impressive 40-yard dashes at UConn's Pro Day on Wednesday and linebacker Sio Moore have been soaring up the draft boards with eye-opening efforts in post-season all-star game. I have seen Dwayne Gratz rated higher among corners than Wreh-Wilson and Trevardo Williams certainly has the production as UConn's career sacks leader and dazzled at the NFL combine.

Likely the majority of the 29 teams represented at the NFL timing day were lured by the aforementioned quartet who all had scintillating efforts at the NFL combine. However, the Pro Day was a chance for some of the other Huskies to show what they could do.

Receivers Nick Williams and Michael Smith, linebacker Jory Johnson, offensive lineman Adam Masters and tight end Ryan Griffin were among the under the radar prospects who should at least be on the radar of the teams who made the trip to Storrs.

"I think a lot of these guys have long careers ahead of them and I am really excited for them," Nick Williams said.

"I think we will have a few guys drafted and we will have a couple of guys in camps. It just shows that UConn 10 years ago, that wasn’t the case and now you can see that you can make the professional ranks out of UConn and it is all a cycle."

While Gratz, Moore, Trevardo Williams and Wreh-Wilson already posted the numbers to catch the attention  of all the NFL teams regardless of what happened on Wednesday, that was not the case for their former UConn teammates.

"I woke up this morning and said this is really my opportunity to show so I wanted to come out here and have a good day. I think I did pretty well in the weight room and with some other stuff," Johnson said. "Hopefully I did as well as I could, I have been planning for this for a few months. It was great being out there with those guys, they did a great job at the combine and we really showed what kind of players we had.

"I've been very busy, it's a lot of hard work. A lot of us were real dedicated, we want this so bad so we put a lot of work into it. You saw it (Wednesday) and you saw it at the combine.

"It has been kind of shocking. I heard a lot of scouts were going to be here but then you see all of these guys out here and it is not every day that this many teams come to UConn. It was great. There are a lot of guys out here who didn’t get to go (to the combine or all-star games) so it was good to show. I was real nervous to get out here and I am relieved that it is over, show what I can do and it is kind of out of my hands right now."

While the main objective was to dazzle the NFL scouts on hand, Wednesday's event brought out plenty of emotions as it is the last time UConn football's Class of 2012 will share a football field together.

"It is fun being back with the guys, just be loose and have fun even though there is some pressure on us, it is fun being back," Griffin said. "It is a good opportunity to show what we’ve got."

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Huskies' pro prospects draw a crowd

Maybe it is because this was my first time at UConn's Pro Day and I was accustomed to having another three or four NFL teams at Yale's NFL timing day over the last few years, but I came away extremely impressed with what I saw today.

                                                          (Associated Press photo)
Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Sio Moore could be the first two
UConn players taken in April's NFL draft.
By the count of us media folks, the only teams not sending a scout, coach or player personnel rep to Storrs were Dallas (which is ironically the place head coach Paul Pasqualoni was working when he accepted the UConn job), Minnesota and Washington. Obviously the appearance of New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick created quite the stir but most of the waves were made by the Huskies.

The NFL combine stars (Dwayne Gratz, Sio Moore, Trevardo Williams and Blidi Wreh-Wilson) only did a select few drills because they posted such spectacular numbers at the NFL combine.

Wreh-Wilson did cause a few jaws to drop by running the 40 under 4.4 seconds according to a few of the unofficial times. His two 40s at the combine were so far apart that the scouts wanted him to show he had the elite speed necessary for a cornerback to be drafted in the first or second round.

"I just wanted to put a stamp on it," Wreh-Wilson said. "At the combine my hand time was a 4.47 and my second one wasn’t anything that I even wanted to talk about. The last two weeks, I went home for a couple of days and trained and I really wanted to put a stamp on it and show how fast I really am so there are no question marks."

The news was not as good for Trevardo Williams who was battling ankle, groin and back issues which flared up while doing the agility drills like the 3-cone drill and 60-yard shuttle.

"I gave them everything that I had and I just hope they appreciated it," Williams said. "I was a little concerned about how it was going to affect me especially after the shuttle and kind of tweaked it and I knew right them it wasn’t going to be a good run."

With UConn's top four pro prospects didn't take part in too many drills, that opened up a chance for some of the under the radar prospects to shine.

Nobody seemed to take advantage of that more than receiver Nick Williams as his strong day was highlighted by a 37-inch effort in the vertical jump.

Williams is better known as a dynamic punt and kickoff returner but if he is to make it in the NFL, he will need to do so at a slot receiver as well. The good news is that players like Davone Bess and Danny Amendola have done quite nicely for themselves as NFL slot receivers even though they went undrafted.

