Saturday, August 31, 2013

17 UConn products make NFL rosters

With the flood of moves today with NFL teams getting down to the regular-season maximum 53-player rosters, there are 17 former UConn players who made the cut although that includes Texans rookie Trevardo Williams who was placed on injured reserve.

There were a couple of roster casualties today as receivers Kashif Moore and Nick Williams were let gp by Pittsburgh and Washington respectively.

The majority of the 17 players were no brainers heading into camp. "Bubble" players who made it due to impressive preseasons included LB Danny Lansanah and WR Marcus Easley.

Here's the list

Will Beatty, OT New York Giants
Tyvon Branch, S Oakland
Donald Brown, RB Indianapolis
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston
Danny Lansanah, LB New York Jets
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta
Sio Moore, LB Oakland
Dan Orlovsky, Tampa Bay
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City
Donald Thomas, OG Indianapolis
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville
Trevardo Williams, LB Houston (injured reserve)
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee

Former Huskies have big preseasons

Today is a huge one for former UConn players on the proverbial roster bubble as NFL teams have to get down to the regular-season maximum 53-player rosters.

While the list of cuts start trickling in, I figured I would post about where the UConn players finished in preseason stat lists.

Jordan Todman, who has made Jacksonville's 53-man roster, was the second-leading rusher in the preseason with 223 yards averaging an impressive 7.7 yards per carry.

Ryan Griffin, a sixth-round pick of the Houston Texans, finished second with 14 receptions while Buffalo's Marcus Easley was tied for seventh with 12 catches and second with 223 receiving yards.

Dwayne Gratz of Jacksonville was tied for second with two interceptions and Trevardo Williams of the Houston Texans was tied for fourth with 3.5 sacks.

It's not all good news as there are multiple reports out of Oakland that Raiders' rookie linebacker Sio Moore could miss the season opener with a toe injury. If that is the case it would only be a temporary setback with Moore, who is expecting to make a major impact for the Raiders.

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Impressive opener for UConn recruit

UConn commit Alec Bloom began his senior season in style as he had a 49-yard scoring run and 40-yard touchdown reception in Ligonier Valley's 35-0 win over Purchase Line last night.

Bloom ran seven times for 57 yards and had 70 yards on four receptions.

Also, fellow UConn commit Luke Carrezola had a sack as Neshaminy opened the 2013 season with a 33-0 win over Northeast.

Also, here is a link to a youtube video of Ansonia's Arkeel Newsome in action against West Haven in a scrimmage last night. Ansonia didn't have numbers on its jerseys but sure you can figure out when Newsome has the ball.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Pasqualoni reacts the day after Towson loss

Paul Pasqualoni wrapped up about a 20-minute conference call with the media and obviously a lion's share of the questions were of the "what went wrong?" variety following last night's loss to Towson.

He said he thought quarterback Chandler Whitmer was "jittery", the offensive line's pass protection was pretty good except when junior defensive end Ryan Delaire was matched up on RT Xavier Hemingway (starting in place of  concussed Kevin Friend), UConn made too many mistakes to win against a team as good as Towson.

Here's what he had to say

"We are in the process of grading the film and making evaluations. Overall as a team we didn’t play well enough as a team and that certainly includes the quarterback position. I thought Chandler was a little bit jittery in our opener. He did the same thing last year in our game against UMass when we opened the season. It was kind of the same first-game jitter thing so we are going to work. Fortunately we’ve got two weeks until Maryland and we are going to work on it. I am confident that Chandler will perform better at the next outing. Of course we are going to work the two backup quarterbacks, the three backup quarterbacks hard. Last night when he got the ball out on time Chandler really threw the ball well. When we didn’t get the ball out on time, it didn’t look very good

Part of it was being a little bit jittery. Sometimes it was seeing over the rush and other times when you are not an extremely tall quarterback, you are a 6-foot, 6-foot-1 guys you’ve got to kind of slide around in the pocket to find a window to throw the ball in. He’s done that a lot better than he did it last night. For whatever reason there are times when he did it well and got the ball off and it was pretty impressive and there were a number of times when he did not get into the window to throw the ball and consequently was forced to throw the ball around. That is something that he is going to have to work on and we are going to work on.

Those guys made some catches out there, they are big physical guys. There are a few things Shak and Geremy can do better too. It was frustrating because there were other opportunities to get the ball to those guys. We have got to be able to execute

One of the bright spots for me last night after going through the film was the protections were really pretty good. I thought we had a little bit of trouble with a young player No. 75 (Xavier Hemingway) on No. 56 (Ryan Delaire) for Towson who is a good pass rusher and a very god inside pass rusher. If I had to do it over again I would probably have tried to help No. 75 a little bit more on the protection. Having said that I think one of our bright spots was our protection because a high percentage of the time the protection was really very good

Defensively we adjusted as the game went on but we could have done a better job on some of those runs early in the game. We improved as the game went on. We lost leverage on a couple of plays that came out of there. It was not something we had worked a great deal on so we had to adjust those two things I could have done better and staff could have done better with.

That hurt, he hurt his knee just twisted his knee warming up. He is getting an MRI today.

The kids are going to see that we made far too many mistakes in this game. Again this Towson team has good players. With all the mistakes that we made, if we were able to hold on to that punt with three minutes to go we still have a two-minute drill to try to get the game tied despite everything that happened up to that point

We can’t give up those plays. This is the third year and we have a tendency to give up a play in the back end. Taylor gave one up, that long pass to Leon (Kinnard). Byron gave one up. He was all over the guy and just didn’t make a play on the ball. We’ve got to do a better job. I think those guys were capable, they were right where they needed to be. Taylor just kind of tripped and stumbled. He’s made that play. He’s made that play against good teams but he has to be more consistent. It is just frustrating as can be.

McQuillan had a nice play. Coverage dictated that the ball didn’t get to the tight end as much as we would have liked. Both of those guys are very capable as receivers. As the season moved on I am optimistic they will be a bigger part of the offense

I am not adjusting anything. We have to establish the identity of the team and the expectation is to have a successful season so we are not adjusting anything

We dropped a punt, we had the ball on the 1-yard line and missed getting into the end zone. There were opportunities there that we didn’t cash in on. We gave the ball away a couple of times, we missed the 4th-and-1 with the sneak so we left some points out there.

I think it was very disappointing to the fans. I am totally aware of that and I totally get that. I am totally disappointed for the players and the staff so we understand that. We are making every effort to put out a team and a product on the field that the fans can be proud of and we are going to continue with that goal

Naturally the most eye-opening statement was the one on the offensive line. I tweeted it and have received plenty of feedback on it. I did not see a tape of the game but I would say that at least three of the five sacks were a case of Whitmer holding onto the ball for too long and of course there was Delaire blowing by Hemingway almost untouched for a sack. There were also more and more times when Whitmer evaded sacks by scrambling. More than any other time I remember seeing him play, Whitmer seemed to be flustered by the pass rush even tucking the ball down when there wasn't a ton of pressure.He also missed probably a half dozen routine throws and was hurt by a couple of drops. The good news is there were plenty of open receivers to throw to even if the connections weren't always made.

 I think what was even more disturbing (and it is the subject of the story  I wrote for tomorrow's paper) is how little pressure the UConn front four put on Towson QB Peter Athens. I don't even know if they needed to throw Athens' jersey in the wash when the Tigers got home. One stat that jumps out at me is that there were 25 unassisted tackles credited to the Huskies and 14 of them were registered by defensive backs. What that tells me is that the front seven simply wasn't involved enough.

Humbling opener for UConn

When I look back at what happened on Thursday night at Rentschler Field, I won't recall the Huskies' mistakes (although they were plenty of those) as much I will focus on the way UConn was manhandled at the line of scrimmage by the lower division team from Towson.

Lyle McCombs ran with more assertiveness than I recall him doing a season ago but as the game wore on the Towson defensive line managed to bottle things up at the line of scrimmage while bringing more pressure on UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer.

Perhaps even more surprising to me was how little pressure the Huskies' front seven was able to generate. Not only did UConn not sack Towson quarterback Pete Athens but it rarely got close to him.

With upcoming games against Maryland and Michigan, this was not how the Huskies needed to start the season especially with head coach Paul Pasqualoni already feeling heat coming off a pair of 5-7 seasons.

"I don’t think we executed like we should have and that is basically what happened," senior offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett said. "It is nothing that we haven’t seen before and what we game planned (for). It is just disappointing to lose like that especially with new jerseys, new scoreboard. We wanted to go out there and set a tone and that is not the way you want to do it."

As for the miscues, Chandler Whitmer's attempted screen pass was tipped and intercepted by Jon Desir leading to a Towson score, there was a costly illegal substitution penalty with UConn on the goal line late in the first half, a series of poor plays in the secondary and a muffed punt by Brian Lemelle which led to Towson's final touchdown in the 33-18 loss.

In other notes, Pasqualoni said starting right tackle Kevin Friend was dealing with a concussion and that was why he did not play but Pasqualoni believes Friend should be ready for the next game against Maryland.

This was the first time UConn lost to a FCS team since a 35-21 loss to Eastern Washington in 2001.

