Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What's next following impressive draft haul

With a program-record five players drafted and three others heading into NFL training camps, it's been a rather productive few days for the UConn football program.

The question now is what are the draft prospects for UConn in 2014?

At first glance the answer is that it will be nowhere like it was this year.

Dwayne Gratz, Sio Moore, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Trevardo Williams and Ryan Griffin came into their seniors seasons as known commodities since they have been making plays since they were freshmen or sophomores. It's not a huge shock that they caught the eyes of NFL scouts. Nick Williams, Michael Smith and Ryan Wirth, who are heading into training camps as undrafted signees, all had the talent and enough impactful moments to get invites from NFL teams.

Looking at the current group of UConn football seniors and it seems to be a different story.

Many of the seniors in line to start next season would be players like Taylor Mack, Tim Willman and Ryan Donohue who have been role players in the past. The most experienced seniors are defensive end Jesse Joseph and offensive linemen Jimmy Bennett, Kevin Friend and Steve Greene.

I took a look at the www.nfldraftscout.com site's 2014 NFL draft database and the players at the top of the positional rankings are Greene (the No. 61 rated offensive guard) and Cole Wagner (the 24th rated punter) which would make both of them free agents at best. Defensive end Tim Willman, defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, offensive linemen Friend and Tyler Bullock and running back Martin Hyppolite also are in the database. Obviously there's plenty of time for the UConn players to create waves but I would have to think that if the Huskies have a year similar to the one they just had that not too many scouts will be pursuing the veteran offensive linemen. However, if they turn the corner and emerge into a dominant offensive line, that will only help their chances to getting into NFL camps in 2014.

Recent history has shown that UConn's best showings in the NFL draft have come in odd numbered years with four players taken in both the 2009 and 2011 drafts and the five taken this season. That trend could be continuing in 2015.

I would have to think that linebacker Yawin Smallwood will be a sought after prospect with NFL prototype size. Defensive backs Ty-Meer Brown and Byron Jones and receivers Geremy Davis and Shakim Phillips could also emerge into NFL prospects.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Receivers getting training camp invites

According to their personal Twitter accounts former UConn receivers Michael Smith and Nick Williams have signed as undrafted free agents with Houston and Washington respectively.

Smith, a Houston native, will be one of three members of the 2012 UConn squad at Houston's training camp as Trevardo Williams was taken by the Texans in the fourth round while Ryan Griffin was a sixth-round pick.

Williams is one of two receivers with ties to Connecticut signed by free agents by the Redskins joining former University of New Haven WR Jason Thompson who had 16 touchdown receptions as a senior.

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Houston already feels like home to Ryan Griffin

Former UConn tight end Ryan Griffin was taken in the sixth round of the
NFL draft by the Houston Texans.
Ryan Griffin, the top NFL prospect on the offensive side of the ball out of UConn, was feeling understandably downtrodden when he was not invited to the NFL combine. However, a strong showing at UConn's pro day followed by an even more encouraging trip to the headquarters of the Houston Texans did wonders for his state of mind.

Even before the Texans selected Griffin in the sixth round of the NFL draft, Griffin had positive vibes about his chances of landing in Houston whether he was drafted or not. The Texans ended the suspense when they took Griffin with the 201st pick.

Griffin had a whirlwind journey as he visited Kansas City, Buffalo, Houston and Green Bay. With all due respect to the other three franchises, there was something extra special about his trip to the Texans' facilities.

"The trip went really well and it felt like the right fit for me," Griffin said. "It just clicked and I think that trip is where I felt the most at home and when I saw that they called me right before I was picking, I kind of had a good feeling about it."

Owen Daniels, who has caught more than 50 passes three times in his Houston career, is the incumbent tight end while Garrett Graham emerged into a pass-catching threat with 28 receptions during the 2012 season. After that the only other tight ends are a pair of undrafted rookies meaning Griffin could have a chance to be either the No. 2 or 3 tight end with Houston.

"I haven't done anything yet," Griffin said. "I haven't put on shoulder pads so I can't say that I am just going to walk in and take a spot. I have to earn everything that I am going to get but I am ready to do that. I know they have a great tight end over there with OD and Garrett and I am ready to contribute to the team any way I can whether it is going to be as a third tight end  or whatever they have me doing, I am going to give it my best effort."

It was a historic draft for UConn with five players being taken which beats the mark of four selected during the 2009 and 2011 drafts,

"It is unprecedented and it really goes to show the character of people in the organization," Griffin said. "They really know what it takes. I am so proud of my guys, we had a disappointing couple of years here but this is nice to know that hard work paid off so hopefully I will see them on opposite sides of the line and me and Trevardo (Williams) will get some wins."

As Griffin referenced, a familiar face was also selected by Houston as Trevardo Williams, UConn's career leader in sacks, was taken by the Texans in the fourth round. It was the first time two UConn players were selected by the same team in one NFL draft.

"We are going to going up against each other and I am excited for him, he is a great player and a better person so the Texans got two really good people," Griffin said. "I am happy to show them what being a Husky is all about.

"We have gone at it, we have had some battles these last four years and I am looking forward to some more."

Trevardo Williams happy to land in Houston

Trevardo Williams was absolutely delighted to see former teammates Dwayne Gratz, Sio Moore and Blidi Wreh-Wilson to go in a span of seven picks in the third round last night. He was also not entirely shocked that he had to wait until the fourth round before he was selected by the Houston Texans.

“I knew I was going to be a later draft pick because those guys are prototypes for their positions,” said Williams, a former Bridgeport Central star. “I was happy that they were drafted in the third round because they all deserve it and they worked hard but I knew my name was eventually coming up. I didn't know exactly when fourth round, fifth round but I knew I was going to be there, I believed I was going to be a later draft pick.”

Williams was a defensive end at UConn but projects to be an outside linebacker for the Texans. Houston also drafted an outside linebacker in the third round when former LSU star Sam Montgomery was taken with the 89th pick. In a story on the Texans’ official site, Houston linebackers coach Reggie Herring suggested that outside linebacker Brooks Reed could be shifted to play inside linebacker opening up an opportunity for Montgomery, who was also primarily a defensive end in college, and Williams to vie for a starting outside linebacker spot.

“It does provide us with options to possibly move Brooks Reed inside,” Herring said. “Brooks Reed has played inside for us at time. We feel very comfortable with that move, if that is an option, to get out best 11 on the field.”

Williams said he spoke with the Texans at the NFL combine but never had a sense that Houston was the team that would be drafting him.

“Houston is a pretty good fit for me,” Williams said. “However they can use me, I am willing to get after it.”

Now it is just a matter of waiting and seeing if another UConn player goes in the final couple of rounds with tight end Ryan Griffin and linebacker Jory Johnson the best possibilities to be seventh round selections.


Trevardo Williams taken by Houston Texans in fourth round

Trevardo Williams, UConn's career leader in quarterback sacks, was taken by the Houston Texans with the 124th picks.

Williams becomes the fourth UConn player taken in the draft as Dwayne Gratz (Jacksonville), Sio Moore (Oakland) and Blidi Wreh-Wilson (Tennessee) went within seven picks in the third round last night.

Williams will likely have to move to outside linebacker after being a defensive end at UConn.