"I am not trail blazing right now, guys who are like me have been successful; guys who don’t run 4.3 have gone onto the NFL and have had great careers so you just have to put your mind to it, believe and hopefully you make the most of your opportunity," Williams said.

The day started with offensive guard Adam Masters and defensive tackle Ryan Wirth doing 33 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press.

Tight end Ryan Griffin also did pretty well for himself including a vertical jump of 34.5.

"I just wanted to prove that I deserved a shot at the combine and I deserve a shot in the league," Griffin said. "I feel like I did that. I could have done a little better in some of the areas but overall I am pretty happy with how I performed. I am going to get a shot whether I just sign in camp and hopefully I will hear my name called but either way you have to perform."

It made for a special day for this senior class which has endured some ups and downs over the years.

Tight ends Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt
work out during UConn's Pro Day

"I think we will have a few guys drafted and we will have a couple of guys in camps," Nick Williams said. "It just shows that UConn 10 years ago, that wasn’t the case and now you can see that you can make the professional ranks out of UConn and it is all a cycle. You don’t realize it but it is marketing for the program and even Johnny Mac (quarterback Johnny McEntee) when he makes a trick-shot video it gets five million views and that is five million people seeing the UConn facility so the publicity is a great thing for the program and to see those guys go out and perform on the stage and have (NFL Network drat guru) Mike Mayock and all of those guys talking up the program."

I still have to finish transcribing my tape, especially with the interviews with Moore and Jory Johnson so I will have more at some point but one last thing I found out today is that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL already own tight end John Delahunt's rights so if the NFL doesn't come calling, the Ottawa native could find a home north of the border.

"I’ve talked to them and told them I was going to come down and give the NFL a try and they supported me in that and I will just see what happens after today," Delahunt said.

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UConn to face Boise State in 2014 and 2018

UConn and Boise State, programs once thought to be in the same conference, will be playing each other after all.

UConn announced that it has agreed to face Boise in a home and home. The series kicks off with a game at Rentschler Field on Sept. 13, 2014 and the return game is Sept. 8, 2018.

Boise State has the best winning percentage (.875) and average points per game (41.0) since the start of the 2000 season.

"There will be a tradition here of playing some high level teams each year outside the conference and I think in the last month I think we have demonstrated exactly what that commitment is, those are pretty high-level teams," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said.

It was also announced on Wednesday that East Carolina is joining UConn's yet to be named conference or at it should be called "The Best of What Is Left" Conference in all sports as of July 1, 2014. Originally East Carolina was supposed to be added for football only but a few defections later led to the change.

Here's a look at UConn's non-conference schedule in the upcoming years with some openings still needed to be filled

It's job interview time for former Huskies

                                                                                   (Associated Press photo)
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Sio Moore and Trevardo Williams lead the list of UConn
products for the 2013 NFL draft. Nearly every NFL team is expected to send
representatives to today's pro day being held at UConn.
It was impossible to walk around the Burton Family Complex during the time that UConn was holding its most recent spring practice yesterday and not bump into one of the seniors from the 2012 squad.

I spotted Sio Moore, Adam Masters, Nick Williams and Michael Smith checking out the practice. They had a good reason to be back in town as they will
take part in UConn's annual pro day this afternoon.

Between strong showings in postseason all-star games or eye-opening efforts at the NFL combine, there is quite the buzz surrounding the UConn's pro prospects.

There may not be a player at any school who has upper his stock more since the season ended than Moore. He went from being an under the radar guy to being the No. 4 rated 4-3 outside linebacker by NFL Network's Mike Mayock. Blidi Wreh-Wilson is Mayock' No. 5 rated cornerback and Wreh-Wilson has been slotted in as a late first-round pick on previous mock drafts done by ESPN's Todd McShay. There are some, however, who rate Dwayne Gratz ahead of Wreh-Wilson in their pre-draft coverage. Trevardo Williams is another one of the former Huskies who put up scintillating testing numbers at the NFL combine. It's not out of the realm of possibility that all four of them could go somewhere in the top four rounds.

Considering how well they performed at the combine, I would not be the least bit surprised to see those four sit out many of the drills today since they have done more than enough to catch the eyes of NFL scouts. However, this is a huge day for players like tight ends Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt, offensive guard Adam Masters, linebacker Jory Johnson and receivers Smith and Williams.

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni has encouraged all the 2012 seniors to take part because you never know who might catch the attention of the NFL scouts converging on UConn this afternoon.

