Saturday, March 29, 2014

McClain signs with Falcons

Former UConn defensive back Robert McClain will remain with the Atlanta Falcons for at least one more year.

McClain, who had a career-high 65 tackles during the 2013 season, has 124 tackles and 15 passes defended in his two seasons with the Falcons. He was a restricted free agent but signed a one-year tender worth $1.431 million.

McClain also returned punts last season but with Devin Hester being signed by the Falcons, it looks like McClain will focus solely on defense during the 2014 season.

Friday, March 28, 2014

BYU AD excited about home and home series with UConn

In the midst of previewing tomorrow's NCAA tournament game between UConn and Brigham Young, I was able to speak with BYU director of athletics Tom Holmoe for a few minutes about the August game between the two programs which will serve as the season opener for both teams.

"It is a good game," said Holmoe, a former star defensive back at BYU who went onto be a part of three Super Bowl championship teams with the San Francisco 49ers. "As an independent, we travel all over the country. I think last year we might have had the second most miles traveled. We try to carry all the areas because BYU is a school that is a national school, kids come from all over the country and then go back. We have 350,000 living alums and there are a bunch in the Northeast. I think people will be pleased that we bring a lot of people to the game.

"UConn has had some success in recent years. They have kind of been up and down but once you've been really good then you know it, it is recent history. We fully expect them to be a competitive team and I think the two teams  will be similar and it will be a good game. Some teams won't play us home and home. We are looking forward to going out there for sure and I am sure they will enjoy (playing at BYU in 2015) it's a great place to play."

The 2014 game is set for Aug. 29 at 8 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN. The return game is Oct. 31, 2015 in Provo, Utah.

Holmoe gives much of the credit for jump starting talks between UConn and BYU to Dave Brown, a former vice president for programming and acquisitions at ESPN who now holds the same job for the Longhorn Network.

"When we went independent, that was one of the guys we hooked up with right away to get games," Holmoe said. "We have to schedule 12 games a year and not four so we have been trying to hook up with UConn for a couple of years. It is hard. Sometimes people think, they have an opening, you have an opening and why don't you play but looking at the different schedules, what they are looking to accomplish and what we are looking to accomplish and if that works, you overlap and try to find dates. (UConn AD) Warde (Manuel) is a friend of mine from a few years back so it is funny how each scheduling opportunity is different."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Some continuity in UConn's offensive line

While there's plenty of work yet to be done before UConn opens up the 2014 season against Brigham Young, it is looking like the coaching staff has a pretty good idea who are the building blocks on the offensive line.

At the first practice I attended, the No. 1 line consisted of (from left to right) tackle Richard Levy, guard Kyle Schafenacker, center Alex Mateas, guard Bryan Paull and tackle Dalton Gifford. After nearly a week and a half off due to spring break and more importantly, that much down time for the staff to break down the performance of that line, four of the five players were in the first O-line group sent out at yesterday's practice.

Levy and Gfford remained the left and right tackles and Mateas (who is impressing head coach Bob Diaco with his leadership) was the starting center. Paull moved from right guard to left guard while Tyler Samra moved in at the right guard spot. Again, this is very much subject to change with 10 more spring practices to go before the Apr. 12 spring game.

Gus Cruz, who started five games in each of the last two years at right guard, is still relegated to riding the stationary bike at practice. If he is able to return to the field after seeing his 2013 season cut short due to cardiac issues, it could provide a huge lift to a young offensive line.

Also in the "for what it is worth department" Casey Cochran was the first QB I saw in the offensive reps although the QBs seem to be getting a similar amount of reps and the brief time I was able to watch, I saw plenty of formations with both a fullback and tight end which was a rarity a season ago whether it was Paul Pasqualoni coaching the team or T.J. Weist assuming control of the team. It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out. UConn has an overflow of talented receivers so if the Huskies opt to use a tailback, fullback and tight end, that means only two receivers can be out on the field. The trio of Geremy Davis, Shakim Phillips and Deshon Foxx figure to be among the best playmakers on the 2014 UConn team so that would mean that either the fullback or tight end position would get fewer snaps if Diaco and offensive coordinator Mike Cummings opts to use more three-receiver sets. Davis has looked rock solid in blocking drills so that could also figure into things down the road when the Huskies determine how to best use their receivers, tight ends and fullbacks as  big receivers like Davis (6-3, 216 pounds) and Phillips (6-3, 206) could help in the running game as well as given the No. 1 quarterback big targets on the outside.

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McClain, Griffin lead UConn products in NFL pay distribution

Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Sio Moore are among nine former
UConn stars to earn bonuses of at least $75,000 
The NFL Management Council released the payouts for the pay distribution based on performance and playing time and five former UConn players earned six-figure bonuses with four more getting bonuses of more than $75,000.

Atlantia Falcons defensive back and punt returner Robert McClain earned the top bonus among the former UConn players with a payout of $167,892.41 which ranked fourth among the Falcons. Houston Texans rookie tight end Ryan Griffin was close behind with 166,462.14 (fifth among the Texans) followed by Kansas City fullback Anthony Sherman ($148,992.77), San Diego defensive lineman Kendall Reyes ($122,603.69) and Oakland linebacker Sio Moore ($117,413.29).