This  is the third time in the last five years that four UConn players have gone in the draft. In 2009 Donald Brown was taken with the 27th overall pick by Indianapolis to become the first and only UConn player to go in the first round. Darius Butler went 41st to New England while Will Beatty and Cody Brown went 60th and 63rd to the NewYork Giants and Arizona Cardinals. In 2011 Anthony Sherman (Arizona), Lawrence Wilson (Carolina), Jordan Todman (San Diego) and Greg Lloyd (Philadelphia) were all selected.


Opportunity could be knocking for former Huskies

On the surface it appears that all three of the former UConn players drafted on Friday night are walking into pretty good situations.

Dwayne Gratz was the first of the trio to go when Jacksonville selected him with the 64th pick. Jacksonville's first-year head coach is former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley who built an outstanding defense around the play of a pair of physical cornerbacks.

Gratz was known as a willing and capable hitter during his tenure with the Huskies and without established stars at cornerback ahead of him, he has a chance to compete for a significant role as a rookie.

“He has to compete to do it,” Jacksonville general manager David Caldwell said in an interview posted on the team's official site. “He has the skill set to do it and we hope that he comes in and does it. Obviously that’s going to go around through the OTAs, mini-camp and through training camp.

“The best guy’s going to start, so it doesn’t matter if you’re a third round, first round, second round, or college free agent. I think the best guy’s going to start.”

Moore, who went to Oakland with the 66th overall pick, is walking into a team which lost two of its best linebackers. Philip Wheeler, who led the Raiders with 109 tackles during the 2012 season, signed as a free agent with Miami while former first-round pick Rolando McClain was released after some off the field issues. He was signed by Baltimore but recently made the news for the wrong reasons with another off the field incident.

Wreh-Wilson may have the toughest competition if he wants to earn a starting job as a rookie as the Titans return starting corners Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner but assistant secondary coach Steve Brown believes Wreh-Wilson has the potential to make an impact as a rookie.

"He is a very athletic, talented player," Brown said in a video interview on the Titans' official site. "They did a real fine job of coaching him at UConn both the corners, both him and Gratz are very similar. The nice thing about him is he is athletic, he can play the ball in the air, he can play press, he can play off. He has really good reaction skills and he can run so it is going to be great working with him plus he is a very right young man, a very personable guy and he has never missed class so I don't have to worry about him missing a meeting."

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Former Huskies taken in rapid succession

Dwayne Gratz moved his way up draft boards following the end of his college
career and ended up being the first UConn player taken in the 2013 NFL draft.

The first two rounds came and gone and none of UConn's NFL draft hopefuls heard their names called.

However, the hours of breathless anticipation ended in a flurry of activity with Dwayne Gratz, Sio Moore and Blidi Wreh-Wilson going within seven picks of each other early in the third round.

“I was nervous, anxious, everything,” Gratz said. “I was thinking about so much. I didn't where I was going to end up, what’s next chapter in my life. After watching a few cornerbacks got picked up it got even worse but once I got the call everything went away and I was excited.”

If Gratz was excited when his name was called, you could imagine his emotions when he saw Moore and Wreh-Wilson taken in rapid succession.

“It was exciting to see all of my teammates (drafted) because we all put in the hard work playing at UConn for five years and it was great to see them rewarded for their hard work,” Gratz said.

“We all wanted to see each other go high. It didn't matter who went first or who went last. We are all teammates and we all want to see each other do well. It felt good, I am not going to lie to you because I was always the underdog. A lot of people didn't know me, the type of player I was, the type of person I was and being able to be the first one it was an honor.”

When he wasn’t taken by the end of round two, Moore expressed his frustration on Twitter and vowed to play with a chip on his shoulder whenever he did get the call.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Sio Moore went five picks apart in the third round in the NFL draft
“It is what I am used to, the whole process just reinforced that,” Moore said of being overlooked. “I’m glad I came to Oakland Raiders, they know they go the best linebacker in the class and I am glad to be a part of that organization."

Moore said he jumped out of his seat when he saw Gratz's name pop up on the television screen just minutes before he realized a lifelong dream by being drafted.

"I did jump out of my chair, he knows what I feel like," Moore said.  "He is not a friend, he is not a teammate, he is my brother."

Many draft experts thought Wreh-Wilson would be the first UConn player taken and there was even a thought that he may join Donald Brown (the 27th pick of the 2009 draft) and the only first rounders to come out of UConn. However, Wreh-Wilson's agent told him to expect to go in the range where he was selected.

"My agent gave me a range and it was within the range that he gave me so I kind of knew what was coming my way," Wreh-Wilson said. "When 3 (Moore) and 7 (Gratz) went, I knew 5 was coming soon."

He knew that Tennessee had significant interest in him thanks to a conversation with a Tennessee scout during UConn's pro day.

"Before the pro day I was supposed to have a workout with them and they came to the pro day," Wreh-Wilson said. "While everybody  was on the bench, I wasn't on the bench because I did it at the combine but the area scout had told me he was disappointed I didn't work for him because Dwayne and I were supposed to do a workout. He said 'it kind of makes you look bad, this and that.' and I said 'I left like the pro day would be the best opportunity for me to show what I could really do.' They obviously had some concerns that I didn't work out for them  but at the end of the day they ended up picking me so  I am just glad they did."

Trevardo Williams, UConn's career sacks leader, was also considered a possibility to go in the third round but he will have to wait until Saturday to see which team selects him.

Two other players with Connecticut ties went in the third round. Meriden’s John Jenkins, a defensive tackle out of the University of Georgia, was taken with the 82nd pick by New Orleans while New London’s Jordan Reed, a tight end out of Florida, was taken by Washington with the 85th pick

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Huskies flying off the board in the third round

It was a bit of a surprise that no UConn players were taken in the second round of the NFL draft but once the third round started former Huskies started to hear their names called.

Cornerback Dwayne Gratz was the first UConn product taken when he went 64th overall to Jacksonville and two picks later linebacker Sio Moore was taken by Oakland. Then it was cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson going off the board with pick No. 70 to Tennessee.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Anxious couple of days for UConn's NFL draft hopefuls

Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Sio Moore lead the list of former
UConn players expected to be taken in the NFL draft.
All the workouts and interviews are in the books, the countless hours of film study are also complete and now it is finally time for the NFL draft.

For a handful of former UConn players it is a couple of days they won't soon forget.

It's a foregone conclusion that cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, linebacker Sio Moore and defensive end Trevardo Williams will heat their names called but the question is which day and by what team.

Donald Brown is the only UConn player to be taken in the first round when the Indianapolis Colts selected him with the 27th overall pick in the 2009. Will he have some company after all 32 first-round picks are announced tonight?

Wreh-Wilson figures to have the best shot of going in the first round although most of the pre-draft databases have him slated as a second rounder. There have been mock drafts with Wreh-Wilson going late in the first round so that means a long night of watching and wondering for the two-time UConn captain as the first round is held tonight. Tomorrow figures to be a special day in UConn football history with as many as four Huskies going by the end of the third round. The NFL draft marathon ends on Saturday with rounds 4-7.