Here is where the UConn players are ranked on CBS' database
Player                                 Pos      Posiiton Rank     Overall Rank      Projection
Dwayne Gratz                   CB               12                          86                    2nd-3rd
Ryan Griffin                      TE               22                        414                  Free agent
Jory Johnson                    OLB             34                         366                  Free agent
Sio Moore                        OLB              6                           66                     2nd
Michael Smith                   WR             91                        692                   Free agent
Trevardo Williams           OLB              8                           76                     2nd-3rd
Blidi Wreh-Wilson            CB              14                        101                     3rd

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Social media has changed the face of recruiting

One of the first things that struck me during the recently-completed recruiting cycle was how actively some of the headliners among the group of incoming freshmen were on Twitter.

I recall one time when quarterback Richard Lagow went as far as to ease any concerns the UConn fans might have of offensive lineman Kyle Schafenacker being convinced to flip from UConn to South Florida and as I saw other recruits bantering with each other and UConn fans over several months it was pretty evident how much times have changed. So over the last several weeks I have been working on a story on how social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have changed the world of recruiting.

UConn kicker to miss rest of spring practice

                                                                                    (Associated Press photo)
UConn senior kicker Chad Christen, seen in action during South Florida,
reaggravated the groin injury he suffered late in his junior season and he
will miss the rest of spring practice following recent surgery.
After senior kicker Chad Christen reinjured his groin in almost the same exact fashion which resulted in him missing the final game of the 2012 season, the UConn coaches and medical staff were not messing around as he underwent surgery and will miss the rest of spring drills.

"We had to do a little bit of surgery, everything came out great and he will be ready to go for the season," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "We weren’t going to take a chance on getting into preseason camp and having anything wrong with him so we did the MRI with him and felt like we would go in there and do a little repair surgery.

"(He was) just warming up, kicking a PAT. It was almost the way it happened the first time warming up kicking the PAT and he felt a strain. He rehabbed it and is doing really well."

Pasqualoni said that he expects nearly every NFL team to be represented when the seniors on the 2012 squad work out at the Huskies' annual pro day on Wednesday afternoon.

"I am awful excited about it that they prepared hard for this and it hasn’t been casual preparation so of 32 teams in the NFL there will probably be like 28 or 29 tomorrow which really says something," Pasqualoni said. "There will be a lot of coaches, a lot of scouts, probably a general manager or two so I am anxious and hopeful that they have a great day.

"You wouldn’t have this many guys coming if they weren’t fired up about it. Teams are sending multiple coaches, sending two and three guys here and that means they are interested in getting accurate information and an accurate evaluation."

Southern Connecticut State coach Rich Cavanaugh and offensive coordinator Tom Godek, former Cheshire High coach Mark Ecke and Staples head coach Marce Petroccio were among the large group of college and high school coaches checking out UConn's practice.

Pasqualoni and Cavanaugh go way back.

"It is always great to see Rich," Pasqualoni said. "When I left Southern Connecticut Rich took my place at Southern Connecticut and that was back in 1978 and he has done a fabulous job there so he is a terrific football coach, we are always excited to see him."

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Reyes to enter Nashua's Boys and Girls Club Hall of Fame

                                                                                                                                                                    (Associated Press photo)
Former UConn defensive tackle Kendall Reyes, seen after recording one of his 3.5 sacks in a Dec. 23 game against
the New York Jets, will be inducted into the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Nashua Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
Former UConn star Kendall Reyes will be inducted into the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Nashua (N.H.) on Wednesday, the same day that some of his former teammates will be performing in front of NFL scouts at UConn's annual Pro Day.

Reyes was a second-round pick of the San Diego Chargers in the 2012 draft and finished with 28 tackles and 5.5 sacks as a rookie. All of his sacks came in two games as he made a pair against Denver on Nov. 18 and 3.5 in a game against the New York Jets on Dec. 23. He only had seven tackles in the first nine games but ended up with 21 tackles in his final seven contests aided by earning starts in the final four games.

Reyes played at UConn from 2008-11 and finished with 142 tackles including 32.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.

UConn commit wins NY Federation basketball title

                                                                                      (Associated Press photo)
UConn football signee Jordan Fuchs (No. 2) ended his high school
basketball career by helping Christ the King win the NY Federation title
Jordan Fuchs, one of more celebrated of the incoming freshmen, ended his high school basketball career in style as he was a member of the Christ the King squad which beat Long Island Lutheran 73-64 in the New York Federation of Champions Class AA title game.

I was not able to locate a box score to report any stats from Fuchs, who projects to play tight end at UConn, but his teammate Jon Severe had 28 points to earn tournament MVP honors and set a tournament record with 68 points in the two games.