Receiver Kamal Abrams appeared to hurt his knee in pregame warmups and did not play. 

Along with Lemelle, the other true freshmen to appear in the game for UConn were Matt Walsh and Dhameer Bradley.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Revamped UConn defense has potential

Hank Hughes knows it will be no easy task replacing six defensive starters including four expected to make NFL rosters but the UConn defensive coordinator is encouraged by the amount of talent he has to build his defense around.

It starts with a pair of physical senior defensive ends in Jesse Joseph and Tim Willman who combine with tackles Shamar Stephen and Julian Campenni to give the Huskies a physical front four. Add in leading tackler Yawin Smallwood to go with Ryan Donohue and Graham Stewart and the Huskies' front seven could be even more physically imposing this season.

"I think we have a good group of guys," Hughes said. "Certainly with (the departure of ) Sio and Trevardo  has tremendous speed and we lost a good player, he didn’t play much for us last year, in Teddy Jennings, Ryan Wirth was a dominant player. He was a guy who didn’t get the credit he deserved because he is a one-year starter behind Reyes but that guy was a great player and when you lose good players you don’t replace them overnight but I feel like we have quality depth and we have a solid group of guys. I feel like we can put out there a good front seven."

The Huskies also lost both starting corners as Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson are vying to become rookie starters with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans respectively. Even with converted safety Byron Jones and former nickel back Taylor Mack set to start, Hughes believes the Huskies can be as aggressive as they were in the past.

"I think we can do a lot of the similar kind of things," Hughes said. "You don’t replace players overnight at any position and those guys played a lot. When Dwayne Gratz is playing now it isn’t the same Dwayne Gratz that was playing against Notre Dame when he was a young player and he was a role player. I think these guys can fill in and do a solid job. I don’t feel like we can’t call something and have any questions about these guys having the ability to do it."


McCombs looks to rebound from 2012 season

With a new offensive coordinator and new running backs' coach it's really hard to predict how Lyle McCombs, the Huskies' leading rusher in the last two seasons, is going to be utilized this season but perhaps we will get a pretty good idea during tonight's season opener against Towson.

Head coach Paul Pasqualoni has mentioned his desire to have more than one tailback involved in the game plan so it will be interesting to see if Max DeLorenzo, Martin Hyppolite and freshman Josh Marriner get into the ball-carrying mix.

McCombs knows that despite rushing for more than 100 yards in two of the last three games during his sophomore season, the 2012 campaign was one he would like to forget. It sounds like that is exactly what he is claiming to be trying to do.

"I think the past is behind us and we are ready to move on and put up some numbers," McCombs said. "I am focusing on being a leader, being a spark to the offense and being the guy who is positive. When things aren’t going right to lead the troops and make sure we are still doing the job."

One area where McCombs could be used differently is in the passing game as there seems to be more of an emphasis on getting the ball to the running backs in the passing game.

"That would be nice but at the end of the day it is up to what Coach (Weist) wants to do," McCombs said. "If they need me to do it, I will do whatever they need me do."

Pasqualoni wants to see McCombs run with more discipline than he did a season ago.

"He is going to help himself a great deal by not trying to do too much and taking what he’s got, get back in the huddle and run the next play instead of trying to make big plays, just do your job and hit it up in there where it is supposed to go," Pasqualoni said. "The big ones will come, we don’t know when they will come but if you hit them up in there and play the right way they will come."

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Frank making an impact at DE

Perhaps no position change caught me more by surprise than when starting fullback Reuben Frank was shifted over the play defensive end.

With No. 2 fullback Mike Osiecki retiring due to multiple concussions and Martin Hyppolite,  who is the tailback the most likely to be able to see snaps at fullback, involved in a serious automobile accident, there seemed to be a lack of depth at the fullback position. On the other end of things, it seemed as if defensive end was one of the deeper spots on the roster.

However, the UConn coaches proceeded with the move and it seems to be paying off.

True freshman Matt Walsh and redshirt freshman Jazzmar Clax have looked pretty solid at fullback during the preseason camp and Frank has wasted little time carving out a spot in the defensive end position.

When I spoke with star linebacker Yawin Smallwood at media day and he was asked which defensive players have stepped up the most to date, Frank was the first player he mentioned. The coaches obviously agreed since he was listed as a second-team DE on the depth chart for the Towson game.

Frank has shown an ability to provide pressure off the edge during camp which probably shouldn't be a huge shocker considering that he had a pair of four-sack games as a high school senior.

"I try to learn as much as possible and pay attention at meetings," Frank said. "I played defensive end in high school and it has been really good Coach (Hank) Hughes is a very good coach, I have very good leaders in front of me like Tim Willman, Shamar Stephen and Jesse Joseph to help me stay focused.

"I think it was a decision the coaches made to move me to defensive end. It is a good spot for me, a good fit and I feel pretty comfortable over there. I just have to keep working and do what coach is telling me."

As a fullback Frank often was asked to help out blocking opposing defensive ends so being on the other side of things has helped him.

"I feel like from playing defensive end in high school some of those techniques carried over and I have to keep working to get better," Frank said.

"I feel that is one good thing and another good thing is I can look at some of the formations, I’ll know what the play might be because I used to play fullback."

I just took a quick peek at the UConn roster and saw the addition of a couple of walkons.

The first one is Robert Decker, a long snapper from Greenwich who has been assigned by No. 64 and Alex Haendler, a linebacker out of King who is wearing No. 48. The only player no longer on the roster is freshman linebacker Peter Hubbard.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mostly good news for UConn grads on cutdown day

Taking a look at the list of cuts as NFL teams got down to the 75-player maximum today, the only former Huskies I saw getting cut loose was rookie free agent wide receiver Michael Smith who was listed under the waived/injured list.

Smith was listed as having a left knee injury.

Linebacker Lawrence Wilson was cut by the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Among the players on the bubble who made it among the final 75 players on their respective NFL teams are WR Kashif Moore (Steelers), WR Nick Williams (Redskins), WR Marcus Easley (Bills), LB Danny Lansanah (Jets) and QB Dan Orlovsky (Buccaneers).

By my count there are 19 UConn products currently on NFL rosters heading into the final round of cuts as teams have to get down to 53 players by Saturday.

Will Beatty, OT New York Giants
Tyvon Branch, S Oakland
Donald Brown, RB Indianapolis
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston
Danny Lansanah, LB New York Jets
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta
Kashif Moore, WR Pittsburgh
Sio Moore, LB Oakland
Dan Orlovsky, Tampa Bay
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City
Donald Thomas, OG Indianapolis
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville
Nick Williams, WR Washington
Trevardo Williams, LB Houston
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee

McQuillan cleared to play

On a teleconference with the Connecticut media UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said that sophomore tight end Sean McQuillan has been cleared to play in Thursday's season opener.

Pasqualoni said McQuillan was cleared in the last day or two. McQuillan was out there doing some stuff on Sunday and quarterback Chandler Whitmer said the Huskies' likely starter at tight end is doing pretty well.

"He is doing well," Whitmer said on Sunday. "That was scary but he is back and is ready to go."

McQuillan suffered a concussion on a hit by Taylor Mack at a practice late in camp. At first glance it looked like a helmet to helmet hit but Pasqualoni said that wasn't the case.

"The positive part of it was the player who hit him tried not to hit him with his helmet and just didn’t get low enough and hit him kind of with his shoulder and arm in his neck and jaw area," Pasqualoni said.

Pasqualoni said everybody he was expected to have looks good for go for the Towson game.

There hasn't been much news on Hamden Hall quarterback T.J. Linta since UConn received a commitment from St. Paul's Logan Marchi.

I spoke to Linta's father for another story I am working on and he said that T.J. is looking at Virginia, Brown and Princeton and that a commitment could come ."probably in another week or two."

The Lintas are planning another visit to Brown and could make another trip to Virginia as well but the hope is to have the college decision done with before T.J. Linta begins his senior season.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ambrose has taken Towson to unchartered territory

Former UConn offensive coordinator Rob Ambrose, seen talking to LSU's
Les Miles before a 2012 game will lead his Towson team against UConn
Following the question and answer sessions with UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni and a few of the Huskies I was among those working in the hallway at Gampel Pavilion on Sunday afternoon. UConn SID Mike Enright walked off with his cell phone in his hand and asked "do you want to talk to Rob Ambrose?"

Considering that we were supposed to get the Towson head coach on a teleconference before Pasqualoni met with the media and I promised my boss that I was going to have a story on the former UConn offensive coordinator this week, I figured it was a rhetorical question.

Let's just say that the eight-minute interview with Ambrose was well worth the wait.

He started it off recalling the story of being shown the contract UConn was going to sign to play Towson when he was still an assistant coach with the Huskies which I posted in a previous blog. but there was more to come.

He addressed what Towson gets from agreeing to play teams like UConn.

"It is another great opportunity to play a really good football team, get a little more national exposure and take a little bit of a paycheck. I can tell you that we are not chartering the flight because we are not getting that much money so we are traveling back and forth kind of sucks but it is a good opportunity.

Here are his thoughts on returning to Rentschler even if it means being in the visitors' locker room.