The NFL Network's Mike Mayock, considered by many to be the best NFL draft analyst in the business, has Moore as his top-rated UConn prospect at No. 64 in his final pre-draft Big Board which is two spots ahead of Wreh-Wilson and eight ahead of Gratz.

This draft is intriguing on a variety of levels for the UConn prospects. Of course you have the story line surrounding whether Wreh-Wilson or perhaps even Moore could sneak into the end of the first round and then will four Huskies be gone by the end of day two or will one of them have to wait. Finally, you have players like tight end Ryan Griffin and linebacker Jory Johnson would have a chance to hear their names called late in the draft or at least will get signed as free agents. They could have company as receivers Michael Smith and Nick Williams, tight end John Delahunt and offensive guard Adam Masters are in some draft prospect databases.

Barring a stunning development, there will be a player from Connecticut taken in the first round tonight - kind of. Bjoern Werner out of Florida State is one of the top defensive ends available in the draft and his football career began at Salisbury. As for the former Connecticut public school stars, I would guess that Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins, who played at Maloney High in Meriden, will be the first one taken. Jenkins' situation is similar to that of Wreh-Wilson as he figures to go either late in the first round or in the second round. Other Connecticut natives to keep an eye on are Florida tight end Jordan Reed out of New London and Rutgers receiver Mark Harrison from Stratford who are projected to go between rounds 3-5.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pasqualoni reflects on spring practice

I had an opportunity to catch up with Paul Pasqualoni after the football team was honored alongside the Huskies' men's and women's basketball programs at the annual "Husky Day" at the State Capitol.

Even though the offense failed to score a touchdown in the regular portion of the spring game, Pasqualoni said he is encouraged with what he saw from his team during the spring.

"We had quite a few guys make significant progress during the spring," Pasqualoni said. "The spring game is more about fundamentals and technique than its about anything else. I am pleased with the progress the offensive line has made, they are a cohesive unit, they are kind of intact 90 percent (back) from last year. I am pleased with the progress our two older wide receivers (Geremy Davis and Shakim Phillips) made watching the film. I think Deshon Foxx is making some progress as a wide receiver, pleased with the progress with the guys up front on defense. Young guys inside Julian Campenni, Mykal Myers, I think Andreas Knappe is making some excellent progress, Tim Willman made progress, the corners on the outside Jhavon Williams, Taylor Mack so I am happy with the effort and fundamentals, the level of focus which are all great signs going into August."

So is he concerned after UConn needed to rely on a pair of Bobby Puyol field goals during the normal portion of the spring game?

"That is just a matter of a little thing here and a little thing there but I thought the offense came up with some good plays and moved the ball down the field," Pasqualoni said. "I thought Chandler (Whitmer) did a good job of hitting the open receiver, took them down and all of that is a positive.

"We cut down what we did, we had controlled scrimmage for most of the game so those things are going to happen in that situation. We had too many guys rehabbing or injured, we didn’t have enough offensive linemen, we didn’t have enough linebackers for two units. You need six linebackers and we had five healthy for the scrimmage and I don’t know how you do that. Everybody will be fine, when the kids get back on campus in June I expect all the kids to be full go."

The player with the longest recovery process figures to be running back Martin Hyppolite who continues to rehab after being a passenger in a car involved in a fatal accident.

Pasqualoni was optimistic that when the team holds its first fall practice on Aug. 1 that center Alex Mateas will be part of the squad. Mateas was suspended indefinitely for the final week of spring practice for what was called a violation of team rules.

"That’s a team policy issue and that will be addressed at the end of the semester," Pasqualoni said.

When I asked him if he believed Mateas will be there for the start of fall camp, he said that he did.

Pasqualoni addressed the crowd at the Husky Day event and here's some of what he had to say.

"Growing up as a young kid in the state I don’t think I ever envisioned the mighty Michigan Wolverines ever coming into East Hartford to play UConn, what a tremendous, tremendous (honor).

"I am a little bit tired, the players are a little bit tired of the results we’ve had for the past two years; we are tired of it and our guys will acknowledge it, we have talked about it. What I can tell you is this – this team is being built the right way, the way the fans and the people in the great state of Connecticut would want it done with hard-working, high-character guys with tremendous, tremendous integrity looking forward very much to August 1 when we came back and have our first day and we get ready for the season opening on Aug. 28 at the Rent against Towson. We are committed to doing this the right way and bringing you the type of team I know you want, an exciting team, a team that is going to play great on defense and be exciting on offense, win games and represent the state of Connecticut and I-A football the way we all want."

Offensive linemen Jimmy Bennett and Steve Greene, defensive linemen Tim Willman and Shamar Stephen and kicker Chad Christen were among the UConn players there for the Husky Day ceremony.

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Hamden Hall quarterback drawing interest from UConn

One thing that can be said about Paul Pasqualoni's tenure as UConn's head coach is that he has been able to land the top in-state quarterbacks. Two years ago it was record-breaking Masuk High star Casey Cochran and Xavier's Tim Boyle is one of the headliners in the incoming freshman class. Now Hamden Hall's T.J. Linta is the prolific passer attracting attention from the Huskies.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Linta passed for 3,110 yards with 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 11 games as a junior at Hamden Hall. He had three 400-yard passing games and was also the Hornets' leading rusher with 474 yards to go with eight rushing touchdowns.

A couple of UConn coaches including quarterbacks coach Shane Day are expected to do a home visit with Linta in the coming days.

Linta is a good enough student to draw serious interest from Ivy League schools and a few months ago perhaps the Ivy League would have been the likely landing spot for him. However, he is starting to get noticed by BCS programs including Pittsburgh and UConn. Linta and his father, Hamden Hall football coach and NFL agent Joe Linta, took in one of the spring practices at UConn.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Former NFL GM impressed with UConn prospects

                                                                                                                          (Associated Press photo)
Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Sio Moore could be taken in second round in the upcoming NFL draft

I reached out to Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage, the former general manager of the Cleveland Browns for a couple of NFL Draft preview stories I am working on and I thought I would share some of his thoughts on the UConn players expected to be taken in the NFL draft.

Savage got to see cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson and linebacker Sio Moore as they all played in the Senior Bowl. Defensive end Trevardo Williams was also selected to play in the Senior Bowl before an ankle injury sidelined him but Savage was at the NFL scouting combine so he was able to see Williams put on an impressive show there.

"I was impressed with UConn’s prospects with those two (Gratz and Wreh-Wilson) and then Sio Moore who was a late add to our game and Trevardo Williams fits and he draws interest from teams who runs a 3-4 and the kid from Mobile Jory Johnson who actually played (in the Raycom Classic) who will probably end up being a free agent or a late-round pick at most. They are a good team to watch because they play a pro-style system under Paul (Pasqualoni). Most teams have one defensive back in the whole group that is a possibility of being drafted and they are going to have two corners and maybe even three linebackers too.