UConn basketball commit Kentan Facey had 16 points and seven rebounds in the loss.

Friday, March 22, 2013

UConn commit goes for NY Federation title

Jordan Fuchs' future sport in college will be football as he signed to be a tight end at UConn but before he competes for playing time on the gridiron, he gets a chance to end his high school basketball career in style.

Fuchs finished with four points as Christ the King defeated Bishop Kearney 68-55 in the semifinals of the Class AA Federation Tournament of Championship Class tournament.  The Royals play Long Island Lutheran in Saturday night's title game.

It was a night to remember for one of Fuchs' teammates as senior guard Jon Severe had 40 points and after the game found out he was the winner of the New York Mr. Basketball Award.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

ESPN signs contract with current Big East football schools

The FBS schools currently in the Big East don't have a name for the conference they will play in next season but they do have a TV deal as ESPN announced it has reached agreement to televise football and basketball games.

Here are the highlights courtesy of the release sent out by the conference

Nearly 90 percent of the games will be carried on national broadcast or national cable. The minimum number of telecasts collectively on ABC/ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU will be higher than the number of telecasts in the current contract, which expires at the end of the 2013 season.
The conference championship football game, which is expected to begin in 2015, will be carried by ABC or ESPN on Championship Saturday.
In men’s basketball, all conference controlled games will be televised. More than 63 percent of the games will be carried on national broadcast or national cable, which will be a minimum of 107 games. The entire conference postseason basketball tournament will be on national television.  The championship game will be televised on ABC or ESPN.
In women’s basketball,.nearly 60 games will be televised on national cable, regional sports networks and ESPN3, including the entire women’s basketball postseason tournament.  Eighteen regular-season games will be televised nationally. The women’s basketball tournament championship game will be on ESPN or ESPN2.

The current ESPN deal with the Big East expires after the 2013 season.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Former UConn OL finds a home with Colts

It's been a pretty lucrative offseason for some former UConn stars and other state products.
                                                                                       (Associated Press photo)
Former UConn offensive lineman Donald Thomas will go from protecting
future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady to doing the same for Andrew Luck

Robert McClain earned a bonus of $269,000 for his play with the Atlanta Falcons while Darius Butler was re-signed by Indianapolis.

Former Norwich Free Academy star Matt Shaughnessy and Windsor's Terrance Knighton signed with Arizona and Denver respectively. Shaughnessy signed for one year and Knighton for two years so bigger pay days could be ahead.

However, nobody did better for themselves during this free-agency period than former UConn offensive lineman Donald Thomas.

Thomas, signed a four year contract with $14 million with Indianapolis. It's been quite the ride for Thomas who did not appear in a game in the NFL during the 2010 season and started just one game with the New England Patriots in 2011. However, Thomas opened some eyes with his solid play when injuries led him to start seven games with the New England Patriots last season. Register columnist Chip Malafronte, my predecessor at the UConn football beat writer, spoke to Thomas for his Sunday column.

"It was all a new situation for me. I’ve never been that guy before,” Thomas said  “I feel blessed.

"I was given an opportunity this year and I capitalized on it. I knew I could still play, I just needed a genuine shot. New England gave me that shot. It was a battle for me in training camp just to make the roster.”

Thomas becomes the latest former Husky to join the Colts as Donald Brown, Butler and Scott Lutrus are other former UConn stars on the Colts' active roster. Fellow UConn products Greg Lloyd and Kashif Moore also spent time with the Colts in 2012. Lloyd was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia but did not make the opening-day roster while Moore was picked up by the Colts after Moore was cut by Cincinnati and spent time on the Colts practice squad.

I reached out to the Colts in September thinking that all the former Huskies being signed by the team would make an interesting story and/or blog but the only response I got was "I have not responded to this. Thanks."

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

UConn commit delivers on basketball court

UConn signee Jordan Fuchs earned all-tournament honors as Christ the King defeated Bishop Loughlin 78-63 to win its third CHSAA Class AA title in the last four years.

Fuchs, who could could compete for immediate playing time at tight end for the Huskies this season, had 17 points and seven rebounds in the championship game.

Fuchs and Christ the King advances to the New York Federation tournament which begins on Mar. 22 in Albany.

Closer to home, neither of the in-state commits were able to reach the CIAC state final.

Tommy Myers' Coventry team lost to Old Saybrook 64-62 in double overtime in the first round of the Class S tournament while Tim Boyle's Xavier team fell to Hillhouse 57-34 in yesterday's Class LL semifinals. Boyle, who had four points in the semifinal loss, helped Xavier upset third-seeded St. Joseph and No. 6 seed Windsor to advance to the semifinals.