"I can tell you from experience with all the spring games we played in the stadium, I certainly liked being in the home-team locker room a hell of a lot more than I liked being in the visiting-team locker room. It is a night game so I don’t have to worry about when the sun goes down where the shade sits, it is nice to go back. I have a bunch of the old players telling me that they are coming back into town and that is going to be cool but come kickoff time it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the kids."

So what is he expecting from the Huskies?

"Whether it is UConn, Syracuse or anything Paul has his hands on, every team he coaches is extremely disciplined, extremely physical, extremely tough and they are always going to play sound defense and it is no different here.

"They are bigger than we are. I have some guys with some size too but once they go out I have the mighty midgets, they are like the Little Giants coming in there. We have to play up because physically UConn is better than we are."

Here's his take on his star running back Terrance West who has run for 2,340 yards and 43 touchdowns in his first two seasons and is a player Pasqualoni said was one of the best running backs the Huskies will face this season.

"He is one of those guys who almost got lost. He was committed to Clemson at one point and they kind of backed out. He has a whole string of bad things that kind of happened to him that led him to our doorstep. I watched a very talented and immature young man grow up to be an extremely impressive, mature physically gifted great teammate. The kid has always had talent but watching him grow up and being a part of that process and seeing how he has taken being a teammate to studying the game becoming more of a professional mentality of how you approach the learning of Division I football. I can not rave enough about him as a person and a player."

So which FBS teams are the Tigers slated to play in upcoming seasons?

"West Virginia, South Florida, Maryland is on it in some manner once or twice, as far as I know there won’t be one of those years when we play the No. 21 team in the country and the No. 5 team in the country in the same year, we are not doing that anymore

"It has its pluses and its negatives. It is raising the bar for the measuring stuck of how you want to approach the season but you are also taking a chance every time you play. The more of these you play against competition that is either a little bit bigger than you or better than you and knowing that when those guys comes out, the next guy who comes there is not that much difference between he and the starter, you just can’t fight Mike Tyson play after play and expect to survive the season, you just can’t and our league is tough enough at this level. It has some benefits and lets your guys know where you stand physically, mentally, speed wise and everything but it is not something you want to do every day."

What are Ambrose's thoughts on how preseason camp played out especially with so many players back from back to back Colonial Athletic Association championship teams?

"It is a very mature veteran team. They have been through a lot, been a lot of places, won a lot of ball games, suffered through losing and what that felt like and they have had the joys of winning and doing things that this program has never seen done before and earned those too. Winning games is fun but watching young men turn into real men, that is real fun."

UConn No. 72 in Sagarin rankings

For those who are into such things, the first Sagarin ratings of the 2013 season are out.

UConn checks in at No. 72 in between Indiana and Air Force.

As for UConn's 2013 opponents, Michigan is at No. 19, Lousiville (31st) and Cincinnati (36th) top the list. Rutgers is at 48, Central Florida is 52nd, South Florida is 61st, Maryland is 63rd, Southern Methodist is 69th, Temple is 93rd, Towson is No. 116 while Memphis and Buffalo come in at No. 126 and 127.

Fuchs stars as Milford Academy wins opener

Former UConn signee Jordan Fuchs had four catches for 49 yards as Milford Academy began the 2013 season with a 22-20 win over Globe Institute ib Saturday.

According to the game report, fellow UConn commits Jamar Summers and Chasz Wright started and played the entire game at cornerback and offensive tackle respectively.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Youngsters trying to make impact with UConn

There are plenty of familiar faces expected to be in starting roles when UConn hosts Towson in the 2013 season opener on Thursday with nine offensive players and eight players on the defensive side of the ball who started at least one game in 2012 anticipated to be in the lineup.

However, two players in the spotlight Sunday afternoon were a pair of freshmen eagerly awaiting their first collegiate starts.

Obi Melifonwu seemed slated to be a reserve safety who would see time on special teams and perhaps in nickel and dime coverage packages. However, all of that changed when projected starting safety Andrew Adams went down with a shoulder injury late during preseason camp. With Adams expected to be out for a minimum of eight weeks after undergoing surgery on his injured shoulder, Melifonwu has stepped into a starting role.

“I am surprised but I am excited about it,” said Melifonwu, a redshirt freshman from South Grafton, Mass. “I look at it as an opportunity and a blessing. I have a big opportunity. I am a little bit nervous but I am excited about it.”

Since arriving on campus the 6-foot-4, 208-pound Melifonwu has intrigued coaches with his combination of size, speed (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and athleticism (a 41-inch vertical leap). But it wasn’t until he began to practice with the starters following Adams’ injury until he really began to blossom.

“Obi has stepped up,” UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said, “He has taken some ownership of the position since Andrew went down. A lot of young guys when they are playing second team, maybe they don’t view it as everything is as important because they are not the ones starting. As soon as Andrew went down Obi stepped up and has shown that he can practice consistently. He has done that each day since Andrew has been hurt.”

An injury to Jazzmar Clax, who began preseason camp as the No. 1 fullback, allowed Walsh to see time with the No. 1 offense. He had four touchdowns in a span of 12 plays during a goal-line drill in a recent practice and ever since has been the starter at fullback.

The former Hand High star and the 2012 Register State Football Most Valuable Player, was primarily a linebacker in high school who saw some time in short-yardage and goal-line situations as either a fullback or tailback.

Pasqualoni saw how athletic Walsh was when he was at UConn’s camp and recruited him as a fullback.
Now he is the first true freshman slated to start the season opener on either offense or defense since Jesse Joseph in 2009.

“I couldn’t really ask for more right now,” Walsh said. “I am just really excited to get on the field any way I can. I am really excited for kickoff Thursday night.

“There are a lot of goose bumps especially playing on that field where I won two state championships. You always thought about some day playing in the full stadium. I don’t know what to expect but I am really excited, I can’t wait.”

Walsh has impressed his coaches and teammates with the way he has handled the transition from high school to college football without seemingly missing a beat.

“That boy is a good player,” said Reuben Frank, who was last year’s starting fullback before being moved to defensive end. “He is a real quality player. He comes in and he is focused. He doesn’t say much and is a real humble player and does what coaches tell him to do. That boy can hit too and I like that about him too. I like seeing him come in here and not being afraid to hit. He’s good a real good head on his shoulders, a real good mindset and he will prosper at fullback.”

Recapping Paul Pasqualoni's first press conference of 2013 season

The biggest news to come out of Paul Pasqualoni's initial press conference of the 2013 season is that safety Andrew Adans, pegged to be a starter, underwent shoulder surgery and is likely to be out for a minimum of eight weeks.

Another noteworthy item is that tight end Sean McQuillan, who suffered a concussion at the same practice when Adams went down, is back at practice and could play on Thursday.

"Sean McQuillan has done pretty good," Pasqualoni said. "He is moving around, running around out there so I am optimistic that by Thursday we have a chance to have Sean McQuillan dressed and ready to play, he is out there doing some things."

Pasqualoni also announced that defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, linebacker Yawin Smallwood and offensive guard Steve Greene have been named captains after a vote by their teammates.

"The thing that the three of them have in common is they are (outstanding) players and they lead by example by how hard they work in the offseason, by how hard they work in practice and I think the players on the team respect those guys," Pasqualoni said.

"They are really serious about school; they are really serious about football so they each have a chance to be excellent leaders on this team."

Other than Adams, the only other player ruled out for the Towson game is freshman linebacker Junior Joseph due to a left knee sprain. Pasqualoni thinks Joseph could be back in a couple of weeks although it remains to be seen if he will get into a game or if he will be redshirted this season.

Other than Brian Lemelle, who is the No. 1 punt returner and also in the rotation at receiver, and Matt Walsh, set to start at fullback, Pasqualoni wasn't sure how many true freshmen will suit up on Thursday.

Jesse Joseph, who has been slowed by a knee injury, is back practicing and expected to start.

Another defensive lineman whose name came up is Andreas Knappe, the 6-9 redshirt freshman from Denmark. It's uncertain how many snaps he will see on the defensive line but he figures to be used on the  field goal and extra point block teams.

Pasqualoni admitted that in a perfect world he won't burn a year of eligibility on freshman quarterback Tim Boyle.

"You’d like to, the hope is to keep him in development," Pasqualoni said. "If the situation comes when you have to go with the third guy than that is what you do but I just want to see his progress on a weekly basis. We have done this before with a number of quarterbacks and it is almost like every week you reevaluate who you are moving forward."

Trip down memory lane for Rob Ambrose

There will be more on former UConn assistant coach Rob Ambrose bringing his Towson team into Rentschler Field for Thursday night's opener in the coming days but the story he mentioned on a conference call with members of the Connecticut media was simply too precious not to share right now.

"I can tell you a story," Ambrose said. "There was many, many moons ago and I can’t remember when, (UConn's Senior Associate Athletic Director) Neal Eskin and I was sitting on a charter flight at Bradley getting ready to take off and Neal comes up and hands me a stack of players and said ‘I need you to look at this.’ I said ‘what is it?’ He said ‘it is a contract for a game.’ I said ‘why I am looking at this?’ He goes ‘it is for a game versus Towson.’ I go ‘when?’ (Eskin said) 'Years down the road or whatever but Mike Hermann wants you to look at that.' I said 'who is Mike Hermann' and he said he is the AD at Towson. I said ‘I have nothing to do with any of this so take that away from me.’ After the fact I really wish I would have looked at that contract because UConn needs to pay Towson more money."