                                                                                          (Associated Press photo)
Dwayne Gratz, seen during the NFL combine, is one of four former UConn
players who could be taken in the first four rounds in the NFL draft.
"I thought Sio really elevated himself. He was a late addition to the game. He came in, was vocal, played with a lot of energy and really showed up in the game itself. He filled up the stat line. There were times when the tape of the season doesn’t match up with what we saw at the Senior Bowl practices and in the game. The positive is he definitely has the capability and I think he can fit in either scheme. I think he is scheme friendly as a 4-3 Mike (middle linebacker) or Will (weakside linebacker) or in a 3-4. I personally don’t see him as a pass rusher. I think he is a better blitzer than rusher but he will play on special teams and I think he is a good worthwhile prospect and I would venture to guess somewhere in the third or fourth round area as well based on what he did at the Senior Bowl and he had a good combine too, he tested well there. The tapes didn’t always reveal the ability he had but at the combine he stood out.

"He is 240 so he is big enough to play inside the box, he has enough quickness to blitz, he uses his hands well and he seems to have a nose for the ball. He has a knack for showing up around the ball and I think he drew quite a bit of attention this spring."

Williams was only able to go through one day's worth of drills before his ankle injury sidelined him. Ironically, Moore was brought in to take his spot on the roster.

"Unfortunately for him, he came in and had a little bit of a bum ankle before he got here and was only able to practice one day," Savage said. "I did watch a bit of tape on him during the season. He plays defensive end there and I think he projects well as a 3-4 outside linebacker. I don’t think he can be a full time defensive end in the NFL, he is not big enough but as a 3-4 outside backer he’s got some good qualities. He has good acceleration, good first step off the edge, he plays hard especially when he gets a whiff of the quarterback he seems to be able to finish the deal. I am not sure how he has worked out this offseason. I wasn’t privy to how his workouts went in terms of position drills went as an on his feet linebacker but based on his pass rush skill and the fact that he does look like he moves around pretty well I would think that he is going to be a mid-round guy for somebody looking for a 3-4 outside backer that might be a good developmental candidate."

Savage sees Wreh-Wilson as the better prospect among the two UConn corners although he is impressed with Gratz as well.

"I think with Blidi he has height, he has long arms, I think he is a good athlete but I think at times he can get a little leggy in terms of his change of direction. He is going to be attractive to those teams looking for the taller corner with long arms. My impression of him based on conversations with scouts in the league is that he is somewhere in the second or third round area. I know in some of the mock drafts, at least early on, they were putting him in the first round but I don’t think he is going to go in the first round. I think he is more of a second-round corner that will play on the outside. I don’t think he is necessarily a nickel or slot corner, I think he is more of an outside, cover 2 zone style corner.

"Dwayne Gratz he is physically built, he has some explosiveness in his body. For a vertical standpoint, he is a little tight in terms of the change of direction stuff. The good news is he is big enough and physical enough of being a safety if it doesn’t turn out at corner. I think he is another prospect who fits a bigger corner who plays predominantly cover two. He is a willing run supporter. He is a good prospect. I think he is rated a little lower than Blidi based on the conversations I’ve had and based what he did in the Senior Bowl game because he is a little tighter athletically. I think he is probably a third or fourth round."

Finally, I asked him about Meriden's John Jenkins, a defensive tackle out of Georgia, who could very well be the top Connecticut native taken in the draft.

"I like John," Savage said. "I went during training camp in August and watched all of their practice reps and pass rush because Georgia would take him out when it was a passing situation his junior year and even a lot his senior year. He was kind of an early down run defender and when I watched those practice videos, the one on ones in the pass rush and based on what he did at the Senior Bowl in the pass rush drill, I think he has a chance and I think he offers more than maybe what he has gotten credit for by some of the scouts. An obvious comparison is Terrence Cody who played at Alabama and ended up in the second round to the Ravens (with the 57th pick in the 2010 draft). I do the broadcasts for Alabama and I know Cody well but personally I like John Jenkins more. I think he is a better athlete, I think he has a better body. I think he gives you more potential in pass rush. I think he will go a little earlier than that (57th pick). I will be disappointed if he doesn’t. He is an ideal 3-4 nose candidate."

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Ryan Griffin moves up at least one draft board

                                                                                  (Associated Press photo)
Ryan Griffin, seen making a catch against South Florida as a senior, moved
up 10 spots to be rated as the No. 17 tight end by the NFL Draft Bible site.
The NFL Draft Bible site released its final "Big Board" for the upcoming NFL draft and of the 10 UConn products on the list nobody made a bigger jump than Ryan Griffin who moved up 10 spots and was ranked as the 17th best tight end in the draft. Grffin's jump enabled him to go from being a projected free agent to be a seventh rounder.

Sio Moore is the highest rated UConn player as he is the No. 5 outside linebacker (up one spot from the most recent list) and Adam Masters moved from No. 83 to 81 among offensive guards.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Trevardo Williams held steady as they came in as the No. 8 cornerback and No. 9 outside linebacker while Dwayne Gratz fell two spots to the No. 16 CB and receivers Michael Smith (from 78 to 80) and Nick Williams (112 to 113) fell slightly.

Among the non-UConn in-state natives, the player to make the biggest jump going from being the No. 20 to No. 15 wide receiver.

The site ranks players by position and projects which round the player will go in. Moore leads the way as a projected second rounder, Williams and Wreh-Wilson are second or third rounders with Gratz going in the fourth round.

The NFL Network's Mike Mayock released his top 100 prospects recently and three Huskies made the list.

Moore checks in at No. 64, two spots ahead of Wreh-Wilson with Gratz rated No. 72 overall. Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins out of Georgia is rated as a potential second-round pick by the NFL Draft Bible site and is Mayock's No. 71 overall prospect.

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ACC members sign Grants of Rights deal

The Atlantic Coast Conference announced today that its 15 current or future members have agreed to a grant of media rights which could close the door or at least provide a significant obstacle for UConn to eventually join the ACC.

"This announcement further highlights the continued solidarity and commitment by our member institutions," said ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. "The Council of Presidents has shown tremendous leadership in insuring the ACC is extremely well positioned with unlimited potential."

"The ACC has long been a leader in intercollegiate athletics, both academically and athletically," said the collective ACC Council of Presidents. "Collectively, we all agree the grant of rights further positions the ACC and its current and future member schools as one of the nation's premier conferences."

What this means is that the ACC members have given the media rights to the conference and if they were to bolt for another conference, those rights would continue to remain with the ACC meaning the member schools have reaffirmed their commitment to the ACC.

The Sporting News, citing a report from North Carolina-based syndicated radio host David Glenn, the grant of rights deal could extend to the end of the current deal between ESPN and the ACC which runs through the 2026-27 season.

The scuttlebutt was that when another conference like the Big 10 grabbed a team or two from the ACC that UConn would be at the top of the list to be invited into the ACC. While this doesn't officially prevent that from happening, it provides a serious road block for that to happen.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Defense dominates in UConn spring game

                                                                                   (Associated press photo)
Marquise Vann (No. 46) made an impact at UConn's spring game.

In all the years I've been to spring games whether it is the last two years at UConn or at Yale before that I've never quite figured out how to view these events.

When an offensive struggles to run the ball as badly as UConn did on Saturday is that a sign of poor offensive execution or great defense? I guess you could argue that it was a little bit of both.

A signal of what kind of day it was likely came when UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni opened his interview with the media focusing on the players (about 15 of them) who were held out of the scrimmage.

The event started with the "back to the wall" drills which is the offense with the ball on the 1 coming out. It did not go particularly well as it took a couple of series before the offense got a first down.