UConn officially announced that its Pro Day will be held on Mar. 27.

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said he has encouraged all the seniors to take part although the players expected to draw the most attention figure to be NFL combine standouts Dwayne Gratz, Sio Moore, Trevardo Williams and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. It could be a great opportunity for tight end Ryan Griffin to impress the scouts after he failed to earn an invite to the NFL combine.

Stratford's Mark Harrison, who had a strong showing at the combine, injured his foot and was unable to take part in Rutgers' Pro Day today.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Quarterback position more settled in 2013

                                                        (Associated Press photo)
Coming off his first season as UConn's starting quarterback

Chandler Whitmer is looking to become more of a leader. 

A year ago there was a sense of uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position heading into the spring as incumbent Johnny McEntee, junior-college transfer Chandler Whitmer, former top recruit Michael Nebrich and wildcat QB Scott McCummings were vying for the top spot while hot-shot freshman Casey Cochran was hoping to play his way into the equation.

What a difference 12 months can make.

Whitmer used a solid spring camp and a strong showing in the spring game to win the job and Nebrich transferred to Fordham shortly after failing to secure the No. 1 job. McEntee was the No. 2 QB for the entire season while McCummings continued to be used to run the ball out of the wildcat.

Fast forward to this year and Whitmer is clearly the guy for the Huskies. McCummings is back hoping to show new offensive coordinator T.J. Weist that he can do more than just run the ball and Cochran is healthy and in better physical condition than he was at any point last season. In the fall the quarterback position will be somewhat crowded with the arrival of freshmen Tim Boyle, Richard Lagow and Kivon Taylor but during spring drills there is time for the trio of scholarship quarterbacks to establish their roles.

Last year Whitmer was so focused on trying to win the starting job and learn the offense that he didn't always have time to establish himself as a leader on and off the field. He is hoping to change that.

"There were times last season when I kind of kicked myself for not being more of a vocal leader and getting guys going so that is something I really want to focus on this spring," Whitmer said.

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said that the comfort level of having Whitmer back is a significant bonus for the Huskies.

"It is a big deal in the sense that Chandler was a first-year player last year," Pasqualoni said. "Obviously he has 12 tough games in him, he has been here now for a solid year and I think that showed with the way that he played. We are looking for Casey to be a little more comfortable as well. I think that part of it is good and I think it is a big deal for us.

"Casey is in the best shape he has been in since he has been here. He has his weight down under control so his stamina, his endurance, the way he is running I am pleased with that. I want to see him take care of the ball a little more, he missed a snap under center, threw a pick (in Monday's practice). We had a couple of turnovers with him in there, we had two turnovers in four plays. He has to do a better job with that, he has to get familiar with it, he has to get comfortable with it and I want to see progress. I want to see the progress over the last seven weeks, I want to see it over the next eight weeks."

Cochran was likely going to be redshirted during the 2012 season but once he had a mishap at home when he fell off his bike, it was a no-brainer decision to allow Cochran to sit out his true freshman season. Now he is trying to at least make a statement that he is the No. 2 quarterback and perhaps if he can play well enough he can push Whitmer as well.

"It was frustrating being hurt and just having to do rehab and stuff like that, it was a learning experience," Cochran said. "It just comes with experience. I came in here at this time last year and I know so much more than I did at this point last year. Since my first practice last year I have improved 20 percent at least but there is so much I can do I need to do to get better.

"In spring that is the biggest thing at any position to show what you have going into the summer and going into the camp, it gives a basis of what you can do and what the team can expect out of you so I think it is a big deal for guys to show up in the spring and work as hard as you can."

With the three freshmen quarterbacks coming in, competition for practice time at quarterback will be intense in the next couple of years. Cochran figured that would be the case when he signed with the Huskies.

"There is competition at every school," Cochran said. "Every school is going to have four to five quarterbacks, just working as hard as I can every day and doing as much as I can.

"Chandler played last year and he is a great player and so is Scott, it is not like we are all on our own out there. We are all working together and working with Coach (Shane) Day and that is the best thing we can do."

UConn lost receivers Nick Williams and Michael Smith as well as tight ends Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt to graduation but Whitmer likes the talent and potential in the returning core of receivers.

"I am really excited about our receivers, we have some good guys coming back," Whitmer said. "Shak (Shakim Phillips) and Geremy (Davis) are obviously big-time guys and the younger guys have put in a lot of work."