Todman has big night for Jaguars

With a wave of cuts on the horizon it is now or never for the former UConn stars who are fighting to make it onto the regular-season roster.

Running back Jordan Todman continues to make a statement that he belongs by ripping off a scintillating 63-yard TD run as part of an eight-carry, 105-yard rushing performance in the Jaguars' 31-24 loss to Philadelphia.

With injuries limiting the preseason work of the Jaguars' top running backs, Todman has had plenty of chances to show what he is capable of and he is making the best of his situation. He is currently ranks third with 163 rushing yards in the preseason.

"Any opportunity I get, my goal is to score and make a big play," Todman said in a post on the Jaguars official site. "I’m definitely trying to take advantage of every opportunity. I leave it on the field every day.”

In the same game rookie cornerback Dwayne Gratz intercepted his second pass of the preseason which ties him with three other players for the preseason lead.

As for other UConn products in action:

Donald Brown rushed five times for 35 yards and Darius Butler had two tackles in the Indianapolis Colts' 27-6 win over Cleveland

Danny Lansanah had three tackles in the New York Jets' 24-21 overtime win over the New York Giants.

Nick Williams had two catches for 19 yards during the final scoring drive in Washington's 30-7 win over Buffalo.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson had a tackle and pass breakup in Tennessee's 27-16 win over Atlanta. Robert McClain had solo tackles for the Falcons.

Kendall Reyes had a pair of solo tackles in San Diego's 24-7 win over Arizona.

Four more former Huskies could be in action when New Orleans plays Houston as Lawrence Wilson is a linebacker with the Saints and linebacker Trevardo Williams, tight end Ryan Griffin and receiver Michael Smith play for the Texans.

Also, up North former UConn TE John Delahunt had one catch for 18 yards as the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats defeated Winnipeg 37-14.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Words of praise for Nick Williams

Former Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Theismann didn't hold back when expressing his thoughts on former UConn wide receiver Nick Williams when Williams grabbed a pair of third-down grabs in Saturday's preseason game against Buffalo which was aired like on NFL Network.

When Williams made an 11-yard catch on the sideline, Theismann said "I like Nick Williams. Somehow, some way, somewhere this young man is going to wind up playing football in the National Football League. He is that prototypical slot receiver."

When Williams picked up another first down with an 8-yard catch Theisman continued to rave about the undrafted rookie free agent.

"I like him," Theismann said.. "I watch him in practice, the enthusiasm he has. This is the fourth quarter and he is seizing the moment."


Wrapping up preseason camp

With tomorrow being the date where Paul Pasqualoni and selected players meet with the media to look ahead to Thursday’s season opener against Towson I thought it would be the perfect time to give my thoughts on the recently-completed preseason camp.

First, there’s a chance that the team captains will be announced tomorrow. Here are my guesses on who could get the nod. On offense I would go with junior quarterback Chandler Whitmer and senior offensive guard Steve Greene while senior defensive tackle Shamar Stephen and junior linebacker Yawin Smallwood would be my picks on defense. As for a special-teams captain, that’s a tougher call and If they opt to elect one just for special teams perhaps punter Cole Wagner would be the best pick or they'll take somebody like a Byron Jones who figures to see plenty of time on the return units.

Now here is my position by position breakdown based on the four practices I was allowed to attend

Quarterback: I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by what I’ve seen from Whitmer. He’s still been turnover prone and he will need to perform at a higher level in the games than he did in the practices I witnessed. Casey Cochran struggled even more with turnovers and about as angry as I saw Paul Pasqualoni in the preseason is when he badly misfired on a drill with no defense. Cochran is an extremely bright kid and that is what led to him winning the No. 2 quarterback spot. Nobody has thrown the ball better than freshman Tim Boyle in camp but in my opinion UConn would prefer to allow Boyle to redshirt this season so he could have three years as the starter once Whitmer graduated. Fellow freshman Kivon Taylor has shown the ability to make plays with his arm and feet so the Huskies are in good shape at this position for years to come.

Running back: Lyle McCombs is another returning offensive center piece who didn’t get very much accomplished when I was there. With T.J. Weist now calling the plays, I have a hunch that the days of having the undersized McCombs run between the tackles play after play could be coming to an end. I think multiple running backs could get the ball this season. Martin Hyppolite has been the most impressive tailback I have seen and freshman Josh Marriner looks like he could be a player while Max DeLorenzo, who is listed as the No. 2 tailback, brings physicality to the position. The fullbacks have looked pretty good to me. Jazzmar Clax has shown a physical running style that I would imagine could carry over to the blocking department. Freshman Matt Walsh is another physical player who has displayed an ability to catch the ball which likely pushed him over the top and made him the starter.

Receiver: With Geremy Davis and Shakim Phillips back, the Huskies have a pair of big, strong athletic receivers and I expect big seasons from both of them. Davis has been outstanding throughout camp as I can’t remember him having a bad day and he has made a ton of plays. Phillips has been a little more up and down but still has made a jump from last season. After that it is kind of hard to predict. Deshon Foxx was outstanding in spring camp but was not as noticeable during summer drills. One of the most pleasant surprises has been junior Kamal Abrams who has caught everything thrown his way. Freshmen Brian Lemelle (who will be the No. 1 punt returner) and Dhameer Bradley have had their moments of brilliance. 

Tight end: Injuries make this position hard to read. Sean McQuillan looked pretty good but he suffered a concussion after a big hit from Taylor Mack at the last practice we were able to watch. We should find out more on his availability for the Towson game tomorrow. Spencer Parker has missed much of camp so it’s hard to get a read on him. That leaves a pair of true freshmen (Mike Boland and Tommy Myers). Boland was a two-way lineman in high school who brings physicality to the position but can he catch the ball well enough to make an impact as a true freshman? For Myers, it is the complete opposite as he is an outstanding receiver but needs to prove he can block at the collegiate level.

Offensive line: The only time you can really grade the line is during the 11 on 11 drills and I did not see much push especially from the middle of the line when the No. 1 offense squared off with the No. 1 defense. Considering the experience UConn has at left guard with Greene and left tackle with Jimmy Bennett, that should be strength of the offense. Alex Mateas was named the starter at center and that is a position that needs to show a significant improvement this season. On the right side Gus Cruz and Kevin Friend began summer camp working with the second team but have spent most of the practices as the starters. I thought Tyler Samra and Kyle Schafenacker might push their way into starting positions but they will start the year as second-string guards.

Defensive line: No position has been as impressive during the practices I attended. The duo of Stephen and Julian Campenni could be an imposing 1-2 punch at defensive tackle. I thought Tim Willman might see time at DT but with the way Campenni worked in the offseason to prepare for his sophomore season, Willman has played exclusively at defensive end and might have been the best defensive player I’ve seen not named Yawin Smallwood. On the other side, Jesse Joseph is back and is a premier run-stuffing defensive end that can also be a disruptive force on the pass rush. Joseph has been nicked up in camp so we’ll have to see how long it takes him to get back to 100 percent. With Angelo Pruitt, former starting fullback Reuben Frank and last year’s top true freshman E.J. Norris there is plenty of depth at DE. At tackle redshirt freshman Mikal Myers has made a ton of plays. I don’t know if the pass rush will be as impactful with the departure of Trevardo Williams but this could be one of the most rugged defensive lines in the ACC.
Linebackers: It all starts with Smallwood who is just a sensational player who has stepped up in the leadership department. He will be flanked by a pair of fast, aggressive players in Ryan Donohue and Graham Stewart. They have big shoes to fill following the graduation of Sio Moore and Jory Johnson and look very capable of doing just fine. There are plenty of young prospects looking to make an impact led by Jefferson Ashiru and Marquise Vann. Although he is not on the two-deep chart, Omaine Stephens has made a bunch of plays in camp.

Cornerbacks: So far, so good. There figured to be a drop off after the graduation of Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who could end up starting as rookies with Jacksonville and Tennessee but Byron Jones and Taylor Mack have been rock solid throughout camp. UConn will certainly be more physical at the position and they could hold the key to UConn’s defense. Jhavon Williams is a redshirt freshman who looked pretty good in the 2012 summer camp and seems to have a bright future. True freshman Javon Hadley is another talented youngster while David Stevenson, one of the stars of the 2012 spring game, is also in the mix at the position.

Safeties: Ty-Meer Brown is a top-notch athlete and player who is a legit NFL prospect. The other starting spot figures to be handled by rangy and athletic redshirt freshman Obi Melifonwu. Pasqualoni has been talking up Melifonwu who runs in the 4.5 range in the 40-yard dash and has a 41-inch vertical leap. He is very raw especially in pass defense so a lot of eyes will be on him especially if Andrew Adams misses significant time following a shoulder injury suffered in practice. Wilbert Lee has had an outstanding camp.
Special teams: Chad Christen at kicker and Wagner at punter are seniors with big legs who have looked very good in camp. Kickoffs will be interesting. UConn would like to redshirt Bobby Puyol and I haven’t seen Christen kickoff during camp. I expect to see plenty of freshmen on the return units so it will be interesting to see how those units fare. In the return game, Lemelle will be the punt returner while Phillips could be a big-play threat on kickoff returns.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Powder Springs pipeline working for Huskies

One more item about UConn's two-deep chart is the Powder Springs, Ga. representation.