A total of 17 former UConn players earned bonus money

Here's the list of bonuses earned by the former Huskies
Will Beatty, Giants OT                 35,320.77
Tyvon Branch, Raides DB             1,800.00
Donald Brown, Colts RB              21,550.08
Darius Butler, Colts DB                66,748.53
Marcus Easley, Bill WR                96,486.45
Dwayne Gratz, Jaguars DB           86,413.15
Ryan Griffin, Texans TE              166,462.14
Danny Lansanah, Bucs LB              4,786.94
Robert McClain, Falcons DB     167,892.41
Sio Moore, Raiders LB              117,413.29
Dan Orlovsky, Buccaneers QB         785.17
Kendall Reyes, Chargers DL      122,603.69
Anthony Sherman, Chiefs FB      148,992.77
Donald Thomas, Colts OL             3,384.86
Jordan Todman, Jaguars RB        76,492.35
Nick Williams, Redskins WR       27,308.05
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Titans DB      92,283.85

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring practice No. 4 underway at UConn

The players are back on campus and UConn is in the midst of its first practice in more than a week.

Not much to report on the 20-30 minutes we were able to watch. Receiver Shakim Phillips was back doing drills after being among the injured players in the last practice I was at.

Guard Gus Cruz continues to be held out of drills as he works his way back from the cardiac issues which ended his 2013 season prematurely. Receiver Kamal Abrams and defensive back David Stevenson were among the small group of players working on stationary bikes. Still no sign of suspended freshman quarterback Kivon Taylor.

Bob Diaco was not happy with how the players struggled to run a basic conditioning drill so he had them do it three times. He gathered the team around him and implored them to "raise the level of your intensity, raise the level of your focus" before the team broke off and started doing positional drills.

Here's the video I shot from the practice.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Receivers could be strength of 2014 UConn squad

Whether it is because of graduation or change in schemes, the majority of positions on the UConn team come with more questions than answers at the current time.

However, the receiving position is not one of them.

UConn returns every receiver who caught a pass during the 2013 season and the only players missing who had a reception during last season are tight ends Spencer Parker (3 catches, 25 yards) and E.J. Norris (2 catches, 18 yards).

With the way the receivers excelled late in the season and in particular in the final two games, you would think the returnees are bursting with confidence but leading receiver Geremy Davis said there's still plenty of work to be done.

"We felt positive the way we ended with the three-game win streak but a lot of times we can't look at the successes, we have to look at the failures and improve on those things," Davis said.. 

"We can't focus on the past. Coach (Bob) Diaco and his staff came in and they are changing the mindset. We are looking forward and not looking so much in the past."

Davis led the Huskies with 71 catches and 1,085 yards. More than a third of those receptions came during a season-ending three-game winning streak including 15 against Memphis in the season finale.

Deshon Foxx, who had some struggles earlier in the season, also finished with a flourish with back to back 100-yard receiving games in the final two contests. Freshmen Dhameer Bradley (seven catches in last three games) and Brian Lemelle (back to back five-catch games) got better as the season wore on. Then when you factor in that the receivers combined for 55 catches and 709 receiving yards in the last two games even though the Huskies were without a services of game-breaking receiver Shakim Phillips and the future does indeed look bright.

"It is great to have that experience, not just at receiver but on special teams as well," Davis said. "They still have to work as if they never played a game rather than said 'oh, we played before.'"

During the first three practices of the spring, the new staff was more interested in seeing the players doing individual drills rather than the installation of the offense. The team will return to practice on Monday and it is expected that more of the schemes will be put into place in the coming week.

"Right now it is the basic stuff that every team installs so we are not jumping into this specific play right now," Davis said.

Also, there is a feature on Diaco in the latest edition of Connecticut Magazine written by my colleague Chris Hunn you might want to check out.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Former UConn DL makes pro debut

Former UConn defensive end Teddy Jennings became the eighth senior from UConn's 2012 team to play professionally.

Jennings made his debut with the Arena Football League's Philadelphia Soul in a 62-55 overtime loss to Arizona on Saturday night.

Jennings had three tackles and the game's only sack.

Jennings is one of two former UConn players in the Arena Football League as linebacker Jerome Williams is a rookie with San Jose, which happens to be Philadelphia's next opponent as the teams will play on Mar. 23 at 8 p.m. in a game available on ESPN3. San Jose opens the season on Monday with a 10 p.m. game at Portland.

Here's a look at seniors from the 2012 teams playing professionally

Dwayne Gratz, DB Jacksonville: Had 32 tackles and two interceptions in 10 games
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Had 19 catches for 244 yards in 15 games
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Had 50 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 15 games
Nick Williams, WR Washington: Had 203 all-purpose yards in five games
Trevardo Williams, LB Houston: Spent 2013 season on injured reserve but did have 3.5 sacks in four preseason games
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, DB Tennessee: Had 13 tackles and a forced fumble in 13 games

John Delahunt, FB Hamilton: Had nine catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns for Grey Cup finalists. Now member of Ottawa's expansion franchise.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Learning curve for linebackers in new UConn system

The process of switching from the 4-3 system UConn has used in recent years to the 3-4 one that Bob Diaco is installing is still in the early stages.