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Pasqualoni pleased with first day of spring drills

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni wasn't about to wait around any longer as he had the Huskies report bright and early for the first day of spring practice.

Players started rolling in between 5-5:30 this morning with practice getting rolling at 6 a.m. so not to impact with academic responsibilities.

We were only allowed to watch the first 30 minutes of the practice so there's not a heck of a lot to report.

One guy who caught my eye in the pass-catching drills was redshirt freshman receiver John Green and with Jimmy Bennett still working his way back following offseason shoulder surgery, Xavier Hemingway got first-team reps at left offensive tackle.

Defensive end Jesse Joseph and middle linebacker Yawin Smallwood were among the players limited to riding the stationary bike or getting on the cross trainer.

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said he liked what he saw on the first day.

"A lot of energy," Pasqualoni said. "I thought they did a good job on the first day of not flattening out. We made a few mistakes and this is the first day, there is a lot to improve on but I was very happy with the level of energy from everybody including the coaches. The coaches are running around after the kids and the kids are running around, it is the kind of environment you want."

With T.J. Weist the new offensive coordinator and Hank Hughes returning to the role of defensive coordinator, there are some new or somewhat new voices running the offense and defense.

"It is not all totally new, it is a lot of carry over with a lot of things that we are doing we have done here," Pasqualoni said. "We have two new coordinators, we are running our offense and we are running out defense but at the same time we have two new voices. I thought on both sides of the ball and we might as well include special teams because Kermit (Buggs) is new here too so the special teams aspect is new as well. With three new coordinators, (practice at) 6 a.m. in the morning I thought it was good."

There are plenty of holes to fill and a chance for young players to move into more prominent roles.

Leading the way of the positions of interest is cornerback. Starting safety Byron Jones was moved to corner to add some more size to that position.

"We needed some size there obviously. I wanted to get a 6-foot guy over there at one of those spots with the corner skill set," Pasqualoni said. "Byron does have some corner skills, we played him as a corner here two years ago but when Blidi (Wreh-Wilson) got hurt two years ago he did start and play the corner position so like a lot of guys on this team I know Byron Jones but I don’t know him well enough as a corner so that is what spring ball is all about. The same thing with Ellis Marder, we recruited him as a safety/corner combination and he has mono right now so he is very limited with what he is doing but I have to get to know him and see. They give you tall guys out there who match up on receivers."

Another player in the spotlight will be former Xavier High star Graham Stewart, who sat out last season after transferring from Florida who sat out last season due to NCAA regulations and wouldn't have been able to play regardless after injuring his shoulder in a freak weight-lifting mishap. Stewart figures to help fill the void left by the graduation of Sio Moore and Jory Johnson.

"I like his speed, his reactionary athleticism, his instinctive reactionary quickness today," Pasqualoni said. "There is no question that when we sees it he pulls the trigger, he is playing fast and hard so that was great to see but we have to see it over the long haul."

Pasqualoni was also happy with what he saw from starting quarterback Chandler Whitmer especially in the ball security department.

"What I was pleased with today was that we had a couple of turnovers but he didn’t turn it over so that is the other big issue going into spring is that we have to eliminate turnovers, we have to have good judgment with the ball and really take care of the ball," Pasqualoni said. "Coaches are really coaching the ball security thing. He handled things pretty well on the first day, he showed some good judgment and didn’t turn it over."

Casey Cochran did have two turnovers in a span of four plays but the former Masuk High star drew praise from Pasqualoni for being in much better shape than he was a year ago.

Pasqualoni said there is a comfort level with Whitmer returning as the starting quarterback.

"It is a big deal in the sense that Chandler was a first-year player last year," Pasqualoni said. "Obviously he has 12 tough games in him, he has been here now for a solid year and I think that showed with the way that he played. We are looking for Casey to be a little more comfortable as well. I think that part of it is good and I think it is a big deal for us."

Finally, senior running back Martin Hyppolite was at practice although he still needs crutches to get around after he injured his hip as he was the passenger in a vehicle involved in a recent car accident which resulted in the death of a New Hampshire judge.

"I had a long talk with him last night and he said he is feeling a lot better so he is rehab mode and it is going to be a while but he is getting everything mentally," Pasqualoni said. "When you are a running back and it is your hip it is tough because you are always cutting. It’s going to be at least until June until we can say ‘OK, he will be back on this date.’ We want to give it that amount of time."

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Getting ready for opening of spring drills

UConn will kickoff spring practice bright and early tomorrow. As is the case every year there are some positions that will draw more interest than others.

A year ago the focus was on the quarterback position. However, with Chandler Whitmer having established himself as the No. 1 guy, I think other less glamorous positions figure to garner more attention.

