Sunday, August 31, 2014

13 state products see time in UConn opener

Casey Cochran was one of 13 state products to play in UConn's opener
As I mentioned in the days leading up to Friday's season opener, there was going to be a chance for local products to shine at Rentschler Field.

I went back through the online box scores dating back to 2006 to see how many Connecticut players took part in the season opener. I would have gone back further but the 2005 box did not include a player participation list and this is just the third time that at least 10 Connecticut natives played in the Huskies' opener as 10 players saw snaps in 2008 and 2006. 

According to the participation chart, 13 Connecticut players got into the game

Here is the breakdown

DT Kenton Adeyemi (Wethersfield): Had three tackles
QB Casey Cochran (Monroe): Started and was 17 of 31 passing for 171 yards with an interception
TB Max DeLorenzo (Berlin): Started and finished with a team-high 38 rushing yards
DB Chris DeBerry (Torrington): Saw time on special teams
CB Byron Jones (New Britain): Started and had five tackles
DL Sean Marinan (Higganum): Saw time on special teams
TE Sean McQuillan (Glastonbury): Started and had 33 yards on three receptions
TE Tommy Myers (Coventry): Had a three-yard catch
TB Arkeel Newsome (Ansonia): Ran three times for 10 yards, caught an 18-yard pass and had 49 yards on kickoff returns
LB/DE Cole Ormsby (Windsor): Had a solo tackle
LB Graham Stewart (Durham): Started, tied for the team lead with 11 tackles and forced a fumble
WR Noel Thomas (Norwalk): Had two catches for 18 yards and made a special-teams tackle
FB Matt Walsh (Madison): Saw time at fullback and the field goal, extra point, kickoff return, punt return and punt coverage teams as he recorded one tackle.

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Former UConn WR Williams signed to Redskins practice squad

A day after making former UConn receiver Nick Williams one of the final roster cut the Washington Redskins announced he was one of  eight players named to the team's practice squad.

Williams was originally signed by Washington as an undrafted rookie free agent last April. He spent some time on the practice squad during the 2013 season before being promoted to the active roster on Nov. 8. He made his debut nine days later and had a five-yard reception in a loss to Philadelphia. He finished with three catches for 15 yards in five games. He also averaged 20.9 yards on nine kickoff returns and returned one punt for no yards.

During the preseason Williams finished tied for third on the team with six catches and he had touchdown receptions in back to back games.

The Atlanta Falcons named the first eight players signed to the practice squad but former UConn linebacker Yawin Smallwood, taken by the Falcons in the seventh round of this year's draft before being cut. wasn't among then. The team is supposed to announce the names of the final two practice-squad players tomorrow.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

3 former UConn products let go on NFL cut-down day

The roster cuts for all 32 NFL teams are starting to trickle in and by the looks of things there will be 16 former UConn players on opening-day rosters.

The biggest news could be that rookie Shamar Stephen beat out veteran Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Fred Evans for a roster spot. Evans has been with the Vikings since 2007 recording 97 tackles and three sacks. Stephen, a seventh-round pick, finished as Minnesota's fourth-leading tackler during the preseason with 12 stops.

Three former Huskies were let go as teams got down to the 53-man maximum for the regular season.

The news that Yawin Smallwood, also a seventh-round selection in this year's draft, was  cut actually came out yesterday. Fellow linebacker Lawrence Wilson was waived by St. Louis while receiver Nick Williams was let go by Washington. Williams was tied for third on the team with six receptions and had two of the team's eight TD receptions during the preseason. I would say that of the trio, he would seem like the most likely to get picked up by another team.

While no longer a surprise based on the tremendous work he did during the preseason, it is still a great story that linebacker Danny Lansanah, who has been bouncing around the league  in the hopes of landing a roster spot not only will make the Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad but is primed to play a key role. Lansanah, who played in the 2013 season finale for Tampa Bay, was third on the team with 16 tackles in the four preseason games.