When it went to a live 11 on 11 offense against defense with no controlled situations, Chandler Whitmer had some nice throws as he finished 8 of 14 for 140 yards but the offense was unable to score a touchdown as the only scoring came on field goals of 46 and 20 yards by Bobby Puyol.

The highlight of the offense were three straight completions by Chandler Whitmer. The first two went Shakim Phillips and the third was to junior Deshon Foxx. Foxx had a 26-yard completion but he stumbled down inside the 1.

"I caught the ball and I tried to turn," Foxx said. "I didn’t know where the defender was so I was stumbling getting out of my turn and I stumbled onto the ground. As long as I can help the offense get down there."

Foxx had three catches for a team-high 70 yards and during the red-zone drills he scored on a reverse to show off some speed and explosiveness.

"I just want to be a threat, just trying to be able to spread the field a little bit and not only make plays for me but help my teammates able to make plays," Foxx said.

Defensively, senior defensive lineman Tim Willman had two sacks, starting safeties Ty-Meer Brown and Andrew Adams each had three tackles and an interception while linebackers Jefferson Ashiru and Brandon Steg had three tackles each while Marquise Vann had two near interceptions before finally picking one off during red-zone drills.

"It felt good to get out there in front of some fans," Willman said. "It was time for some of the younger guys to step up and play their roles and it will be even better when they are back and we are pretty excited about that."

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It's Spring Game day

Spring practice will come to an end this afternoon with the spring game. It's going to be interesting to see how the event gets run because on Tuesday head coach Paul Pasqualoni made it sound like the squad was going to be split in half and it will resemble the Blue-White Game of the past. A couple of days later a press release was sent out stating it was going to be more of a controlled scrimmage due to a lack of healthy bodies at certain positions.

Linebacker, defensive line and running back seem to be the positions hit the hardest by injuries.

Yawin Smallwood hasn't practiced all spring while Omaine Stephens and Jon Hicks are other linebackers out of action which leaves five linebackers able to go today. The good news is that the healthy linebackers seem to have made an impact this spring.

"Ryan Donohue is having a really good spring," Pasqualoni said after Tuesday's practice. "He is a leader capable of directing his teammates which is a big prerequisite of the linebacker position. He is doing a very good job and has a clear understanding of what the concepts are, what he is seeing and his instinctiveness and reactionary stuff is really good. Brandon Steg is having his best spring since I have been here so that is very encouraging. He has been on the scout team for my two years here, Graham Stewart is learning the position but you can see the explosiveness so he has the skill set, Jefferson Ashiru is playing more consistently, Marquise Vann is playing more confidently, more assuredly so I am encouraged with that group."

On the defensive line, probable fall starters Jesse Joseph and Shamar Stephen have spent more time riding the stationary bike while promising sophomore tailback Joe Williams suffered an ankle injury in a scrimmage a week ago that will keep him out of action today. Martin Hyppolite, a passenger in a car involved in a fatal accident in New Hampshire, is still recovering from those injuries and will also be sidelined.

"He is walking around," Pasqualoni said of Hyppolite. "(UConn trainer) Bob (Howard) said he has a ways to go to get it healed but there is no way of us knowing until we get to June or July. He is in all the meetings learning everything."

Pasqualoni said the returners will catch punts and kickoffs but there will be no returns in the game/scrimmage.

Here is how the UConn press release described what fans can expect today.

Saturday’s Blue vs. White Spring Game will not have a typical team vs. team format due to the fact that the Huskies have a limited amount of healthy players in certain position areas. The UConn offense will scrimmage against the UConn defense in various situations, including standard gameday, “back to the wall” starting at the one-yard line and having to move downfield and red zone.

Parking lots opened at 9 a.m. today with Rentschler Field gates set to open at 10:30 a.m. The game/scrimmage will begin at noon. WTIC-1080 will broadcast the game live and while SNY is expected to have a crew at the game, it will not be televising the game live as it did last year.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Offensive line looks to rebound after forgettable 2012 season

The 2012 season was not the best of times for UConn's offensive line.

UConn was 100th nationally in sacks allowed and 117th in rushing offense a combination that resulted in a disappointing 5-7 final record despite ranking ninth in total defense.

Six offensive linemen who started games last season are back so obviously optimism is high among the returnees as they look to reestablish the line as a dominant unit.

"I think we are going to go up," said senior guard Steve Greene. "I know I am not going to stand for it and all the other guys are with me, we are not going to be the weak point of this team. We are going to be the driving force behind this team that helps us win the game.

It was awful. There is no other word that says it. When you can’t run the ball it makes you so one dimensional and teams can virtually just tee off on you and it makes everything else a lot harder. When you can run the ball you can control the game and that is what we need to be back to. That is what we’ve been preaching and what we’ve been working. We are going to run the football and be successful at it."

Running the ball has been a trademark of recent UConn squads which made what happened last season tough to swallow for players and fans alike.

"It was a collaboration of everything, it wasn’t everybody all the time it was one person having a breakdown," Greene said. "On offense you need 11 guys functioning together or it is not going to work. Right now I feel like we are on that page, we are working real well and you are going to see some results.

"The standard has been set. We know what needs to get done. Really there is nothing left to do but to do it. I know it is a corny saying but that is what it comes down to."

The only returning starter gone is right guard Adam Masters who missed the last three games of the season with an ankle injury. 

"We lose Masters who is a special dude, he is tough to replace but he (got injured) early," Greene said. "Gus (Cruz) came out and got a lot of time so you can say we return the five guys we finished the season with which is going to be huge for us."

A bonus is the return of starting left tackle Jimmy Bennett for a sixth season of eligibility.

"Jimmy is one of my best friends, a great kid and the sky is the limit for him," Greene said. "It is good to see him finally play a full year of football last year and it is going to be good to see what he can do in his second year back. I am excited, we are all excited. We have been working well in the spring without Jimmy and when we gets inserted back into the lineup, I feel like it can only go up."

Bennett has shoulder surgery in December forcing him to miss the entire spring camp. In his place Xavier Hemingway and Dalton Gifford have had an opportunity to take first-team reps at left tackle.

"Jimmy is my right arm, I guess my left arm since he plays on my left side," Greene said. "Me and Jimmy have such a good chemistry out there, we don’t even have to make calls to know what each other is doing. It is huge for them to step in and get this time. I honestly felt they have been doing a great job. Honestly I was a little skeptical coming into the spring having X (Hemingway) on my left, a guy who hasn’t had much experience but he has done a great job. He got hurt, he is down right now and Gifford has stepped up and he has done a great job too."

Not only will Bennett be out of the lineup and Hemingway is iffy as well, but Alex Mateas (who started the first four games at center during the 2012 season) at has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. At the last open practice Tyler Bullock was at center with Cruz and Greene at guard,  Kevin Friend and Gifford at tackle on the first team. The second team featured Kyle Bockeloh at center, Zach Rugg and Tyler Samra at guard with Paul Nwokeji and Richard Levy at tackle.