After yesterday's practice Diaco said that the outside linebacker and safety positions are the most difficult ones to master in his defense. At safety UConn returns Andrew Adams and Obi Melifonwu, who combined to start 18 games a season ago. The situation at outside linebacker is a different story.

There are 12 linebackers on UConn's current roster and four of them were listed as defensive ends last season. Of that group, Reuben Frank was the only one to appear in a game as Cole Ormsby, Jalen Stevens and Cameron Stapleton all redshirted a season ago.

"It is a hard transition anyway and a guy like Graham Stewart for example who has played outside linebacker at some point in time in his past looks pretty natural doing some of the jobs and then some of the defensive ends don’t look as natural," Diaco said. "It is still a hard job for Graham who has played it so it is a transition for everyone, it is one of the really challenging positions on our defense to play so if you are asking them to learn some fundamentals of being an outside linebacker, you take on all the verbiage too. They are making the transition just fine but it is hard."

Jefferson Ashiru had 58 tackles during the 2013 season which the same number as the rest of the linebackers on the roster so there is a pretty inexperienced group as seven of the 12 have yet to record a tackle at UConn and some of them dealing with their third defensive coordinator in the last three seasons.

"It is not a big difference but there are definitely challenges," said Marquise Vann, who had 17 tackles in nine games last season. "There are different things that you have to learn, different nuances and we have to take the time to learn but maybe the biggest challenge is shifting to be a different style of defense where now we are learning how to translate that into how to be in a stance.

"They (the converted defensive ends) are doing very well. I feel like we have very intelligent people, very coachable people and we are able to transition, whatever Coach needs us to do we will do it."

Here's a look at UConn's linebackers
Player                          Class Ht Wt     Career tackles   Career games   Career starts
Jefferson Ashiru             JR  6-2 230      66                        21                       11
Chris Britton                  FR 6-1 232       0                          0                         0
Reuben Frank               SR 6-4 246       32                         36                     12 (as fullback)
Jon Hicks                      SO 6-2 233       0                           9                        0
Junior Joseph                FR 6-1 242        0                           0                        0
Cole Ormsby                FR 6-3 249        0                           0                        0
Cam Stapleton              FR  6-4 226       0                           0                        0
Brandon Steg               SR 6-2 221       25                         36                        0
Omaine Stephens         SO 6-3 233         0                          6                        0        
Jalen Stevens                FR 6-3 218        0                            0                       0
Graham Stewart           JR  6-1 227      15                          20                       2
Marquise Vann            JR   6-0 226     21                           19                      3

Friday, March 14, 2014

A video look at UConn's early-morning practice

Here's a look at the Friday morning practice by way of the Touts I posted. Enjoy.

Early look at UConn's offensive line

I was able to make it up to UConn in time for the third practice of the spring and one position I was rather interested in was the offensive line.

UConn graduated four starters (tackles Jimmy Bennett and Kevin Friend as well as guards Steve Greene and Tyler Bullock) and lost season-opening right tackle Xavier Hemingway when he withdrew from school shortly after being arrested on larceny charges. For what it is worth, UConn's first-string offensive line was from left to right, tackle Richard Levy, guard Kyle Schafenacker, center Alex Mateas, guard Bryan Paull and tackle Dalton Gifford with the second unit consisting of tackle Andreas Knappe, guard Zach Rugg, center Kyle Bockeloh, guard Tyler Samra and tackle Tommy Hopkins.

UConn coach Bob Diaco said that it is too early to read anything into the rotation.

"Richard is going to be a tackle and Schafenacker is going to be an interior player, where exactly I am not sure. Richard is going to be a tackle, left or right and Schafenacker is going to be a guard but what position and depth (chart) I am not sure," Diaco said.

Gus Cruz, who started five games in each of the last two seasons, worked out on the side as he continues to come back from the cardiac issues which resulted in him missing the final seven games of the 2013 season. Until Cruz returns, that leaves Mateas as the only player who started the 2013 season as a starting offensive lineman.

Mateas chose his words carefully when it came time to talking about which of the younger offensive linemen have impressed him.

"It doesn’t really change too much whether it is Jimmy (Bennett) and Steve (Greene) or some of the younger guys everybody tries to have the same mentality and work hard for the guy beside you. Even last year when we were traveling, different guys got switched in so a lot of guys got to see a couple of plays at the end of games. Everybody has been working hard in the weight room and everyone has a chance."

There was some thought that redshirt freshman Kivon Taylor could make a push for playing time at quarterback but it is not going to happen at the current time as Diaco said he was suspended indefinitely
"for violation of athletic department, university and team policy. It is indefinite. There are factors which will get evaluated by the athletic department and sports performance team that will (allow) them (to) reengage Mr. Taylor."

At this point last year it looked as if there would be six quarterbacks on scholarship at this point. However, Richard Lagow transferred out during fall camp, Scott McCummings did not return to the team after graduating and now Taylor's status is up in the air.