It looks like the Detroit Lions have opted to keep three quarterbacks so both former UConn star Dan Orlovsky as well as Kellen Moore will backup Matthew Stafford. With the release of T.J. Graham, it pretty much solidifies that Marcus Easley will remain with the Buffalo Bills due to his tremendous work on special teams.

Here is the list of UConn players to make the cut
Will Beatty, OT New York Giants
Tyvon Branch, S Oakland
Donald Brown, RB San Diego
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta
Sio Moore, LB Oakland
Dan Orlovsky, Detroit
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville
Shamar Stephen, DT Minnesota
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee

UConn spreads the wealth in passing game

Josh Marriner and the other UConn freshmen running backs were
involved in the running and passing game in season-opening loss
While the way quarterbacks Casey Cochran and Chandler Whitmer were utilized in last night's game against BYU continues to be a popular topic of conversation, I was more concerned with who was getting the ball thrown to them.

The first thing that caught my eye is that freshmen running backs Arkeel Newsome, Josh Marriner and Ron Johnson had receptions of 18, 17 and 11 yards respectively. So what you may say but a season ago you would have to go to the 11th game of the season to document three catches of at least 10 yards by the running backs and the 49 receiving yards by the backs tops any number the Huskies put forth a season ago.

"It is an important piece," Diaco said. "As a (former) defensive coordinator and (former) linebacker, those guys are hard to cover."

As for overall targets, I went through last night's tape and here is what I came up with (this includes plays wiped out due to penalty)
Player               Targets     Catches
Geremy Davis     13            7
Deshon Foxx        9            2
Sean McQuillan    6            3
Kamal Abrams     5            3
Noel Thomas       4            2
Dhameer Bradley 4            1
Alec Bloom          2            2
Thomas Lucas      2           0
Ron Johnson        2            1
Jazzmar Clax       1            1
Josh Marriner      1            1
Tommy Myers     1            1
Arkeel Newsome 1           1

Although UConn's tailbacks only combined for 84 yards on 24 carries, Diaco liked what he saw from them. The play calling was slanted more to the pass game (52 to 27 if you count the four sacks as pass plays even though they go down as running plays). Much of that has to do with getting down 14-0 early.

He had good things to say about both true freshmen Arkeel Newsome, who he said uses all of his body mass as a runner as he is at optimal speed when he has the ball in his hands. He said Johnson also impressed him but in a different way. Newsome added a 34-yard kickoff return and he looked like the most explosive of the three players sent back on kickoffs.

Diaco also said that the team came through the game in pretty good shape health wise with nothing but the normal bumps and bruises. He said he was happy with what he heard from the training staff including that offensive tackle Andreas Knappe "is getting better."

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Pair of UConn commits open with wins

While UConn was falling to Brigham Young in the 2014 season opener a pair of future Huskies were having better results as their senior seasons got underway.

Aaron Garland returned an interception for a touchdown as his Fenwick High of Oak Park, Ill. defeated Carmel 31-20 in Friday night's season opener while Kevin Murphy helped West Chester (Pennsylvania) East to a 48-0 win over Penn Wood.

Observations from UConn's season opener

Just some of what I took away from the first game of the new era of UConn football.

First, I thought UConn showed me something in the second half after the way BYU was taking it to the Huskies in the early stages.

The two early turnovers were killers and something a young team like UConn simply could not do. Even with that. UConn was within 14 points late in the first half and had chances to put some points on the board in the second half which could have made BYU a little nervous.

The two best players in the game were BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and linebacker Bronson Kaufusi.

Hill was everything they said he was and more. His ability to keep plays alive with his legs is something this UConn simply doesn't have at the quarterback position. I'm not sure the Huskies will face anybody like him for the rest of the season. Kaufusi is a monster and when he got it going, he was simply unblockable.

UConn coach Bob Diaco went into the game with pre-set substitution patterns and he stuck with them. What that meant is the inexperience of the reserve players showed up, especially on defense. By my count UConn had 18 players playing their first collegiate games. He seemed thrilled that 25 players got into the game on offense and defense in the first half but that constant juggling of personnel does have its drawbacks. I'd expect more of the same in the next two games as Diaco wants to give his young players live game experience to see how they react.