Parking lots will open at Rentschler Field tomorrow beginning at 9 a.m. with gates set to open at 10:30 a.m. for the spring game which will start at noon. In the wake of the events in Boston security could be tighter than normal. UConn put out a reminder that  that personal bags are not allowed to be brought into events at Rentschler other than bags containing personal medical supplies.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Plenty of Huskies on NFL Draft Bible's Big Board

                                                                     (Associated Press photo)
Blidi Wreh-Wilson (left) and Sio Moore are both projected to be second-round

 selections in the NFL Draft Bible database which was released on Thursday.
The NFL Draft Bible site released one of the largest databases of draft prospects with 10 members of the 2012 UConn team among those prospects listed.

The list of more than 1,500 players is done by position. Sio Moore, who was the No. 6 outside linebacker Blidi Wreh-Wilson (No. 8 CB) and Trevardo Williams (No. 9 OLB) were the only UConn products to crack the top 10 at their position. A total of 10 Huskies are on the list (actually the number is 11 but Jesse Joseph is listed as the No. 69 defensive end and he is still a member of the Huskies).

Here's the list:
Rank Player Position  Projected round
6 Sio Moore OLB                   2
8 Blidi Wreh-Wilson CB          2
9 Trevardo Williams OLB      2/3
14 Dwayne Gratz CB            2/3
27 Ryan Griffin TE                 FA
45 Jory Johnson OLB           FA
68 John Delahunt  TE            FA
78 Michael Smith WR           FA
83 Adam Masters OG           FA
112 Nick Williams WR          FA

Also listed is former UConn safety Jerome Junior is the No. 50 listed strong safety, the University of New Haven has three players listed as Ryan Osiecki is the 68th quarterback, Kameel Lashley is the 70th rated tight end and Jason Thompson is 159th at the wide receiver position. New Haven native Jeremy Moore out of Georgetown is the 95th rated cornerback sack, Meriden's John Jenkins out of Georgia is No. 5 defensive tackle while Rutgers receiver Mark Harrison out of Stratford is 20th at his position.

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New uniforms unveiled

UConn held a press conference today to show off the new uniforms as a result of its rebranding campaign.

I figured I would share some of the photos taken by UConn's Steve Slade with tailback Lyle McCombs and linebacker Yawin Smallwood among the UConn student-athletes modeling the new uniforms.

NFL Network's Mayock impressed with Sio Moore

On a conference call today, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock listed former UConn linebacker Sio Moore as a possibility to be taken by the Seattle Seahawks with the 56th overall pick.

"I am really excited by his progress," Mayock said. "He is so versatile. He is the kind of guy that Pete Carroll would like."


Mateas has been suspended indefinitely

I caught enough of yesterday's practice to notice that Alex Mateas was not taking part in drills with the offensive line and asked head coach Paul Pasqualoni about it. He did confirm that Mateas did not practice but nothing more. Well today UConn said the junior center has been suspended from the team indefinitely for an unspecified violation of team rules. He will not play in Saturday's spring game.

Mateas started the first four games of the season at center before Tyler Bullock took over and was the starting center for the rest of the season. In the offensive line drills on Tuesday Bullock worked with the first team while Kyle Bockeloh was the second-team center.


Casey Cochran ready for spring game

There is no way of overstating how important these last few weeks have been for Casey Cochran.

The record-breaking quarterback out of Masuk High School has been given the opportunity to split time with returning starter Chandler Whitmer and Scott McCummings, who has seen time primarily as a QB in the wildcat formation. When the team gathers for fall camp, the number of quarterbacks vying for time will double with the arrival of freshmen Tim Boyle, Richard Lagow and Kivon Taylor so this has been a pivotal time for Cochran to open the eyes of the UConn coaches so he has a head start in earning the No. 2 quarterback position before the three recruits arrive on the scene.

"It is good to get all the work in," Cochran said. "Last year we had five QBs in the spring and we were splitting reps. This year with three QBs it has opened it up for us to get so many more reps. (UConn quarterbacks) Coach (Shane) Day has been challenging us on every play so I think every play in a mental process and it has been a really rewarding spring just being to go out there, make some plays, make some mistakes and learn from those mistakes.

"I think every guy out there is trying to show everything they’ve got on every play and I think that is huge for everybody in the spring. When we have this big break before we have fall camp and being able to show what you have before that break, before camp is huge for everybody here so I think that is a big deal."

Since Cochran graduated early from Masuk he was able to enroll in time for the spring semester and take part in spring drills. However, his first spring camp did not end the way he envisioned as he struggled in the spring game. Cochran was 4 of 15 with an interception and he was intercepted once. With just the three quarterbacks for this year's spring game, Cochran will start for one of the two teams while Whitmer will start for the other with McCummings playing for both teams so neither Cochran nor Whitmer will have to play the entire game.

Cochran is confident the fans heading out to Rentschler Field for the game on Saturday at noon will see a much improved quarterback from the one who played in the 2012 spring game or in high school.

"Since high school my arm has gotten better (and even) since last spring," Cochran said. "Being able to (make) different throws was huge in college. There are completely different throws that what you have to do in high school and I think arm strength is one thing that has improved and another thing is being able to learn the offense versus different defenses because the defenses are so complex."

UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni said there will be four 20-minute quarters with running time except for the final two minutes of the second and fourth quarters where normal clock operation will be used. There will be punts and kickoffs with the returners able to catch the ball but there will be no returns in the game. UConn announced today that there will be some controlled portions of the scrimmage since injuries have caused issues at certain positions (linebacker is one that immediately comes to mind).

Linebacker Yawin Smallwood, offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen are among the key players who will be held out of the game. Pasqualoni couldn't even put list a number of players who will be held out of the spring game but when I said "about 20" he said that sounded about right.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

UConn's tight ends impressing during spring practice

There may not be another position on the UConn squad which collectively has had a more surprising spring than the tight ends.

With the graduation of Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt and with the only experience among the returnees coming on special teams, there was genuine concern whether the returning group of tight ends had what it takes to fill the void.

The quartet of Mark Hansson, Sean McQuillan, Spencer Parker and James Horan has been opening some eyes during the spring as they attempt to show that while they may be inexperienced, they do have an ability to fill one the void left by the departure of Delahunt and Griffin.

“It was probably one of our weakest points on offense at the start of the spring and it is growing to be a strength for us,” UConn offensive coordinator T.J. Weist said. “They are playing more physical as the spring has gone on at that position and they have proven they can go and make some plays on the perimeter.”

Hansson is the biggest of the four tight ends as he is listed at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds on the current UConn roster while the other three are all listed as weighing less than 240 points. Parker is the lightest of the quartet at 223 pounds but the redshirt senior has been in the program the longest while McQuillan has shown some impressive pass-catching potential during the spring.

“All four of the tight ends who are there are doing a great job,” McQuillan said after Tuesday’s practice. “I think we are going to continue to (improve) and we are going to play a big role in the offense.”

McQuillan and the rest of the returning tight ends gained valuable insight from Delahunt and Griffin during practices in the last couple of seasons and now they are hoping it translates to on the field production beginning with Saturday’s spring game.

“With guys like that the only thing you can do is take tips from them, learn from them,” McQuillan said. “They are great guys and it makes it easy when it is your turn to do the right thing. Having them there for two years was great and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

“They were leaders on the team and I am just trying to fill those shoes and I think we are all starting to do that as a tight end unit and I think the best thing is people didn’t think that tight ends were going to be a huge part of the offense after they left and after going through most of the spring I think people realized that we are going to be a big part of the offense.”