Diaco did say that the three scholarship QBs (Casey Cochran, Tim Boyle and Chandler Whitmer) were splitting reps equally. I also saw Whitmer and Cochran taking turns holding for kicker Bobby Puyol.

Tackling a priority during UConn's third spring practice

There are coaches who prefer to go through walk throughs rather than letting the players loose on each other during practice. It didn't take long to realize that isn't Bob Diaco's philosophy.

Once the stretching was done Diaco worked with the linebackers on the art of wrapping up and then the final portion of the practice the media was allowed to witness, he reveled in the one on one blocking drills. The rodeo drill featured a defensive player taking on an offensive player, usually a lineman, and then taking down an opposing running back. It was entertaining to say the least especially seeing the fiery Diaco going up and down the line and reacting to each rep.

Among the players who caught my eye in this drill were linebacker Omaine Stephens and defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi.

Diaco went down the line to check out each rep and if he liked what he saw, he would respond with a enthusiastic slap on the shoulder pads or helmet If he didn't, he would yell out to the position coach of the offending player with instructions of what he expected from them and their player. Offensive coordinator Mike Cummings might have actually surpassed Diaco on the intensity scale.

The players absolutely loved the drill.

"It is us trying to get out of that shell and go a little bit," said linebacker Marquise Vann. "It was awesome, it was definitely a change of pace and just lifting and being able to hit somebody else was awesome, I did enjoy that.

"It is a great experience, some great fun going on, the practice tempo is going well and it is fun, football is fun again to go out there with your teammates, the camaraderie with the coaches and players."

Here are some other highlights from the rodeo drill

Among those at attendance was Middletown High star Dario Highsmith, the Gatorade State Player of the Year

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

UConn's pro prospects sold on new coaching staff

Yesterday was a chance for some of the stars on last year's UConn team to come back to campus so they could work out for NFL scouts.

During their return to Storrs, they were able to witness for themselves the changes being put in place by new head coach Bob Diaco and a staff where offensive line coach Mike Foley is the only holdover.

They certainly like what they are seeing and hearing.

Here's a sampling of what they had to say

"The whole atmosphere, Coach Diaco is doing a great job. He is changing a lot of things in the culture. Everything looks real good and positive right now and I am excited for what is in store for the future."

"A lot of changes here and everything looks like it is moving in a positive direction so I am excited to see where it is going."

"I met Coach Diaco, he is exciting, our strength coach Coach Balis and it is an exciting time so I will be watching closely."

"I talked to Diaco, I like him a lot, I like Balis he is a good coach. I am excited about where this team is going to be this year and next year."

Joseph was chatting it up with Andreas Knappe, who has moved from defensive tackle to offensive tackle so I asked Joseph for his thoughts on how the mammoth Knappe would fare as an offensive tackle.

"It is about time, he is going to take some heads off now," Joseph said. "He is going to be good."

Crazy day in free agency impacting former UConn stars

The NFL free-agency period is off and running in a major way.

While the headline move among former UConn players was running back Donald Brown signing with San Diego, other moves could impact the playing time of some former Huskies.

Let's start with Ryan Griffin in Houston. The Texans cut loose long-time starter Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham is also an unrestricted free agent so if he also heads elsewhere, Griffin could be in position to become a starter in his second season.

In Tennessee, Alterreaun Verner left to sign with Tampa so you'd have to think Blidi Wreh-Wilson will head into training camp as a starting cornerback.

The feeling is that Jacksonville's signing of Toby Gerhart could spell the end of the Maurice Jones-Drew era as the Jaguars' go-to running back. If that is truly the case, Jordan Todman has a chance to vie with Gerhardt for carries instead of being the No. 2 guy behind Jones-Drew.

On the other end of the spectrum, it bears watching to see what the signing of Andre Roberts by Washington means to Nick Williams with the Redskins.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wrapping up UConn's pro day

For the second straight year, UConn's pro timing day was a little anticlimactic.

A year ago the quartet of Dwayne Gratz, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Sio Moore and Trevardo Williams didn't need to do many of the drills since they had such strong showings at the NFL Scouting Combine. That opened the door for Ryan Griffin to impress the Houston Texans enough to draft him in the sixth round and Nick Williams caught the eye of the Washington Redskins who signed him as a free agent.

This year the story is eerily similar.

Shamar Stephen didn't retry the events he took part in at the NFL Combine and a hamstring injury kept Yawin Smallwood from doing any running, jumping or agility drills. Without that duo, who are both expected to be drafted, it gave underrated prospects like Ryan Donohue and Taylor Mack a chance to shine.

Nine former Huskies did the bench press on Tuesday and Donohue's 29 reps at 225 pounds led the way. He also ran in the 48 range in the 40 and was one of five competitors topping 9 feet in the broad jump.

Mack ran an unofficial time of 4.45 in the 40, had the top broad jump of 9-9 and his vertical of 35 1/2 inches finished second to kicker Chad Christen's leap of 36 inches.

Tight end Spencer Parker had a solid day with a 30 1.2 inch vertical, 9-2 broad jump and 22 reps in the bench press.