As for thoughts on individual players, a lack of a pass rush is troubling. At times it seemed like BYU was running 7 on 7 drills with Hill under very little duress. It is something that needs to be addressed because the combination of a soft zone and no pass rush is a recipe for failure.

I thought UConn needed to look Geremy Davis' way more in the early going. You saw Davis make some tremendous plays on the ball in the second half but it was too little, too late. I understand not forcing the ball to him but BYU was down both of its starting cornerbacks. Kamal Abrams made a tremendous catch and I expect more from him moving forward.

The play of the tailbacks wasn't horrible even though the offensive line struggled against a physical BYU front seven. UConn used the fullback more than I was expecting with Jazzmar Clax and Matt Walsh getting a decent amount of snaps.

I really like what Alec Bloom can bring to this team. He reminds me of a young Ryan Griffin and he has the athletic ability to be used down the field. He made a tremendous diving catch for one of his two receptions. Quarterbacks Casey Cochran and Chandler Whitmer were OK Both could have been better at finishing off drives.. Cochran had some badly overthrown balls early including one turning into an interception and he tended not to survey the field as much as he did late last season. He tended to drop back and whichever side of the field he was supposed to throw the ball to was exactly what he did. Whitmer took some big risks at times which has been an issue with him in the past. At different times the team moved well with each of them at the controls and nine different receivers had catches of at least 10 yards which is a promising sign.

I thought true freshmen offensive lineman Trey Rutherford and Ryan Crozier didn't look out of place when they were in there. On the other side, perhaps it was due to Kaufusi but Dalton Gifford had his struggles.

Defensively, I thought Junior Joseph had some pretty good moments while at first glance, all the cornerbacks seemed to have their struggles. It can't be easy being a cornerback playing against a guy like Hill as you have a split second to decide whether to come up and force on the run or stay in coverage.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Diaco era at UConn begins with 25-point loss

Bob Diaco was not about to lament what could have been.

He knew his team was going to struggle against a dynamic dual-threat quarterback like Taysom Hill and the Huskies most certainly did some issues shutting him down. Diaco also knew that contending with Bronson Kaufusi would be no walk in the park and the BYU outside linebacker had a bigger impact than the four tackles, two sacks and one fumble recovery he was credited with.

While BYU left little doubt it was the better team from the opening kickoff, one does have to wonder what would have happened if the Huskies stopped Hill on a fourth-down play on the opening drive and didn't turn the ball over on the their first offensive play.

Before many of the 35,150 had even got comfortable in their seats, the Huskies were down 14-0.

"You can't start a game like that and think you are going to win," Diaco said after the 35-10 loss.

Even after giving up 329 yards in the first half the Huskies were hanging around but managed just three second-half points despite drives of 64 and 70 yards.

"Five red zone penetrations, we produced points in two of them so you need to have been (success)," Diaco said. "It takes a little more volume to get great in those moments. The field is short, the window become tighter There are a lot of mechanics that go into that scoring zone."

"Definitely that was an area that was a thorn."

Diaco was determined to play lots of players and he did just that. He said that 25 offensive and 25 defensive players got into the game in the first half. A total of 59 players got into the game as Diaco used the game almost as an exhibition game with wholesale substitutions.

As for the numbers, Hill was 28 of 36 for 308 yards with three touchdown passes and had 97 yards on 12 carries with two more TDs.

Casey Cochran was 17 of 31 passing for 171 yards while Chandler Whitmer finished with 113 yards passing. Geremy Davis wasn't involved early but finished with 96 yards on seven catches.

Marquise Vann, Jefferson Ashiru and Graham Stewart led UConn with 11 tackles each while Stewart and Junior Joseph had fumble recoveries.

Plenty of new faces expected for UConn tonight

Head coach Bob Diaco will not be the only new face at Rentschler Field tonight as about 20 or so UConn players are expected to make their debuts.