Early in camp I was struck by the fact that there were three players from Powder Springs, Ga. on the roster. What's even more impressive is that all three made it into the two-deep Taylor Mack is a starting cornerback while offensive tackle Xavier Hemingway and linebacker Jefferson Ashiru are listed as second-team players.

I wrote a story which was supposed to run in today's paper but it got pushed back due to a lack of space. I am hoping it will run in tomorrow's paper.

Mack was the first of the Powder Springs trio to arrive at UConn and he was excited to here that two players from his hometown were coming to UConn.

“We go in the locker room and always talk about stuff in Atlanta, we go back home and always hit each other up to go work out and stuff like that," Mack said. "It is a blessing to have other people from your hometown, so you never really get homesick.”

Starting quarterback Chandler Whitmer is from Newnan, No. 1 receiver Geremy Davis hails from Lawrenceville and defensive backs Andrew Adams and David Stevenson grew up in Fayetteville and Stone Mountain. The impact of the Georgia imports could be something special this season.

“It’s good,” Mack said. “We have big counties so football is real competitive. We have a good following and everybody takes football real serious. It is real football and you can start fights in the parking lot about it if somebody says the wrong thing about your school.”

Perhaps the most stunning aspect of the Powder Springs connection is that Mack knew little of either Ashiru or Hemingway before they headed to Storrs.

“I didn’t know (Mack),” Ashiru said, “I still don’t know where he lives.”

Of course there was a stronger pre-UConn bond for Ashiru and Hemingway, who were teammates as McEachern High.

“Xavier Hemingway, he came from my school and we came here together,” Ashiru said. “It’s a good little connection I guess, and we will keep in touch.”

Walsh is in select company

When UConn released its depth chart for the season-opening game against Towson yesterday and former Hand High star Matt Walsh was listed as the starting fullback, I decided to take a look back and see who was the last true freshman to be listed as a starter heading into the season.

As it turns out, the answer is a pretty familiar name as current redshirt senior Jesse Joseph was listed as the No. 1 defensive end (ahead of fellow true freshman Trevardo Williams) back in 2009.

Walsh moved by redshirt freshman Jazzmar Clax to claim the No. 1 fullback job. With the uncertainty surrounding the health of starting tight end Sean McQuillan and the Huskies likely to use three wide receivers more often than not, there could be a chance for a significant number of snaps for Walsh, the 2012 New Haven Register State Football Most Valuable Player on Thursday night.

I spoke with Walsh during UConn's media day about his quest to carve out immediate playing time as a freshman.

"Physically I feel like I am capable of keeping up with everybody here at this level, it is just learning and it takes time," Walsh said. "I feel like I am coming along well and I am working hard trying to get on the field anyway I can

"I am not saying I can start and I don’t know where I will be but I am going to do all I can to make sure I can get on the field any way I can. Jazzmar Clax is a great fullback, a great athlete."

The only other true freshman in the two-deep on either offense or defense is guard Kyle Schafenacker although receiver Brian Lemelle is listed as the No. 1 punt returner. Last year the only true freshman on the two-deep for offense or defense was Kyle Bockeloh, who was listed as the backup center. Three years ago Jefferson Ashiru, Mike Osiecki (who has retired due to multiple concussions) and Marquise Vann all made the two-deep as reserve linebackers.

One statistic of note regarding the depth chart is that there are more upperclassmen in the two-deep heading into the season opener than there were at this point last season. There are 17 juniors or seniors listed as starters and another eight as second stringers on the 2013 depth chart. Back in 2012 there were 13 starters and 10 reserves who were on the two deep for offense and defense.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Depth chart is out

UConn released its depth start for the season opener against Towson.

The biggest surprise was seeing former Hand High star Matt Walsh moving ahead of Jazzmar Clax at fullback. Walsh, the 2012 New Haven Register State Football Most Valuable Player, is the only true freshman listed as a starter on either offense or defense. Classmate Brian Lemelle is the No. 1 punt returner listed. Kyle Schafenacker is second string at offensive guard and is the only other true freshman on the two-deep.

Another surprise was not seeing Andrew Adams on there at all. Adams was a starting safety until he was injured in practice. Obi Melifonwu is the starter there

A couple other thins that caught me eye is Alex Mateas listed as the starting center, Casey Cochran getting the No. 2 QB spot and Reuben Frank (instead of E.J. Norris) are the No. 2 guy at Trevardo Williams' old DE slot.

Here is the depth chart
RT: Jimmy Bennett; Dalton Gifford
LG: Steve Greene; Tyler Samra
C:Alex Mateas; Tyler Bullock
RG::Gus Cruz; Kyle Shafenacker
RT: Kevin Friend; Xavier Hemingway
TE: Sean McQuillan; Spencer Parker
WR: Geremy Davis :Deshon Foxx
FB: Matt Walsh; Jazzmar Clax
QB: Chandler Whitmer; Casey Cochran
TB: Lyle McCombs; Max DeLorenzo
WR: Shakim Phillips; Kamal Abrams

DE: Jesse Joseph; Angelo Pruitt
DT: Julian Campenni; Mikal Myers
DT: Shamar Stephen; B.J. McBryde
DE: Tim Willman; Reuben Frank
LB: Graham Stewart; Jefferson Ashiru
LB: Ryan Donohue; Brandon Steg
LB: Yawin Smallwood; Marquise Vann
CB: Byron Jones; David Stevenson
S: Obi Melifonwu; Ellis Marder
S Ty-Meer Brown ; Wilbert Lee
CB: Taylor Mack; Jhavon Williams

K: Chad Christen; Bobby Puyol
P: Cole Wagner; Justin Wain
HL: Cole Wagner; Justin Wain
KR: Shakim Phillips; Deshon Foxx
PR: Brian Lemelle; Taylor Mack
LS: Adam Mueller; Dominick Manco

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tripp named permanent Academic Program Director

Ellen Tripp, who has been serviing as the interim director of the Counseling Program for Intercollegiate Athletes at UConn since last May, was appointed to the job on a permanent basis today.

Here is the release from UConn

Ellen Tripp, who has been a member of the staff of the Counseling Program for Intercollegiate Athletes at the University of Connecticut  since 1998, has been named Associate Director of Athletics-CPIA and will serve as director of the program. Tripp had been serving as the Interim Director of CPIA since May 2012. Tripp will also serve on the Leadership Team for the Division of Athletics under Director of Athletics Warde Manuel.

The CPIA program at UConn oversees a comprehensive academic support program for over 700 student-athletes. During her time as Interim Director, Tripp also oversaw the support for the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams.

Tripp developed a monthly “High Five Husky” awards program to recognize student-athletes who contribute to a strong academic culture on their teams. She expanded the study hall hours and space for UConn teams and she coordinated and continues to develop the Freshman Summer Bridge Program, which brings incoming student-athletes to campus early to get acclimated to college academics.

“I am very honored to be named as the director of the CPIA program at UConn,” said Tripp. “I look forward to building upon the strong academic success that we have enjoyed here at UConn. Expanding the services and opportunities that we offer our student-athletes will be a top priority for all of us in CPIA as we move forward. I am also very excited about being part of the Leadership Team for the entire Division of Athletics.”

“Ellen has been a valuable member of the University community for many years and I am pleased that she will now permanently oversee our CPIA program,” said UConn Director of Athletics Warde Manuel. “The academic success of our student-athletes and the attainment of an undergraduate degree is one of the primary missions of the Division of Athletics. Ellen has a passion for our student-athletes to develop academically, socially and personally and I have been extremely impressed with the leadership she has provided CPIA over the past year. I believe that she will also continue to be a very important and effective member of our Division of Athletics Leadership Team.”

Tripp joined CPIA as a counselor in December of 1998 and worked with the men’s soccer, field hockey, men’s track and field and men’s and women’s tennis programs. In June of 2000, she became the Football Program Director for CPIA. The UConn football team had the highest Graduate Success Rate (GSR) in the BIG EAST Conference twice since 2008 and the team’s annual APR (Academic Progress Rates) has consistently been well above the national average for all FBS team and public institutions.

Tripp came to UConn after working at Boston University from 1994-98 as an Assistant Coordinator of Educational Services, where she served as the primary academic counselor for men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, rowing and lacrosse.  

She was an Academic Consultant at Holy Cross from 1996-97 and an Academic Resource Coordinator at UMass-Amherst from 1991-94.

Tripp earned her undergraduate degree from UMass with a degree in sports management in 1996 and added a master’s degree from Boston University in counseling and sports psychology in 1997.

American Athletic Conference partners with CBS Sports Network

Although it doesn't kick in for football until the 2014 season, the American Athletic Conference announced that it agreed to a partnership with CBS Sports Network to televise between 13-15 AAC football games annually.