There are so many different stories to emerge out of the pro day

While it's hard to say whether he will get into an NFL camp, Ryan Donohue probably had the best day as his numbers listed above indicate. Now the question is whether scouts look at him as an offensive or defensive player.

Donohue was a linebacker at the college level but his agent, who also represents former Husky Nick Williams, is trying to sell NFL teams on the possibility of Donohue playing fullback.

"My agent has been trying to sell me a little bit more as a fullback, I came out here and did the linebacker drills," Donohue said. "It was just to see how I could move and I caught the ball anyways."

Not very many teams utilize a fullback and Donohue knows that limits his options but he is going to explore every avenue in order to get a shot at pro football.

Donohue originally wasn't sure if he was going to go through the process of working out for pro scouts but he is glad he chose to proceed.

"I talked to my parents and they helped to motivate me," Donohue said. "I came home after the season and I wasn’t sure if they should really go through with it, they said they have faith in me. I came out and put my best foot forward.

"I watched Nick last year and he opened a lot of eyes and that is kind of the mindset I came in with, let’s shock the world."

Measuring in at 171 pounds, Taylor Mack knows that if he is going to catch the eyes of pro scouts, it had better be with his speed and athleticism.

One of the UConn assistants told him he clocked in unofficially at 4.45 seconds in the 40 and he did well in the jumping events as well.

"I wanted to jump a little higher," Mack said. "I wanted to get 36/37 (in the vertical) but it is still a good number. I was running a little bit faster when I was training, one of my coaches timed me in a 4.45.

"It is exciting, nerve wracking, you wake up at 6:30 here all day but it is an exciting opportunity.
If one team like you maybe you get a chance. If they see you doing well and give you the opportunity, hopefully you have to make the most of it."

The former all-state high school volleyball player was enjoying himself so much on UConn's club volleyball team that is headed to the nationals in Reno that he wasn't sure if he was going to make an appearance at the football pro day.

He certainly made the most of his decision to work out for the pro scouts. He had his issues in one of the drills as he stumbled across the line and landed head first on the field.

"I don’t know what it is, my legs were a little heavy this morning and not doing as well as I would like and how I have been testing and training for," Parker said. "That was just a little comic relief for everybody, ease the tension I guess.

"I came in here, I don’t expect anything to come from it but I am working for something to come from it and do whatever I could do. That would be great to be the next Ryan Griffin because he has been a great player already and Nick Williams too and they are just stories that anything can happen."

As for his volleyball season:

"It is awesome we get to go to Reno for nationals next month, I can’t wait."

Jesse Joseph has already been drafted as Montreal took him in last year's CFL draft but he wants to take his shot at making an NFL roster first.

"This is for my life, this is what you have been training for," Joseph said. "I feel like I have been doing really well, basically left everything I had on the field and hope I get a couple of calls."

"At the moment, I pushed all of that on the back of my head and I am just focused on (the NFL)."

Joseph has been training in Virginia since he graduated and he said "this is the best I've felt in a long time."

Steve Greene and Jimmy Bennett lined up next to each other on the left side of the offensive line for the last two seasons and they have been part of a group training in the Pittsburgh area with the hopes of continuing their football careers.

While they are not expected to get drafted, they are still optimistic that pro teams will come calling.

They had so-so showing on Tuesday. One thing that is concerning is that Bennett had 18 reps on the bench press and Greene 16. Normally an NFL offensive line prospect would be expected to be something in the late 20s in terms of bench-press reps. Still, they both thought they did well in the drills that count the most.

"My personal favorite is just doing the O-line stuff," Bennett said. Most of evaluation is your film, if are playing poorly your numbers can be through the roof and technique was fine. My numbers aren’t where I want them to do but that is fine, I think I played well enough to put myself in position. There are but there are a bunch of teams that I am not on their radar because of my injuries. They say you don’r have to have all 32 teams, you only have to have one. If one team likes me enough, they will pick me up and that is how you have to think."

Greene had a similar train of thought.

"The position drills were good," Greene said. "The work is over and it is kind of the waiting game now. It is nice to get this chance and get this on so we can move on."

Scouts from 29 teams came to UConn with the hope of seeing Yawin Smallwood work out. However, his tender hamstring would not allow that to happen.

"I wasn’t able to show them at the combine because I went down with the hamstring but they wanted to see my up (close and) personal and they wanted to see what I could do, see me move sideline to sideline," Smallwood said.

Smallwood was limited to doing positional drills on Tuesday.

"With the hamstring, it comes down to getting as much rest of possible and it is a tough time to rest so I am trying to get into warm water and do whatever the trainers ask me to do.

"Combine was only about two weeks ago so I only got about two weeks rest and I wasn’t really resting because I had to get ready for this. Hopefully in about three or four weeks I am 100 percent and moving like I want to move. I never really was hurt throughout my career, I never missed any games and stuff like that. Everything happens for a reason, I came down with the hamstring and I have to fight back."

Smallwood's time in the 40 at the NFL Combine was 5.0 but he ran the last third of that 40 easing up because of the tightness in his hamstring. He has time to get healthy and run for individual teams.

"Very excited for draft day to come and get into training camp, . This is all fun but training camp is where the real guys come out."

