Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pretty good ending to Diaco's first spring camp at UConn

Bob Daco certainly knows how to talk the talk and talk and talk and talk.

Ask him how's everything going and you might not get a second question in if you have somewhere to go in 30 minutes time. He's said all the right things this spring about changing the culture but there's much more to having a winning team than painting some walls and checking the Vitamin D levels of the players.

So when the offense was forced to punt on six of the seven possessions in the first half of yesterday's spring game, it was impossible not to hear the grumblings of some of the estimated 6,500 fans who made their way into Rentschler Field.

But at game's end I think there were far more positives than negatives.

First, let me start off by saying that reading too much into spring games is a risky proposition since every time the defense looks good that means that the offense helped that to occur or vice versa and the defense should be prepared since it had 14 practices working against the offense so they can recognize formations and know all the plays before they even happen.

Still, I will proceed.

Nothing was better than the weather. You just won't find a better day for football than what we had yesterday and just as importantly, I did not see any significant injuries suffered by any of the players.

As for the on the field stuff, one of the biggest questions surrounded the defensive line. With UConn shifting to a 3-4 scheme, Angelo Pruitt and Julian Campenni have already proven that they are effective and productive players but the performance of B.J. McBryde was an eye opener. At 6-foot-5 and 304 pounds he fits exactly what Diaco wants in a 3-4 defensive end. He knocked down two passes at the line and two of his four tackles were behind the line of scrimmage. Pruitt also had two TFLs and all four sacks were recorded from defensive linemen.

"You think about Angelo, he is one of the older players and he has reps under his belt and played the games, he is playing the whole time playing a different position, grinding it out and being animated, one of more animated down the stretch too that was nice," Diaco said.

Diaco was also happy with what he saw from McBryde.

."Another mature, older player, totally bought in and there are a lot of guys like him that they have been through so much, not necessarily unique to UConn but they have been through so much to be whole hearted, wide open and 'give it to me, teach me coach.' He has been a real stellar teammate."

Perhaps the best on the field aspect of the spring game is the unique scoring system resulted in the game's outcome not being decided until the final drive. The offense trailed by three points in the fourth quarter when Casey Cochran was unable to handle the snap on the potential game-tying field goal. With another chance to win the game, the defense came through with the game-clinching strip and fumble recovery after a short completion.

"It is always competitive and it is good to come out on top," safety Andrew Adams said. "There are definitely some bragging rights going into the summer."

Plenty of young receivers and tight ends got into the act. The leading receiver was redshirt freshman tight end Quinn Thompson (5 catches, 37 yards) and half of the 38 receptions went to receivers or tight ends who came into the program last year.

The three quarterbacks who got starts during the 2013 season had their moments. I thought it was interesting that it was primarily a two-quarterback deal as starter Cochran got five series and Chandler Whitmer four before Tim Boyle came into the game in the second quarter. Whitmer had the best stats and engineered the first scoring drive of the game but Boyle moved the team very well when he came in. Whitmer was pretty up front about how close he came to not returning to the team this season.

It wasn't all positive.

There were five straight 3-and-outs, too many bobbled passes and a couple of drops and the running game looked rather pedestrian with the exception of a couple of hard runs by Max DeLorenzo and some late bursts by Jazzmar Clax and Josh Marriner.

Now the team won't be on the field together for another few months but at least the players and coaches have gotten the chance to find out what makes the other group tick and that should help both the players and coaches moving forward. It hasn't been easy for the players, especially the older ones. The fifth-year seniors were recruited by Randy Edsall, coached by Paul Pasqualoni for two full seasons and the first four games of last year before T.J. Weist took over on an interim basis. Now it is Diaco calling the shots with a brand new staff with the exception of offensive line coach Mike Foley.

"He (Diaco) didn’t agree with the culture and he is doing what he wants to do and so far it is working out great for us," rising senior cornerback Byron Jones said.

"Five years (four) different head coaches, a lot of different position coaches but it is all part of the experience. In Division I football you have to understand that this type of stuff happens. The coaches are changing but your teammates are always the same and relationships are stronger now than ever before."


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