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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