The agreement also calls for 30 conference men's basketball games a year (although the contract begins with 25 games for the 2013-14 season) and there will five women's basketball games televised annually.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Freshman QB Lagow leaving UConn

Richard Lagow (left) was all smiles on UConn media day
but today he tweeted that he was leaving the program
Richard Lagow, a true freshman quarterback from Plano, Tex., tweeted that he is leaving UConn and headed back home.

"I am headed back home and wish the players I met the absolute best," is part of what Lagow posted on his Twitter account.

UConn confirmed that Lagow has left the team with the intention of transferring.

UPDATED 8/21: ESPN's Damon Sayles among those reporting that Lagow has landed at Oklahoma State.

Lagow was seeing regular work as one of five scholarship quarterbacks in camp but with Chandler Whitmer entrenched as the starter, redshirt freshman Casey Cochran and true freshman Tim Boyle appearing to be fighting it out for the No. 2 quarterback spot, Lagow will look for another school to play for.

"My position on the football team is adequately stocked and I know I can leave and not feel I have let down the team," Lagow also said in the note he attached to his Twitter account.

With Boyle decommitting from Boston College and signing with UConn and the Huskies also signing Kivon Taylor, Lagow delayed signing with the Huskies before finally signing his letter of intent.

UConn confirmed Lagow's departure through the UConn football official Twitter account.. Ironically UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni mentioned Lagow when he was asked about the battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot when he spoke at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast earlier today.

"Casey Cochran right now is mentally a little bit ahead," Pasqualoni said. "Timmy Boyle is working in there, Kivon Taylor, Richard Lagow I don’t know if I have ever been in the situation where I signed three quarterbacks and all three of them are really good players. They are all big, they are all 6-4, 6-5, they all have strong arms and all have a very good throwing motion. We don’t have a windup guy in there. We have guys who can put the ball into tight places and can throw the ball around the field."

Judging by the way the reps were handed out at Saturday's practice Boyle seems to have distanced himself from the other true freshmen while Taylor offers the added dimension of being a dynamic athlete who could ultimately be used as a quarterback in the wildcat formation but has shown the passing skills to develop into so much more. As Lagow mentioned in his tweet, UConn is well stocked at quarterback so his leaving the team will not leave the team's strength at the quarterback position.

Lagow's departure could open up a scholarship slot and it will be interesting to see if the Huskies look to fill it immediately. Jalan Branford, a defensive back/receiver from Reading, Pa. and Chris Britton, a linebacker from Harrisburg, Pa. were both expected to enroll at Fork Union before arriving at UConn in January but Fork Union postgraduate football coach Col. John Shuman said in an email to me earlier this afternoon that neither of the players have reported to Fork Union yet.


Manuel encouraged by what he has seen in preseason camp

UConn director of athletics Warde Manuel, a former defensive tackle at Michigan, makes it out to UConn practice whenever he can fit it into his schedule and he has liked what he has seen this summer.

"They are working hard, learning and preparing every day so I am excited with what I see," Manuel said after appearing at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce's August meeting. "I think the student-athletes,  they are all getting tired around this time of practicing against each other and hitting each other but the effort and what the coaches is getting them to learn is all good to see and I am really pleased with what I have seen."

While last year's team was a senior-laden squad, there are quite a few of few freshmen and sophomores in positions to see significant action this season.

"You have to step up," Manuel said. "It is the next player, the next year, the next down and you have to step up and be prepared. I am very excited with what I am seeing. What you hope to see is that talent will take over some of the learning stuff but you still have to learn. There’s no substitute for reps in practice and in games but I am very pleased with what I am seeing and very excited with how we are approaching the season and how everything is coming together."

Manuel is thrilled with the non-conference schedule which kicks off next Thursday against Towson followed by games against Maryland and Michigan before playing the road opener against Buffalo.

"That is the plan," Manuel said. "We don’t go in taking any game lightly and there are some tough opponents who are coming in and that is what our fans want to see but more importantly, that is who our student-athletes want to play against. They want to play against the best and are preparing to do that. Towson is going to be a great start to the season, they had a great season last year and we will move forward with that."

In a perfect world Jordan Fuchs, Jamar Summers, Chasz Wright, Jalan Branford and Chris Britton would be up at UConn working alongside the rest of the talented group of true freshmen.

However, there weren't enough scholarship slots for all of them so the plan is for the aforementioned quintet to spend the fall semester at prep schools before enrolling at UConn in January.

The journey begins on Saturday as Fuchs, Summers and Wright are expected to be in uniform when Milford Academy hosts Globe Institute at 4 p.m.

A source close to the situation said that Britton is expected to enroll at Fork Union and the Reading (Pa.) Eagle reported back in June that Branford was heading to Fork Union.

However, in an email to the Register Fork Union postgraduate football coach Col. John Shuman said neither player is currently in camp and therefore won't be playing in Friday's season opener against the Apprentice School.

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Pasqualoni raves about commitment from 2013 UConn squad

When UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni spoke at the August meeting of the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday morning, he admitted that the identity of his third UConn squad is still yet to be determined.

He did, however, make sure to pat some of his players on the back for the way they have come back from offseason surgeries.

"Every year’s time is unique and it is different," Pasqualoni said. "We are trying to find out what our identity is because it is a completely new year, a completely new season. I am not sure what our identity is right now. We are not going to find out what our identity is until we get into that stadium, we have another team in there who comes across the line of scrimmage and hits us right in the face and we will see how we react to that. I like what I see so far. I think we have to determine who are the guys.

"We have 10 guys since last season who had to go through some sort of surgery and not just kind of casual kind of surgery but (serious) surgery. That is a lot of guys who were out from last winter, through the spring, were cleared in June and are practicing now. Shamar Stephen, who is going to be outstanding, Jesse Joseph, who was granted another year of eligibility coming back from his Achilles, Graham Stewart has major surgery on his pectoral muscle, E.J. Norris has a shoulder (surgery), Chad Christen had a big operation on his groin and he is doing really well. He stayed in Storrs every day this summer, went to rehab and training every single day. The guy didn’t have a summer, he had no summer and that is (a sign) of the determination he’s got. (Martin) Hyppolite, he was in that car accident and broke his hip. He hasn’t missed a snap in preseason. Jon Hicks coming back from major knee surgery has done it and is practicing in 4½ months and I have never seen it done at any level of football, that is how hard he is working. He had no summer; he was with Bob Howard and our training staff every single day, Omaine Stephens another shoulder. These guys have got a strong, strong inner will."

For those scoring at home, he mentioned eight of the 10 and he would later mention Jimmy Bennett as well."

Pasqualoni told the story of a coach who had a player who expressed a desire to become a great player and took him to the beach. The coach and player walked out to the water until it was up to their necks and then pushed the player's head under the water and held it there for an extended period of time. When he allowed the player to get his head above water he asked him what he was thinking about and the player said "breathing." Then he stated that to be a great player that you have to want to succeed about as much as you long to breathe. He said he sees that level of passion among some members of the 2013 squad.

"The core of the guys we have, I get that feeling with some of these guys that is now hard we are working," Pasqualoni said. "We are awfully proud of them. Ten of them are going to be ready to go next Thursday against Towson."

Pasqualoni had some fun during his 18-minute speech. After being introduced he said :"I am happy to be here and honestly I am happy to be anywhere after two 5-7 seasons."

The biggest roar he got from the packed room came when he mentioned the importance of coaches' wives at this time of the year when their husbands aren't around a heck of a lot.

"Your wife is your best friend," Pasqualoni said. "One of the coaches says to me ‘your wife is not your best friend, the dog is your best friend.’. I said 'I promise you, your wife is your best friend’. He said  ‘Coach, try this, lock the dog and your wife in the garage. Come back three hours later and see which one is happy to see you.’"

He also told the story of a recent call from former linebacker Sio Moore, who has been known to be a tad bit exuberant regarding most things especially football.

"Sio called me the other day and said ‘Coach, guys have gotten hurt and I am in the starting position and I am doing everything I can possibly do to be a starter as a rookie with the Oakland Raiders,’" Pasqualoni said. "Sio can get a little carried away with all that Raider garb on and I said just don’t be painting your face like those nuts in the end zone." 

UConn is slated to scrimmage this afternoon and there is an outside chance that the two-deep chart for the Towson game could be finalized tomorrow. However, with camp not breaking until Friday, it is more likely that UConn will not release its depth chart until we get closer Aug. 29 when the Huskies open the season against Towson.


Pasqualoni optimistic about McQuillan's status

After speaking at the monthly Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast, UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni provided an update on some of UConn's injured players.

On tight end Sean McQuillan, who suffered a concussion when hit by Taylor Mack in Saturday's practice he said, "we are optimistic. We are going to have to go through the whole procedure and protocol but we are optimistic that he will be OK."

Regarding safety Andrew Adams, who was also injured in Saturday's practice he said (with) Andrew we are kind of getting the evaluation and I am not sure, there are two different scenarios and I don’t know which one it is yet. We are waiting for the swelling to go down."

Pasqualoni also said that defensive end Jesse Joseph "may have a chance of being back before the season starts, we will wait and see."