Here are five positions which have caught my attention:

1. CORNERBACK: The graduation of starters and NFL prospects Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson leave a pair of gaping holes for defensive coordinator Hank Hughes and new cornerbacks coach Matt Cersosimo to replace. Taylor Mack is the most experienced returning corner, David Stephenson was a standout in the 2012 spring game while Jhavon Williams earned praise with his work in practice as a true freshman. Another potential name to look out for is starting safety Byron Jones. There were rumblings late last season that Jones could shift to corner and it should be noted that while fellow starting safety Ty-Meer Brown is listed as a safety on the roster, Jones is listed as a defensive back.

2. OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: The loss of Sio Moore and Jory Johnson will be eased somewhat by Florida transfer Graham Stewart and return of Ryan Donohue. Jefferson Ashiru is a sophomore who is expected to make an impact this season.

3. TIGHT END: While reinforcements are coming in the fall with three incoming freshmen, the four tight ends on the roster have all spring to put themselves in position to be the replacements for Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt. Glastonbury's Sean McQuillan and special teams standout Spencer Parker are among the candidates to keep an eye on.

4. DEFENSIVE END: Replacing career sacks leader Trevardo Williams will be no easy task but having Jesse Joseph back for a fifth season of eligibility is a major plus. Also, with all the injuries on the defensive line last season, plenty of returning players were able to get plenty of varsity snaps including E.J. Norris and Tim Willman. Willman is now listed as a defensive tackle and a versatile player like Angelo Pruitt can also play multiple positions on the line.

5. BACKUP QUARTERBACK: As is the case at tight end, the influx of talented freshmen in the fall will change the dynamics of the position. This could be a chance for former Masuk High star Casey Cochran to make an impact before the talented freshmen arrive.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Former UConn star returns to CFL

Former UConn defensive end Lindsey Witten has been signed by the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos.

Witten, who was a first-team All-Big East selection as a senior at UConn in 2009 when he had 14 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks, is getting his second chance at the CFL as he was signed by Calgary back in 2011.

Witten was signed by the Pittsbirgh Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2010 but never got into a game with Pittsburgh. He was signed by the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League after being cut by the Steelers but did not play a down for Hartford. Witten did have three tackles for Chicago of the Arena Football League in 2012 and now he has a chance with the Eskimos, a team with no players who had more than six sacks last season.


Wednesday, March 06, 2013

More praise for Sio Moore

Former Cleveland Browns general manager, who is now the executive director of the Senior Bowl, was at the NFL scouting combine and released his "All-Combine" team.

UConn's Sio Moore was one of five linebackers to make the squad.

Also, in the take it for what it is worth" department, the Walter Football site released a five-round mock draft yesterday and four Huskies made the cut with each one going in rounds No. 2-5. Cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who has been listed as a first-round selection in mock drafts posted by ESPN's Todd McShay, was slotted to go in the second round to the Cincinnati Bengals with the 53rd overall pick. Moore was the next former Husky listed as he is predicted to be taken by Arizona with pick No. 69, cornerback Dwayne Gratz is next up going with the 116th pick to Washington while defensive end Trevardo Williams is slated to go with the 134th pick.

Also, UConn will open spring practice with a practice on Monday morning.

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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

UConn releases 2013 schedule

UConn released its 2013 football schedule today with the Huskies playing six bowl teams and having seven of the 12 games at Rentschler Field.

UConn, coming off a second straight 5-7 season, opens with three straight non-conference games at home as the Huskies face Towson on Aug. 29, Maryland on Sept. 14 and Michigan on Sept. 14. The road opener is Sept. 28 at Buffalo while UConn opens Big East play on Oct. 12 with a home game against South Florida.

The Huskies play at Cincinnati, which is coming off a 10-3 record and win in the Belk Bowl, on Oct. 12 and then head to Orlando to play new conference member Central Florida, another 10-win team in 2012, on Oct. 26. That will be followed by a nationally-televised home game with Sugar Bowl champion Louisville. The Huskies hit the road for games against Southern Methodist and Temple on Nov. 16 and 23 before wrapping up the regular season with home games against Rutgers on Nov. 30 and Memphis on Dec. 7.

UConn returns is toip quarterback (Chandler Whitmer) leading rusher (Lyle McCombs), top two receivers (Geremy Davis and Shakim Phillips), six offensive linemen who started games a season ago and its leading tackler (Yawin Smallwood) but need to replace six starters on defense and its top two tight ends.