Usually when I saw Shamar Stephen on a football field, there were a couple of offensive linemen attemping to block him. While he didn't do many drills, he looked pretty smooth in some of the ones he took part in.

"I want to work on my fluidity, work on my balance and make sure everybody knows I can play and be productive. I am trying to do as much as possible. It is definitely exciting but I want to keep focused and keep on working."

Stephen was the team MVP in 2013 and he could very well be the first Husky off the board on draft day.

My day wasn't done after the UConn pro day wrapped up. Former University of New Haven tight end Mike Flacco (yes, he is the brother of Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco) worked out in Tolland along with former Boston College and New Haven linebacker Andre Lawrence and former Yale captain Beau Palin.

The 6-4, 252-pound Flacco ran a 4.69 in the 40 and 7 .0 seconds in the 3-cone drill.

"I felt a little bit of pressure over the last few days because I wanted to do everything to the best of my ability," Flacco said. "I feel like I did everything pretty well and I am excited to move forward from here.

"Hopefully I can start moving onto some more football stuff than just running and get my brother to throw me some (passes) so I can work on my route running and see where this day lands me. He’s been doing his own thing for the most part but I have been able to get with him a little bit. He showed me some of the things that he is looking for when guys are running routes and I need work on my route running so he is giving me a little bit of help with stuff but I am sure he will help me out in the coming months."

Flacco has nothing but positive memories of his time with the Chargers.

"New Haven was a great experience for me and something I will never forget. I enjoyed my year after that and whatever will come after that will come but New Haven will always be a great experience for me."

UConn announces its 2014 schedule

UConn's 2014 schedule is out.

Many of the details, especially concerning the non-conference schedule, have been previously reported but now that dates and some television info is available.

UConn will play six bowl teams this season beginning with an Aug. 29 game against Brigham Young.

The 2014 University of Connecticut football schedule was released on Tuesday by the American Ath

2014 UConn Football Schedule
 Day, Date            Opponent                           Time                      TV
 Fri., Aug. 29        BYU                                        8:00 p.m.             ESPN
 Sat., Sept. 6        STONY BROOK                   TBA                        TBA
 Sat., Sept. 13      BOISE STATE                       TBA                        TBA
 Fri., Sept. 19       at USF*                                TBA                        ESPN/ESPN
 Sat., Sept. 27      TEMPLE*                             TBA                        TBA
 Sat., Oct. 11        at Tulane*                           TBA                        TBA
 Thur., Oct. 23     at East Carolina*               TBA                        ESPNU
 Sat., Nov. 1         UCF*                                     TBA                        TBA
 Sat., Nov. 8         vs. Army                              TBA                        CBS Sports Network
                               (Yankee Stadium, New York, N.Y.)
Sat., Nov. 22       CINCINNATI*                     TBA                        TBA
Sat., Nov. 29       at Memphis*                     TBA                        TBA
Sat., Dec. 6          SMU                                      TBA                        TBA
* - American Athletic Conference Games

Video look at UConn's pro day

Reps from 29 of the 32 teams (only Cleveland, New Orleans and St. Louis were missing) were at UConn for this morning's pr day.

Here's a look at the videos I shot

OT Jimmy Bennett does the broad jump

OG Steve Greene in the vertical jump

DE Jesse Joseph in the bench press

Bennett takes part in bench press

LB Ryan Donohue runs the 40

CB Taylor Mack in the 40

RB Martin Hyppolite in the short shuttle

DT Shamar Stephen in the shuttle

TE Spencer Parker doesthe 3-cone drill

Joseph, Willman and Stephen during DL drills

Yawin Smallwood takes part in LB drills

Smallwood still recovering from hamstring issue

Sunday, March 09, 2014

5 keys heading into spring practice

With spring practice starting tomorrow, I figured it was the perfect time to look ahead to what the Huskies need to address over the 15 practices they are going to hold between tomorrow and the April 12 spring game.