Of the three starters who could miss the season opener, McQuillan's could be the one whose absence is felt the most because the Huskies were already thin at tight end coming into camp. If McQuillan isn't cleared by next Thursday, the start could go to Spencer Parker or one of the two freshmen (Michael Boland and Tommy Myers) who have been seeing time with either the first or second-team offense during practice. Obi Melifonwu figures to replace Adams at safety and Pasqualoni has called him one of the best athletes he has ever coached with a 4.5 40-yard dash time and 41-inch vertical leap.

Among the highlights from a 17-minute speech to a sold-out ballroom at the Crowne Plaza in Cromwell:

Pasqualoni said Casey Cochran is ahead mentally of the three true freshmen quarterbacks in the race for the No. 2 QB spot

He mentioned Shakim Phillips as the top kickoff returner and Brian Lemelle as the top punt return guy.

He continues to rave about former Hand star's Matt Walsh's ability to catch the ball from the fullback position

Pasqualoni was impressed with the return of 10 players who underwent offseason surgery mentioning that running back Martin Hyppolite "hasn't missed a snap" despite breaking his hip in a March automobile accident, kicker Chad Christen being on campus and in treatment "every single day, he did not have a summer" and linebacker Jon Hicks' return from knee surgery in 4 1/2 months which "he has never heard of."


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Willman has big shoes to fill

When UConn has had its full complement of defensive linemen senior Tim Willman has been garnering the majority of first-team snaps at right defensive end which happens to be the same position Trevardo Williams held down in recent years en route to seeing the program sacks record.

Willman, who is about 20 pounds heavier than Williams, obviously brings a different dimension that Williams as he lacks the speed and impressive first step that Williams possessed but in the practices I attended in the preseason he was consistently one of the more noticeable defensive players I have seen. He was in the backfield on a regular basis which is something he will be asked to do in his senior season.

"I bring a lot of good run stopping," said Williams, who had three sacks during the 2012 season. "I learned a lot of technique from him so I am trying to play like him but also play my own style."

UConn not only lost Williams but defensive tackle Ryan Wirth from its defensive line. Wirth has been the one player that UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni has consistently mentioned as one of the toughest players that the Huskies need to replace.

With Shamar Stephen healthier than he was at any point last year, Julian Campenni seemingly in position to build on a solid freshman season and Jesse Joseph back after missing the last nine games of last season with a torn Achilles' tendon, the Huskies have a chance to have one of its most physical defensive fronts in recent memory.

"We lost two great players and we miss them a lot but we are picking up right where we left off and we are not missing a beat," Willman said

"That is something we are going to hang our hats on. We are going to play physical, play hard and play UConn defense."

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Another memorable night for UConn alums

Danny Lansanah (47) celebrates with his New York Jets teammates
after making an interception against Jacksonville on Saturday.
On Friday it was Marcus Easley continuing to make a push for a roster spot with the Buffalo Bills and Saturday night fellow former Huskies Danny Lansanah certainly helped his chances of making the opening-day roster of the New York Jets with an impressive interception in a 37-14 win over Jacksonville. Lansanah also had a solo tackle in the game. For Jacksonville, Dwayne Gratz had three tackles while Jordan Todman ran six times for 13 yards.

Also, UConn's career sack leader Trevardo Williams recorded his first two quarterback sacks in Houston's 24-17 win over Miami. Ryan Griffin had three catches for 32 yards in the game for the Texans

Blidi Wreh-Wilson finished with two solo tackles in Tennessee's 27-19 loss to Cincinnati.

Also, in Canadian Football League action John Delahunt had his second touchdown catch of the season with a 1-yard TD grab in the first quarter in Hamilton's 37-18 win over Winnipeg and Larry Taylor had 166 all-purpose yards in Calgary's 26-22 loss to British Columbia.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Louisville ranked 9th, Michigan 17th in AP poll

The first Associated Press poll came out earlier today and a pair of UConn opponents cracked the top 25 as Louisville is ranked ninth and Michigan comes in at No. 17.

The Cardinals and Wolverines also came in at No. 9 and 17 in the USA Today poll.

Cincinnati was the only other American Athletic Conference to receive votes in the AP poll, finishing with three points. In the USA Today balloting Cincinnati picked up three points, Central Florida had two points and Rutgers one.

Spirited practice ends early due to McQuillan injury

The best news to report off today's practice is that sophomore tight end Sean McQuillan appears to have escaped his nasty collision with Taylor Mack with only a concussion.

McQuillan was injured when he was hit by Mack after catching a swing pass on an 11 on 11 drill. He was placed on a backboard, loaded into an ambulance and taken to Windham Hospital. McQuillan was treated and released. A CT scan of his head and neck came back normal. He is now back on campus and being treated for a concussion.

That is big news for UConn which is extremely thin at the tight end position following the graduation of Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt and some unexpected departures at the position.

Now for some observations from practice.

While I seems like I have become the diary writer for the freshman class, I need to start with the newcomers yet again.

It caught my attention that Tim Boyle was the second quarterback out during 7 on 7 drills and during a drill with no defense on the field, Chandler Whitmer, Boyle and Casey Cochran were the only quarterbacks to gets reps. UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni was reluctant to reveal any particular pecking order with his quarterbacks whether it was Boyle clearly being ahead of fellow freshmen Richard Lagow and Kivon Taylor or if Boyle was vying with Cochran for the No. 2 spot.

"We are juggling the reps around," Pasqualoni said. "I wouldn’t make any statements yet. We still have another scrimmage to go, this afternoon and two more big practices. We wouldn’t set the depth (chart) or anything like this."

Boyle definitely throws a nice ball but he has been a little turnover prone (along with the rest of the QBs). One of his errant throws was returned by Obi Melifonwu for a touchdown early in 11 on 11 drills.

Freshmen running backs Josh Marriner and Matt Walsh continue to impress. Marriner was the second tailback out there on 7 on 7 drills and had some decent runs. Walsh was utilized heavily in the goal-line drills as he caught three TD passes and ran in for another score.

Fellow freshman Thomas Lucas was a cornerback who wore No. 12 last time I saw him at practice. Today he was wearing No. 88 and playing receiver. He made a couple of big catches.

The best catch of the day came courtesy of junior Kamal Abrams who reached around freshman CB Javon Hadley to snare an underthrown pass. Abrams and freshman Brian Lemelle were the two guys getting the work on punt returns early in practice. Of course, Mack was on the coverage unit so that likely led to him not working in with the fellow punt returners. In my opinion, Abrams has been the most pleasant surprise among the veteran offensive players.

Today was not the best I have seen Whitmer look. He missed badly on some throws although he did back to back impressive connections with Geremy Davis.

Speaking of Davis, he was involved in the other injury of the day.

Offensive coordinator T.J. Weist orchestrated a blocking drill between the receivers and defensive backs with the DBs dominating. The final pairing was Davis and Andrew Adams. Davis was able to keep Adams from getting by him but neither player was willing to disengage after the drill was over. The result was Adams being flung to the ground. He was in obvious pain and was tended to by the trainers. He did not return to practice although Mack said Adams was fine.

Staying on the injury front, DE Jesse Joseph, FB Jazzmar Clax (who wore a sleeve on his left knee), TE Spencer Parker, DEs Sha-Ki Holines and Junior Joseph (who was severely hobbled and sporting a brace on his left knee) and OT Kevin Friend were among the players held out of practice. I would expect all of them except Junior Joseph to be back sooner rather than later.

Not only was Parker out of action but freshman tight end Quinn Thompson continues to be sidelined. I saw him getting around with the aid of crutches at media day and today I didn't see any crutches around for Thompson which is a good sign but considering how much time he has missed, I don't see any way he is ready to make an impact. If for some reason McQuillan and Parker are iffy heading into the regular season, it will be interesting to see how UConn addresses the position. Asking a true freshman like Mike Boland (a late arrival) or Tommy Myers to step right in might be a little ambitious and the same thing with fellow freshman Liam Sallquist, who was a quarterback when he arrived at UConn but has looked pretty solid working out at TE. While the coaches haven't asked my opinion on the matter, I would have to wonder if they would consider shifting former starting fullback Reuben Frank back to offense. Frank certainly has the size (6-3, 246) to help out at either fullback or tight end and knows the obviously offense. Frank has a chance to be a pretty good defensive end but with Tim Willman, Jesse Joseph, Angelo Pruitt (who worked with the No. 1 defense in Joseph's absence) and E.J. Norris among the options at defensive end, Frank has a lot of work to do to break into the two-deep at that position.

Pasqualoni let loose with a chuckle when I asked him after practice if injuries always seem to impact the position where the team has the least amount of depth.

"It has a way of doing that," Pasqualoni said.

Defensively, tackle Shamar Stephen and safety Wilbert Lee were players who caught my eye in 11 on 11 drills. Stephen was a tower of strength in the middle of the line on running plays while Lee was extremely active defending the pass.

This is my last practice report until spring since we will not be witness to any other practices until spring drills start.

McQuillan's injury puts damper on Saturday's practice

UConn players gather around in support of injured teammate Sean McQuillan
at Saturday's practice. McQuillan was injured after being hit by Taylor Mack
and was taken to Windham Hospital for observation.
The most enduring image from Saturday morning's UConn practice was not the back to back 20-yard hookups from Chandler Whitmer to Geremy Davis, freshman fullback Matt Walsh's four touchdowns in short-yardage 11 on 11 drills or Obi Melifonwu's interception which was returned for a score.