2013 UConn Football Schedule
Day, Date             Opponent                         Time         Television
Thur., Aug. 29       TOWSON                         TBA          TBA
Sat., Sept. 14         MARYLAND                  TBA          TBA
Sat., Sept. 21         MICHIGAN                     TBA          TBA
Sat., Sept. 28         at Buffalo                          TBA          TBA
Sat., Oct. 12          USF*                                 TBA          TBA
Sat., Oct. 19          at Cincinnati*                    TBA          TBA
Sat., Oct. 26          at Central Florida*            TBA          TBA
Fri., Nov. 8            LOUISVILLE*                TBA    ESPN or ESPN2
Sat., Nov. 16         at Southern Methodist*    TBA          TBA
Sat., Nov. 23         at Temple*                        TBA          TBA
Sat., Nov. 30         RUTGERS*                      TBA          TBA
Sat., Dec. 7           MEMPHIS*                      TBA          TBA
* - Conference Games

Monday, March 04, 2013

UConn, BYU agree to home and home series

At one point in the conference realignment chaos, there was a chance that BYU could land in the same conference with UConn.. While that never ended up happening, the Huskies and Cougars will get a chance to play after all.

Both UConn and BYU announced that the schools have agreed to play a home and home series starting with an Aug. 28, 2014 game in East Hartford. The teams will meet in Provo, Utah on Oct. 31, 2015.

“We are very excited to bring another nationally prominent opponent to Rentschler Field,” said UConn Director of Athletics Warde Manuel in a statement. “BYU has a long tradition of football excellence with prominent players that are known around the country. With Michigan playing at UConn in 2013 and Tennessee in 2015, we feel that we have a very strong non-conference schedule for the next several years and plan on continuing that practice.

“I also think UConn fans will enjoy making the trip to Provo in 2015. Our loyal followers have established a tradition of travelling well to national non-conference contests and I think this will happen again when we go to BYU.”

Here's a look at future non-conference games under contract for UConn:

2013: August 29, Towson; September 14, Maryland; September 21, Michigan; September 28, at Buffalo.
2014: August 28, BYU; September 6, Stony Brook.
2015: September 5, Villanova; September 26, Tennessee; October 31, at BYU.
2106: September 3, at Tennessee; September 17, Virginia.
2017: September 16, at Virginia.

Cersosimo excited about new challenge

When spring practice kicks off a week from today there is probably not a position which will garner more attention than the cornerbacks.

So much of what the defensive coaching staff has been able to do in the last couple of seasons had a lot of do with the ability of cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson to lock up on the outside receivers. Their coverage skills and reliability enabled UConn to be more aggressive in sending linebackers on blitzes. However, with the departure of Gratz and Wreh-Wilson leaves two gaping holes to fill in UConn's defense. Add in the fact that Don Brown, who coached the cornerbacks as well as being the defensive coordinator, is also gone.

Now UConn was a relatively inexperienced group of corner prospects while former UConn receiving coach Matt Cersosimo moved over to defense to coach the corners.

Cersosimo, who spent the last seven seasons coaching receivers at UConn, is eager for spring ball to get started so he can see how the cornerbacks perform.

"I am very excited, it gives me the opportunity to go on the defensive side of the ball and become a little bit more well rounded as a coach," Cersosimo said. "I have only coached offense but I played defense in college (at Springfield College) so I get a chance to go back there and a lot of things I did are starting to come back in my mind that I have stored away since I have been on offense.

"It is a great group of kids that I am able to work with. i am looking forward to the opportunity in spring ball to be able to work with them, go through the whole process with them on a daily basis, the meetings, get the chance to review film and all the things that go along with that."

Rising senior Taylor Mack is the most experienced of the returning corners. Another top prospect at the position is David Stevenson, who was a star in the 2012 spring game.

"Stevenson on travel squad, it is not like he is new," Cersosimo said, "(Jhavon)Williams, Ellis Marder, Tyree Clark, we have a young group of guys they have been in some games before, they have been there, done that and it is just an opportunity to trying to get them acclimated to what we are doing defensively, have great technique and make sure they are holding true to their responsibilities."

UConn also brought in a pair of cornerback prospects in Javon Hadley and Tom Lucas but they aren't among the early enrollees so neither one will take part in spring drills.

Obviously UConn probably won't be able to put these group of corners out on islands as much as they did with Gratz and Wreh-Wilson.

"A lot of that will be answered in spring practice," Cersosimo said. "We will get a chance to put those guys in the situation and see how well they react in those situations and see if it is something they can excel at. If it is that is something we can potentially look at as a staff and say this could be a strength of ours and if  it isn't it is something we will work on until we get really good at it."

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