Tuesday, August 12, 2014

New kids on the block pushing for time at UConn

As time goes by some things are beginning to emerge about Bob Diaco and his staff, Right at the top of the list is that the best players will play regardless of their age or experience level.

In other words, expect to see quite a few members of the true freshman class on the field this season.

Topping that list is cornerback Jamar Summers, who seems to be pushing Jhavon Williams to either be a starting cornerback or at least the nickel cornerback. Summers has a little bit of an edge over his classmates since he enrolled in January and was able to take part in spring practice. At each of the last two practices Summers was among the first 11 players out when the defense went to work. Diaco said that Williams has been slowed by a lower-leg issue so that has opened the door for Summers.

"He (Williams) has been participating but he is not at full speed and Jamar has been great. he has all the tools physically necessary to be a corner, as a young guy he has to improve his football intelligence, he has to improve his maturity, his professionalism, not that it is any less than any other freshman would be. He has exceptional talent."

Diaco couldn't say enough positive things about running back Arkeel Newsome especially about his size and strength.

"Speed, toughness, he actually has more body size than I anticipated," Diaco said. "He is a little bit more stout and stronger than I was expecting him to be and he uses every pound of it. There are a lot of guys who play the game where their contact speed isn't as fast as they can run but he is running at full speed the whole time so that is a very positive trait that he has."

With only four scholarship tailbacks on the roster there is an opportunity for Newsome and classmate Ron Johnson to get on the field early on. Diaco is not the only one impressed by how quickly they are adapting to the speed of the college game.

"Both have been great, both are big-time players - Johnson out of Florida and Newsome out of Connecticut," junior running back Max DeLorenzo said.."It is great because you see them from day 1, footwork, they mess up some plays and now look at them practice 12, it is night and day and that is a good sign that they are improving every day and they have the ability to make plays."

Diaco was asked whether Newsome would be in the mix as either a kickoff or punt returner. While it looks like the punt return gig is Deshon Foxx's to lose, it sure sounds like Newsome could be bringing back kickoffs sooner rather than later.

Other positions where true freshmen are pushing for time include tight end, offensive line and linebacker.

I've mentioned before how high Diaco is about former St. Joseph High lineman Steve Hashemi, who moved to tight end. He had more to say about him on Monday.

"He has better hands that I anticipated," Diaco said. "He has some aptitude (in catching the ball), he is big enough and he uses his body to get open and he has soft enough hands to catch it."

I've been touting Alec Bloom as one of the more exciting prospects in the class signed by UConn in February and I am expecting him to make an immediate impact at tight end. In terms of offensive line, true freshmen Ryan Crozier and Trey Rutherford manned the guard positions when the second-team offensive line went through drills. I asked Diaco if that was a sign of how far the two of them have come since camp started.

"I think it is a combination of multiple things, it is a combination of needing to bolster the power positions on offense and the big skill positions on offense, it was incredibly depleted for one reason or another just for sheer numbers so they were very close to the two-deep by just coming out in pads," Diaco said. "Those two in particular possess enough body size to hold up and kind of athleticism and foot speed that can create a separation between them and some other guys at the position. Trey, for example, is a tackle but there is really he is going to need a while before he can have that kind of exposure so you move him around to create a little less exposure and becoming a better player."

Speaking of the offensive line, obviously the status of Andreas Knappe (who was expected to start at right tacke) needs to be monitored as Diaco said he was out day to day/week to week with a lower leg injury. If it is the former, that's no big deal but if it is the latter UConn could be without a key player at perhaps the team's weakest position.

As for the linebacker position, Diaco clearly has high hopes for Luke Carrezola as he has mentioned him on a couple of occasions and he brought up the name of Vontae Diggs as a guy pushing for time at outside linebacker.

Finally, Diaco has had some interesting phrases and moments in his press conferences but some of the best came after Monday's practice.

He was talking about the intense battle between defensive ends Kenton Adeyemi and B.J. McBryde and as he was about to rave about the week of practice that McBryde was having Diaco said "don't tell him I said that." Them he chuckled and said "I am talking to the media."

He used the "he is drinking through the fire hose a little bit" in discussing defensive end Reuben Frank trying to deal with an information overload and said that sophomore receiver Noel Thomas "is not a list player." In Diaco's world, a list player is somebody on a list for either having academic issues or off the field problems.


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