Instead, it was Sean McQuillan's teammates gathering near the ambulance that the sophomore tight end needed to be loaded into after a collision with Taylor Mack late in practice.

Whitmer swung out a pass to McQuillan and the ball arrived just before Mack did. Mack delivered a big hit which sent McQuillan sprawling backyards. After crashing to the ground, McQuillan rolled over and was in obvious distress. After being examined for about 15 minutes, a backboard was brought out to stabilize McQuillan and he was taken to Windham Hospital for observation.

"It puts a damper on the day," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said following practice. "Fortunately he was wiggling everything so we are optimistic that he will be OK."

Pasqualoni said McQuillan, who is projected to be the starting tight end for the Huskies, was communicating when he was being tended to.

"He is in great care, they know exactly what they are doing," Pasqualoni said. "You just don’t like to see stuff like that."

McQuillan was taken to Windham Hospital for observation but was treated and released. CT scan on his head and neck were normal. He is back on campus and being treated for a concussion.

Shortly after the collision Pasqualoni came over to the sideline and told Mack that the hit was "unnecessary." Following practice Pasqualoni was not about to place blame on Mack for causing the injury to McQuillan.

"The corner made a break on the thrown ball and they collided," Pasqualoni said. "It just happens in football and it is part of the game unfortunately. The way it happened, it was a bang-bang play. When you are playing that type of coverage and that player has that zone of the field so he is playing the ball more than the guy so often times you don’t see the guy, you are going for the ball and it has always been part of it."

Mack was clearly shaken emotionally after seeing McQuillan taken from the field in the ambulance.

"I started praying, that is about the only thing I can say," Mack said. "God blesses you every day to come out and play the sport you love and you never take it for granted. I am praying for Sean, we are all praying for him. I am going into the locker room and say a prayer for him after I step off this field.

"It is just a football play. You can’t take it for granted, walk out on the field, smell the grass and thank God that you can play the game."

Starting safety Andrew Adams was also injured during practice. Adams was tangled up with Davis in a receiver/defensive back blocking drill. Davis was able to keep Adams from breaking through Davis' block but the two were still engaged after the drill ended before Adams fell hard to the ground. He immediately was tended to by the medical staff and did not return to practice.

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Another solid game for Easley

Former UConn wide receiver Marcus Easley continues his strong play during the preseason as he had three catches for a team-high 46 yards in the Buffalo Bills' 20-16 win over Minnesota on Friday night. Easley now has 10 catches in Buffalo's first two preseason games.

Tyvon Branch finished with four tackles in Oakland's 28-20 loss to New Orleans while Dan Orlovsky was 3 for 3 passing for 52 yards in Tampa Bay's 25-21 loss to New England.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Trio of former Huskies in action last night

Kendall Reyes records one of his two tackles in Thursday's preseason game
Three former UConn players had multiple tackles as this week's NFL preseason schedule began with four games.

Cornerback Robert McClain had three solo tackles in Atlanta's 27-23 loss to Baltimore.

Lawrence Wilson had two solo tackles including a tackle for a loss as the Chicago Bears defeated San Diego 33-28. In the same game Kendall Reyes also had a pair of solo tackles for the Chargers.

There are four more games tonight with the chance of seeing a former Husky in each of the games.

Marcus Easley looks to build on a seven-catch performance in his preseason debut when the Buffalo Bills plays Minnesota.

Dan Orlovsky is a reserve quarterback with Tampa Bay which plays at New England tonight. Orlovsky did not get into the preseason opener so it will be interesting to see how the quarterback snaps are distributed.

Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith going up against his former team is the top story line in the KC/San Francisco game but it will also be the second game with the Chiefs for  former UConn fullback Anthony Sherman.

Last but certainly not least, Sio Moore and Tyvon Branch lead Oakland against New Orleans.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Newcomers continue to impress

Quarterbacks Richard Lagow and Kivin Taylor are among
true freshmen making impact at UConn preseason camp
As I watched Tim Boyle and Richard Lagow zip throws all over the field, Josh Marriner opening eyes when he got carries, Brian Lemelle and Michael Boland involved in the passing game, Matt Walsh looking comfortable at fullback, Kyle Schafenacker working at right guard with the No. 2 offense as well as fellow true freshmen Junior Joseph and Javon Hadley getting reps with the second-team defense it made me realize what a difference a year makes.

At this point in last year's camp, the only true freshmen I recall making a push to be on the two deep chart were offensive lineman Tyler Samra, running back Joe Williams, cornerback Jhavon Williams and defensive end E.J. Norris.

With that in mind I asked UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni if these freshmen are that good or perhaps there is more of an opportunity for playing time considering the quality and quantity of the players the Huskies lost to graduation.

"It was hard for the freshmen (last season), you had some older guys," Pasqualoni said. "This year we have some older guys too but these freshmen they deserve to get the reps they are getting. Size wise, speed wise, strength wise they are all pretty looking kids."

Pasqualoni eyed widen in a significant fashion when I asked him specifically about Joseph playing defensive end on the second team defense.

"The guy benches nearly 400 pounds, he is a very explosive powerful guy and there are a number of these guys who show you flashes of competing and trying to get better and he is in that mix right now," Pasqualoni said.

Marriner's name also drew some lofty praise from Pasqualoni.

"Josh seems to be a little more comfortable with each day in practice and he seems to play with a little more bounce in his step each day, he is a very diligent, very smart kid," Pasqualoni said.

As for the quarterback, Boyle was the most consistently impressive of the three true freshmen. It definitely caught my eye that Boyle was the second guy out there when UConn went to 11 on 11 drills ahead of redshirt freshman Casey Cochran which is a change from previous practices I witnessed. Lagow had the best throw of any of freshmen with a perfectly throw long ball down the far sideline which dropped softly into the hands of classmate Dhameer Bradley. Unfortunately Bradley dropped the pass. The other true freshman quarterback (Kivon Taylor) had a tough day throwing the ball as did Cochran.

Here's what Pasqualoni's impressions were on the practice.

"I thought we got a lot of things done and had a chance to make some plays," Pasqualoni said. "We need to catch the ball better, we dropped some good balls on some big, explosive passes but I thought overall I thought the guys practiced with some energy and I see guys being productive on both sides of the ball.

"They are getting a lot of good reps," Pasqualoni said about the three QBs, "I think they are working very diligently at it, all throwing the ball well. They are doing about as well as we could expect freshmen quarterbacks to do."

Later on Pasqualoni spoke a little more about the three freshman QBs.

"The advantage they have is they have strong arms and they can see things and it is a big advantage and they can slide around a little bit, they are all can move and are all athletic," Pasqualoni said. "I think they are making pretty good progress but it is way too early to say who is who but it is fun to watch. They all have a good throwing motion, they take to coaching really well, they are working hard at meetings asking questions, Coach Day is grilling them on film sessions."

The aftermath of tailback Joe Williams' indefinite suspension was a popular topic of conversation. As my previous blog entry highlighted, Pasqualoni was very careful about what he said about Williams and his potential future with the Huskies. He did address the depth at the tailback position and believes UConn has plenty of quality options at tailback with or without Williams.

There were some notable players missing from today's practice led by senior defensive end Jesse Joseph as Kenton Adeyemi worked out at left defensive end with the No. 1 defense and played pretty well.

Tight end Spencer Parker, offensive guards Tyler Samra and Zach Rugg, defensive end Reuben Frank, receiver Noel Thomas were others that were out of practice today.

"Jesse’s fine and there is nothing major," Pasqualoni said. "It’s very typical middle of camp bumps and bruises but nothing overwhelming."

As for Parker, Pasqualoni said, "he is fine, another guy with a little sprain, a little soreness and we will get him back tomorrow."

Parker's absence at an already thin position led to Boland seeing time with the first and second team offenses which is pretty remarkable since he has only been at UConn for about a week Starting tight end Sean McQuillan went down with an apparent ankle injury after tussling with defensive tackle Julian Campenni in a blocking drill. McQuillan left the field but returned later and resumed practicing.

Center Tyler Bullock was out of action at the last practice the media was allowed to attend but he was back in action today although Alex Mateas got all the snaps at center with the first tea,

Finally, here are some of the highlights during the 7 on 7 11 on 11 portions of practice.

Chandler Whitmer looked extremely impressive during 7 on 7 drills highlighted by a perfectly thrown pass to Geremy Davis on a crossing pattern. The best catch I saw during this time was when Lemelle caught the back half of the ball while sliding to the turf. The biggest collision might have been delivered by fullback Jazzmar Clax who ran over safety Ty-Meer Brown. Angelo Pruitt had a sack followed by a tackle in the backfield by B.J. McBride. Adeyemi also had a sack while Obi Melifonwu had an interception and I was impressed with what I saw from reserve safety Wilbert Lee.

Just a reminder that Saturday's practice (scheduled to run from 8:45-11:15 a.m.) is open to the public and the weather is supposed to be glorious on Saturday.