The return of Gus Cruz, who started 10 games in last two
seasons is a major bonus for a young offensive line
OFFENSIVE LINE OVERHAUL: It seems as if the offensive line has been the top question mark heading into each of the previous two spring practices and this year is no different. UConn graduated four starters (guards Steve Greene and Tyler Bullock, tackles Jimmy Bennett and Kevin Friend) and lost another potential starter when tackle Xavier Hemingway withdrew from school after being charged with larceny. The line received a major boost when guard Gus Cruz was able to return to the field after he missed the final seven games of the 2013 season due to cardiac issues. Along with center Alex Mateas, he is one of UConn's most experienced offensive linemen. It will be interesting to see how some of the untested players develop during camp and I am especially curious who emerges as the starting tackles.
Quarterback Casey Cochran and offensive tackle Dalton Gifford
are among the returning offensive starters back for UConn
QUARTERBACK DERBY: Other than Scott McCummings, who has been primarily a quarterback in the wildcat formation, all the other QBs with eligibility returned despite rumblings that former starters Chandler Whitmer and Tim Boyle may consider looking elsewhere. Casey Cochran started the final four games of the season and led UConn to its only three wins but with a new head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach there's no way of telling which of the four quarterbacks (including freshman Kivon Taylor) will emerge as the starter.
DEFENSIVE ENDS ON THE MOVE: While UConn is expected to use both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes, most of the undersized defensive ends from last year's squad are now listed as linebackers led by Reuben Frank. After redshirting as true freshman, the trio of Cole Ormsby, Cameron Stapleton and Jalen Stevens have a chance to push for playing time as linebackers after getting practice reps as defensive ends during their redshirt seasons.
GETTING THEIR KICKS: UConn lost both its top kicker and punter to graduation. Bobby Puyol was pressed into duty as a kicker in the 2012 season finale after Chad Christen was injured so he is a little more of a known commodity. Justin Wain should enter spring camp as the No. 1 punter.
Angelo Pruitt and Jefferson Ashiru are among the top returnees
on the defensive side of the ball for UConn
DEFENSIVE LEADERS NEED TO EMERGE: UConn knew it was losing leading tackler Yawin Smallwood and team MVP Shamar Stephen off its defense and now the Huskies will be without its safety with the best coverage skills as a neck injury forced Ty-Meer Brown to retire. Cornerback Byron Jones and defensive linemen Angelo Pruitt figure to provide some of the defensive leadership, many of the top returning playmakers on defense are underclassmen so it bears watching who takes command of things on the field.

Friday, March 07, 2014

UConn spring roster is up

There was some bad news and good news as UConn finally released its updated roster.

Ty-Meer Brown is not on the spring roster meaning so he made the difficult decision to walk away from the game due to the serious neck injury he suffered during the 2013 season but UConn will have the services of offensive lineman Gus Cruz.

Brown missed the last five games of his junior season because of the injury. He had 51 tackles in seven games during the 2013 season and finished with 145 tackles in 31 career games with four interceptions.
If there is a silver lining it is that UConn does have depth at the safety position. First-year starter Obi Melifonwu finished as the Huskies’ second-leading tackler last season and Andrew Adams finished seventh on the team in tackles despite missing the first four games because of a shoulder injury suffered during fall camp.

Cruz, who started five games in the 2012 season and the first five of the 2013 campaign at right guard, is continuing his career. Cruz was dealing with cardiac issues that were thought to be career threatening but he was able to take part in winter conditioning drills. If Cruz is able to remain on the field it would be a major boost at a position where UConn needs the most help. The Huskies lost four starters to graduation and then Xavier Hemingway, who started at tackle in the 2013 season opener, withdrew from school shortly after being arrested for larceny. One move the staff did make was to move former defensive tackle Andreas Knappe to offensive tackle. While he is pretty raw, he has all the tangible qualities needed to be a left tackle.

Quarterback Scott McCummings, who was moved to receiver last season, before suffering season-ending torn Achilles' is also no longer on the roster.

UConn coach gets rave reviews from one of his former stars

The mere mention of Bob Diaco's name led to just one word popping into Carlo Calabrese's mind.

Calabrese, a standout linebacker who was the second-leading tackler on the Diaco-coached Notre Dame defense during the 2013 season, uttered the word three times in one sentence when discussing what he thinks the former Notre Dame defensive coordinator will bring to UConn.

"He will bring a winning attitude to the team and we will bring in winning people to the team and just all around winning mentality to the team ," Calabrese said from the New Haven hotel room where he is in town for a weekend of charity events organized by agent Joe Linta. "He will do whatever it takes to that.

"I like his intensity, he is a very intense coach. He has a passion for the game."

The first thing Calabrese learned about the person who would put together the Notre Dame defense was that Diaco hailed from the next town over in New Jersey.

"My first meeting with him he was a coach at Virginia," Calabrese said. "I was in high school being recruited by him and when I met him he was a nice guy. It was a pretty normal meeting with him and it was pretty cool to have him there to recruit me was pretty nice because he grew up in a town over from me and it was my rival so it was pretty cool to be recruited by him."

So what did Calabrese learn from Diaco in his time at Notre Dame?

"He showed me how to watch film, how to get better and he made me better as an all around player," Calabrese said.

Calabrese admitted that he was caught a little by surprise when Diaco accepted the job as the head coach at UConn but the more he thought about it, the less shocked he was.

"I was surprised but I always knew one day he was going to be a head coach so I was surprised it was going to be this quick," Calabrese said. "I was surprised but I wasn’t surprised."

Calabrese said it meant the world to him and his teammates when Diaco returned to South Bend to say goodbye to the Notre Dame players after news broke of his hiring at UConn.

"It just shows how much of a relationship that he has with his players and how much respect he had for us," Calabrese said. "To see him come back after he took that job, it meant a lot. There are other coaches that leave the team and you never hear from them again. This shows us that he has a true relationship with us as players."

This weekend gives Calabrese a chance to unwind from the pressures that come with trying to better his draft status with workouts, individual meetings with teams and various other football-related activities.

"It is awesome," Calabrese said. "I love doing charity events and any time I can give back, I enjoy doing that. "We have a youth football clinic tomorrow and I am excited to go out there, play football with the kids and put them through drills and stuff just give back to the community."