Diaco has said he expects at least nine true freshmen to get on the field which includes Shelton's Steve Hashemi and Ansonia's Arkeel Newsome.

Hashemi, a former star at St. Joseph High, came into preseason camp as an offensive line but following the departure of Quinn Thompson, he was moved to tight end and Diaco said he fully expects to use Hashemi tonight.

Diaco is not the only person impressed by how quickly Hashemi has adjusted to being a tight end.

"Steve is doing great, he brings that aggressiveness every day. he is a big guy, he is around 270," said UConn starting tight end Sean McQuillan. "We want to bring a point of attack presence and he is almost like another tackle and it is always good when you can get big guys who can dominate the line of scrimmage and that is what you like."

As for the other true freshmen expected to see the field, Newsome could see time at tailback and returning kickoffs, Ron Johnson should also get some carries. Ryan Crozier and Trey Rutherford are supposed to get snaps at reserve offensive guards and Alec Bloom is another true freshman tight end with plenty of potential.

On defense, Jamar Summers is pushing for time at cornerback and at worst should be the nickel corner while linebackers Luke Carrezola and Vontae Diggs are also slated to see time.

Report: Former UConn LB Smallwood cut by Falcons

The NFL Network's Ian Rapoport is reporting that the Atlanta Falcons will cut former UConn linebacket Yawin Smallwood.

#Falcons are releasing LB Pat Angerer, I’m told. Also cut LB Yawin Smallwood, their 7th rounder. A bit surprising on Angerer, who is healthy

Smallwood was UConn's leading tackler during the 2012 and 2013 seasons and after the 2013 regular-season finale against Memphis he announced that he was turning pro. Once thought to be a mid-round draft pick, Smallwood's stock dropped especially he eased up due to a tender hamstring en route to running a 5.0 time in the 40-yard dash. He fell to the seventh round and was taken by the Falcons with the 253rd overall pick. Smallwood had 118 tackles, four sacks and broke up 10 passes during the 2013 season. He finished with 332 career tackles in three seasons with the Huskies.

He had three tackles in the first preseason game but managed just one in the final three games. He is eligible to be brought back by the Falcons and added to the team's practice squad.


Increasing buzz around UConn program a major priority

On the day Bob Diaco was introduced as UConn's new football coach he vowed that he would be looking to engage the UConn fan base and in particular the UConn student population to make for a more festive game-day home-field advantage.

Well, he certain gets an A for effort in that department. Diaco estimated that he put more the 2,000 miles on his car going to various speaking engagements across the state. The majority of those happened between the end of spring practice and the beginning of fall camp.

Later on today there will be some initiatives in place to get the UConn students fired up for the season opener. The activities actually began last night with a pep rally on campus which reportedly drew more than 1,000 fans, That event goes hand in hand with one of Diaco's many changes as he is going to have the team remain on campus the night before home games rather than be sequestered in hotel rooms as in years past.

The route for the Husky Walk on game day has also been changed as it starts in the Gray Parking lots about 2 hours, 15 minutes before kickoff and proceeds towards the large tunnel near Gate B because that new route will pass by more fans than in the past.

UConn will also change the end of the field it warms up in before the game so they can do so in front of the UConn student section.

The video board will be used so fans can guess which of the four songs from Diaco's play list will be played between the third and fourth quarters and after the game the team will serenade the UConn student section with the UConn fight song.

So do the UConn players think that Diaco's barnstorming tour and flood of new ideas will translate into a more electric game-day environment at Rentschler Field?

"I would hope so," UConn senior cornerback Byron Jones said. "Most of that rides on us, we have to win some games and get these fans excited about the season."


UConn alumni report: Todman, Lansanah shine as cuts loom

It was the last chance to make a good impression for the former UConn products on the proverbial roster bubble.

While he went into the game likely to make the Jacksonville's Jaguars, Jordan Todman seemed to give himself a better chance to being the top backup running back behind Toby Gerhart.

