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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