As for the upcoming NFL draft and his future as a pro?

"I just want to know soon what my future is going to be because I have been training so long and so hard and I am pretty excited for that day to come," Calabrese said.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

UConn excited about game at Yankee Stadium

Something tells me that passionate New York Yankee fans Bob Diaco and Warde Manuel would rather have donned pinstripes and shagged fly balls at Yankee Stadium regardless of how chilly it may have been on Thursday morning.

Howrever, there was some other duties for them to tend to.

Diaco and Manuel were joined by Army AD Boo Corrigan and football coach Jeff Monken as well as Yankees' executive director for non-baseball events Mark Holtzman at a press conference promoting the Nov. 8 UConn/Army football game at Yankee Stadium.

“My family has had Yankees tickets forever, ever and ever and they still do so to be in the stadium it is a little surreal and it is a great opportunity to join the three brands, the UConn brand, the Yankee brand and the West Point brand,” Diaco said.

"I don’t think there is any doubt that it takes that step (of increasing UConn's national profile). I think any time we can take the show on the road and show people what UConn athletics, the university and the football team is specifically about it is a positive thing, to touch so many people to be in this media market and to expose UConn to this media market, kind of like UConn, the brand  is strong. The football brand may not be necessarily as strong but the brand is strong, the people come and people in the state of Connecticut travel and follow their teams."

The Yankees brass have been communicating with UConn for years in the hopes of having the Huskies play a football game there. The talks picked up in intensity several months ago when Army AD Boo Corrigan reached out to Manuel to see if the Huskies would be agreeable to having Army’s home game played at Yankee Stadium.

“I said it would be great,” said Manuel, a former baseball pitcher who grew up in New Orleans idolizing Louisiana native Ron Guidry, one of the best pitchers in the history of the Yankees. “As I told Boo, some of it is they had two great sites to pick. Both choices would have been great with me, they both had the rich, deep heritage in America.

“I have been assured by those on my staff who are Red Sox (fans) that they will be working that day and they will get here and do the work. Even they, in jest, understand the importance of the opportunity for us to be down here. As for future games I am open for further discussions. Your home base is always important for our team and our fans so we will continue that discussion and look at opportunities. Mark (Holtzman) is very talented and very persistent so I am sure that the discussion will continue for a while and I am looking forward to that.”

Diaco ready for UConn's first spring practice

Not that the winter conditioning drills aren't beneficial, but it is pretty clear that new UConn football coach is eager to see his new team taking part in actual football drills.

That will come Monday afternoon when the Huskies hold the first of 15 spring practices ending with the Apr. 12 spring game.

"Can’t wait, can't wait, can't wait," Diaco said after the press conference promoting the Nov. 8 game against Army at Yankee Stadium.

"I am talking about 15 practices and if we can walk out of the spring after 15 practices and the team understands how we expect the games to be played, not necessarily what the plays are but how we expect the games to played, the proper effort, energy, detail and mental toughness necessary to execute and end with that implanted in the DNA it would be a positive thing.

"They are going to do our system, do our brands of ball and we are going to do our evaluation. We need everybody."

Diaco declined to provide an update on the status of safety Ty-Meer Brown who is dealing with a serious neck issue which ended his junior season prematurely.

"We are going to put the roster together tomorrow morning and then I will specifically talk at our next opportunity."

As for new running backs coach David Corley, Diaco said, "It is a very exciting thing, he is a great, great guy and he fits with the DNA of our organization. He was a fantastic player, he has instant credibility as a great player. He has had nothing but people rave about him since he put the whistle around his neck and he is a class individual and has an expertise with the running backs."

Finally, here is what Diaco thinks about early enrollees Chris Britton and Jamar Summers.

"I have all raves about those guys, they did something incredibly challenging, you are coming from high school math class to college math class the next week. These guys are on their own but they are doing an fantastic job."

Monday, March 03, 2014

Corley named running backs coach at UConn

Former William & Mary quarterback and assistant coach David Corley has been named UConn's running backs coach and will also be the director of player engagement.

Corley coached the running backs at William & Mary in 2008 and 2009, spent the next three years working with a quarterbacks before handing the receivers and being the passing game coordinator last season.

Corley takes over for Ernest Jones, who abruptly resigned after being hired by Bob Diaco.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

UConn football staff at men's basketball game

New UConn football coach Bob Diaco continues to make the rounds as he and his staff are at the Exhibition Hall at the XL Center for the UConn Club Auction and they will be introduced to the crowd at the UConn/Cincinnati men's basketball game.

The staff is on the verge of being completed as David Corley is on the verge of being hired as UConn's running backs coach after spending the last six seasons at William & Mary.

William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock told the Daily Press "I hate to lose him but when you have good people and you have a successful program, people are going to get opportunities. That's just the nature of the business."

Corley coached running backs, quarterbacks and receivers at various times during his time at William & Mary

"He worked at it," Laycock told the Daily Press. "He really wanted to learn football. He wasn't interested in just transferring his natural ability to somebody else. He worked at becoming a good coach and a good teacher, whether it was film study, whether it was dealing with me, whether it was techniques. He was a very good coach and a good recruiter."