Considering that Weist came to UConn from Cincinnati where the Bearcats had one of the nation's best pass-catching tight ends in Travis Kelce, it seems like a good time to be a tight end for the Huskies.

"Coach Weist is a great coach and he has given me a lot of pointers himself," McQuillan said. "I think with him coming with a tight end like that from Cincinnati, it has been a huge advantage as well."

Before the start of spring practice the feeling was that no incoming freshmen could come in and make an impact quicker than the tight ends. While that may still happen, the most highly touted of the tight end signees will not be with the team for the 2013 season as Jordan Fuchs is planning to spend the fall at a prep school to gain more football experience before arriving at UConn.

“When we signed Jordan, he really wanted one more year to play football, because he has just started playing football,” UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “We agreed to that. We said to him, get in a good prep school environment where you are playing pretty good football and then come in January.”

Pasqualoni said with only three quarterbacks, Scott McCummings will rotate between both teams during Saturday's spring game so that either Chandler Whitmer or Casey Cochran won't have to play the entire scrimmage with one team.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Adams in line for expanded role

The move of starting safety Byron Jones has been a popular story line during UConn's spring practice but if not for the emergence of Andrew Adams, it's unlikely that the Huskies' coaching staff would be able to make such a move.

Adams was a relative unknown heading into fall camp in 2012 but as he continued to make plays his time on the field. It didn't take long for Adams to make an impact as his first tackle went for a 9-yard loss in the season-opening win over UMass and he had back to back five-tackle games against  Maryland and Western Michigan.

Adams made 23 tackles including two behind the line of scrimmage, he recovered a fumble against Rutgers and broke up four passes playing mostly in the five and six defensive back formations. Now he has a chance to have a more expanded role as he is vying for a starting safety spot next to Ty-Meer Brown.

"I am still trying to get a lot of the assignments down but everything has been going good," Adams aid after Saturday's practice. "The biggest adjustment is a new playbook, have a new defensive coordinator (Hank Hughes) so it is kind of mixed between last year and this year.

"I'm just focusing on my assignments, doing what I am supposed to do, being in the right position and all the stuff goes a long way so if you do the little things right you will find the field and you will get a decent amount of playing time."

With the graduation of cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who both could be taken by the end of the second day in the NFL draft, and a lack of size among the top returning cornerback candidates the decision was made to move Jones to corner.

"Byron is a good player and I guess they felt like we needed him at corner so of course that moved me up but I am just trying to make the best of my situation," Adams said. "We weigh the same, he might be a little taller but I might be a little more physical but Byron is a great player."

So what will Adams try to bring to the defense if he earns a starting spot?

"I try to be as physical as I can," Adams said. "I try to play hard and play fast."

He is also excited about the potential of a Connecticut defense which lost six starters including four expected to be taken in the NFL draft later this month.

"I think this group can be just as good as last year, I really do," Adams said. "If we keep pushing and do what we’ve been doing day in and day out and I think we can be better than last year, I really do."

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

New offensive coordinator making an immediate impact

Now that the UConn women's basketball team's march to an eighth national title is over, I am back in Connecticut and it is time to catch up with the progress of the football team during spring camp.

I was up in Storrs today to catch the first half hour of practice before the team held a scrimmage that was closed to the newspaper reporters.

At the first couple of practices I attended, I was impressed with the energy of new offensive coordinator and receivers coach T.J. Weist who has been known to sprint 40 yards down the field to high five one of his receivers after a great catch. Following today's festivities something else caught my eye and that was the rapport that he has already developed with his players. Well after the scrimmage was over Weist engaged in an impromptu game of volleyball using a football as a prop with his receivers. When that was over, he posed with a photo with his beaming group of pass catchers at the request of Weist's wife.

“I love him,” said junior receiver Shakim Phillips. “He is high energy all the time. We try to outwork him all the time. It is hard to outwork him but we try to outwork him. He is running around like crazy, he is a great coach. He teaches more of technique and more of the fundamentals and that is helping us out.”

Weist came to UConn from Cincinnati so he did arrive with some knowledge of the personnel that he has to work with but spring practice has been a time for him to not only install a new offense but also discover the playmakers he has in the fold.

“I am new, of course, and I have to learn the guys,” Weist said. “But, it is almost like any school you are at it doesn't matter if you are coming off a national championship season, you've got to get a feel for the personnel even if you know your guys, you usually have young guys who are taking over. It has been a little bit of a combination of both not just me getting to know the players and know them off the field but also getting to know them and what they are able to do, that is key for me. If I had been here for years I would be doing the same thing, OK what is our personnel and that is what we talk about as a staff, what groupings can we use, what plays can we run, what concepts can we use, what are the best runs with the people that we have and that is what we are deciding right now and what is best for our personnel. The good thing is I think we are very well rounded, all of our positions have really developed and I am really pleased with that.”

Weist came in knowing he had a returning starting quarterback in Chandler Whitmer, starting tailback (Lyle McCombs), a pair of playmaking receivers (Phillips and Geremy Davis) and six offensive linemen who started games last season.

He has been thrilled with the way the returnees have meshed with the untested youngsters.

“We are probably on schedule on where we want to be. I think we are progressing well every single day as we understand, learn and execute the offense,” Weist said. “I think in these scrimmages players are executing with the physicality, good understanding and good finish and that is how we are learning how to play, we are creating our identity on offense and that is what we want to see.”

Weist raved about the how Chandler Whitmer continues to grow into a leadership role at quarterback.

"I think he is playing very confident, not just in the fact that we understands the offense but he built up a rapport with the skill guys in the offseason," Weist said. "Those guys know each other, not just the backs but the tight ends, receivers, he feels good about leading them because those guys have worked in the offseason, they have come together, (run) routes. I think when Chandler drops back, he feels like he knows his backs, he knows his tight ends and he knows what they are going to do and that makes a huge difference because now they can execute and make plays, he is playing with confidence because he is a leader. He is motivating guys, the guys respect him. He has thrown some good footballs because he feels good about not only executing the offense but executing the offense against our defense. Our defense gives us a lot of different looks, a lot of different problems and unless it is man or zone or press whatever it is, he is feeling comfortable because he has a veteran offensive line that is coming together, they are playing physical, they are understanding, they are picking up a lot of defenses and he is feeling a little better in the pocket and that combination of having a better relationship with your receivers and feeling better with protection,it lets him get rid of the ball faster."

Saturday’s scrimmage ended with redshirt freshman cornerback Jhavon Williams returning an interception about 80 yards for a score. … Sophomore running back Joe Williams left the scrimmage with an apparent left ankle injury and he had a walking boot on his left leg following practice. ..Xavier Hemingway, who has seen most of the first-team snaps at left offensive tackle with starting tackle Jimmy Bennett recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, was held out of practice. … Nick Apostolu, a 6-foot-5, 305-pound lineman out of Springfield (Pa.) High, was in attendance at Saturday’s scrimmage.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Pasqualoni takes in women's basketball on-campus rally

Among the more than 2,000 people outside the UConn student union for a rally in honor of the national champion UConn women's basketball team was football coach Paul Pasqualoni and assistant coach Kermit Buggs.

I spoke to Pasqualoni for a couple of minutes to get his reaction to the championship run of the women's basketball team.

"They are a great team and just wow you to death as a team," Pasqualoni said. "Coach Auriemma and his staff have the best basketball program in the country, they really do. They do a great job coaching, his staff does a great job coaching and the players are just outstanding."

I was also curious how Pasqualoni reacted to the women's team overcoming some inconsistent play during the regular season and were able to put it all together once the NCAA tournament rolled along.

"It is a great example of every day you go out to get better, you keep trying to improve, the team kind of came together and everybody get healthy a little bit more at the end and they really put it together," Pasqualoni said. "It is a great thing for the state of Connecticut, the pride in the state of Connecticut."

Unfortunately, I have missed the last couple of open practices due to my women's basketball coverage responsibilities but Pasqualoni has been happy with the way spring camp has been progressing.

"We are doing good we are competing hard and not too many injuries which is important," Pasqualoni said. "We just have to see if we can avoid some injuries between now and a week from Saturday and finishing up strong."


Saturday, April 06, 2013

Sio Moore to 49ers, Blidi Wreh-Wilson to Eagles in mock draft

The NFL Draft Bible released a 75-pick mock draft this morning and thought it was interesting that they had Sio Moore as the first UConn product off the board going 34th overall to the San Francisco 49ers while Blidi Wreh-Wilson wasn't picked until the third round as he went No. 67 to Philadelphia.

I know these mock drafts a little more than interesting fodder but figured I would pass it on.

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Friday, April 05, 2013

Griffin meets with Buffalo Bills

                                                                                        (Associated Press photo)
Former UConn tight end Ryan Griffin, who visited with the Buffalo Bills today,
could be a late-round pick in the NFL draft according to ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.
While the quartet of Dwayne Gratz, Sio Moore, Trevardo Williams and Blidi Wreh-Wilson are generating the pre-draft buzz out of UConn, tight end Ryan Griffin should not be overlooked at a potential draft prospect.

On a recent conference call with ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., I asked him if he could see Griffin going in a late round or if he is more likely to head to camp as an undrafted rookie free agent.

"I think he is an asset to a football team," Kiper said. "I think he is a late rounder or priority free agent but I think he can make a football team."

Nobody has to tell that to new Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone.

Marrone came to Buffalo after being the head coach at Syracuse. In Syracuse's 40-10 dismantling of UConn last season Griffin was one of the few bright spots with six receptions for 72 yards including a 32-yard TD catch which pulled the Huskies within 13-10 in the second quarter. He also had three catches against Syracuse as a sophomore and 10 of his 116 career receptions came against the Orange so it should hardly come as a shock that Griffin joined Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones and Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones as players hosted by the Bills today according to the team's official twitter account.


Wednesday, April 03, 2013

UConn's new conference is no longer nameless

It was announced today that the conference UConn will be playing in next season will be called the American Athletic Conference.

“We worked with our institutions, sports marketing experts, media partners, and also solicited opinions and reactions from collegiate sports fans to create a compelling list of names,” said Big East commissioner Mike Aresco in a statement.  “Versions that included the word ‘American’ led every list.  American Athletic Conference represents a strong, durable and aspirational name for our reinvented conference.

Cincinnati, Connecticut and South Florida are the holdovers from the current Big East while Louisville and Rutgers will be in the league next season before leaving for the ACC and Big 10 respectively.

Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist and Temple (which was already in the Big East for football) will also be a part of the conference next season with East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa while Navy will be a football only part of the conference beginning in 2015.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Tulsa to join Big East in 2014

The Big East announced that Tulsa addition to the yet to be named conference that UConn and the rest of the remaining football playing schools will be playing in beginning in the 2014-15 season.

Tulsa will become the 11th all-sport member of the conference which is breaking off from the basketball schools who do not play football at the highest level. Navy is still planning to join in football only in 2015, which will give the conference 12 football members.

Former NFL head coach among four honorary coaches for UConn spring game

UConn announced that former Cleveland Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano, the 1980 NFL Coach of the Year, and Dave Adolph, an NFL defensive coordinator for 14 seasons, join former Huskies Dave Lalima and Stan Rajczewski as honorary coaches for the UConn spring football game on Apr. 20.

Here is the official release from UConn

Former University of Connecticut assistant coaches Sam Rutigliano and Dave Adolph along with former players Dave Lalima and Stan Rajczewski will serve as honorary coaches for the UConn Blue-White Spring Football Game on Saturday, April 20, 2013, at Rentschler Field. Admission and parking are free with a noon kickoff, parking lots opening at 9:30 a.m. and stadium gates opening at 10:30 a.m. with a FanFest inside.
Rutigliano was the defensive backs coach at UConn in 1964 and 1965 and went on to a successful career in professional football. Rutigliano was also an assistant coach at Tennessee and Maryland before joining the staff of the Denver Broncos of the American Football League in 1967. He was an assistant coach in the professional ranks until he became the head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 1978. Rutigliano was the NFL Coach of the Year in 1980 as the Browns won the AFC Central title. He later served as the head coach at Liberty University from 1989-99.

Adolph was on the UConn staff from 1965-68 and worked with both the offensive and defensive lines. Adolph also served as an assistant coach at Ohio State, Illinois, Kentucky and Akron. He spent his entire pro coaching career (21 years) in the AFC, including 14 years as a defensive coordinator and 12 seasons in the AFC West, making 11 career playoff appearances in the process. Prior to joining the Chiefs, Adolph spent two years ('97-98) as linebackers coach for the Oakland Raiders. He signed on with Oakland after a two-year stint ('95-96) as defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers. During his three-year tenure as Kansas City's defensive coordinator from '92-94, the Chiefs made three straight playoff appearances.

Adolph originally came to Kansas City after spending three seasons ('89-91) as defensive coordinator for the L.A. Raiders. He spent the '86-88 seasons as defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns. Adolph began his NFL career as the Browns defensive line coach in 1979. He took over the club's linebackers in '81 before assuming duties as defensive coordinator midway through the '84 season when Marty Schottenheimer was named head coach. He then spent one season ('85) as an assistant for San Diego before rejoining the Browns in '86. He later returned to the college ranks as an assistant coach at the University of San Diego.

Lalima, a native of East Longmeadow, Mass., was a halfback and defensive back, who lettered for the Huskies in 1964 and ’66. After graduating from UConn, Lalima earned a law degree from Boston College. He served as regional counselor for social services in the state of Massachusetts during his career. In retirement, Lalima spends two week a year in Uganda working with a medical team to provide care to poverty-stricken residents of that country.

Rajczewski, a native of Stamford, Conn., was an offensive lineman for the Huskies and was an All-Yankee Conference selection in 1968. He lettered from 1966-68. Rajczewski had a long English teaching career from 1972-2003 at Mount Vernon (N.Y.) High School, the same high school that former UConn men’s basketball start Ben Gordon attended. Rajczewski was an assistant football coach at Mount Vernon and also was the strength and conditioning coach. He currently resides in Newtown.