Todman, Denard Robinson and Storm Johnson all played in the 24-14 loss to Atlanta but Todman received 16 of the 25 offensive touches as he ran 11 times for 37 yards including a 3-yard touchdown. He also had a team-high five catches (on six targets) for 45 yards. Robinson ran seven times for 12 yards and had a 20-yard reception while Johnson lost four yards on his lone carry. Todman was one of four ex Huskies to play in the game. Dwayne Gratz had one tackle for the Jaguars while Robert McClain had two tackles and a pass defensed and Yawin Smallwood one tackle for the Falcons.

A player who appears to have removed himself from the bubble watch with an outstanding preseason is linebacker Danny Lansanah who had five tackles including three behind the line of scrimmage in Tampa Bay's 24-10 loss to Washington. He also deflected a pass that resulted in an interception. Nick Williams was targeted three times for the Redskins and finished with 12 yards on a pair of catches.

Lawrence Wilson, fighting for one of the final roster spots with the St. Louis Rams, had a pair of tackles in a 14-13 loss to Miami while Shamar Stephen wrapped up an impressive preseason by recording one tackle in Minnesota's 19-3 win over Tennessee.

Finally, Dan Orlovsky was 7 of 11 for 39 yards in Detroit's 23-0 win over Buffalo as he is locked in a fierce competition with Kellen Moore to be Matthew Stafford's primary backup with the Lions and Ryan Griffin had one catch for four yards in Houston's 40-13 loss to San Francisco.

NFL teams have to cut their rosters from 75 to 53 players by tomorrow and can starting placing players on the 10-member practice squads on Sunday.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

BYU down both of its starting cornerbacks

For quite some time there's been rumors of BYU's starting cornerbacks Roberson Daniel and Jordan Johnson being suspended for tomorrow night's UConn game. I've been waiting for some official confirmation and thanks to Jeff Call of the Deseret News, that has happened.

BYU has confirmed that Jordan Johnson and Rob Daniel did not make the trip to East Hartford for tomorrow's game.

It has to be an especially emotional time for Johnson, who hails from Springfield. There were stories early in preseason camp that Johnson would be able play against the Huskies since he'd have so many friends and family coming to the game but obviously that is not the case.

UConn's strongest position coming into the season could very well be receiver with seniors Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx joined by a talented group of young receivers. Now the Cougars will try to match up with UConn's receivers without their top two corners. If there is a silver lining, there have been reports that Daniel and Johnson spent training camp working with the second-team defense so BYU has been preparing for this situation.

UConn's Diaco not focusing on BYU suspension chatter

Over the last month of so there have been plenty of rumors circulating about which BYU players would be suiting up in Friday's season opener at UConn.

Top tailback Jamaal Williams and Devon Blackmon, expected to be one of the Cougars' top four receivers, made it official by announcing on their own that they were suspended for the UConn game due to a violation of BYU's strict "honor code." There's been plenty of speculation that since starting cornerbacks Rob Daniel and Jordan Johnson have spent the entire fall camp working with the second-team defense that they will no play. Add nose tackle Marques Johnson (who is not even on the current two-deep chart) as another player who could miss the game. Then there is the offensive line situation. Offensive tackle Michael Yeck is on the Outland Trophy watch list but he doesn't even show up on the current depth chart and neither does Solomon Fua, a starting guard on the post-spring depth chart although I have not seen any reports that suspension issues have anything to do with the shuffling of the offensive line rotation. Injury will keep receiver Nick Kurtz out of the UConn game and some other key BYU players have been limited by various ailments during camp.

So how much time has UConn coach Bob Diaco been spending trying to read the suspension tea leaves? Not a heck of a lot.

"We are doing our thing; they are doing their thing," Diaco said. "They are making decisions they need to make for their program; we are making decisions we need to make for our program and to go tit for tat on each guy, we probably win that side of the ledger."

Diaco does have a point as leading rusher Lyle McCombs, game-breaking receiver Shakim Phillips, former starting safety Ty-Meer Brown, Xavier Hemingway (who started at right offensive tackle in the 2013 season opener), former reserve cornerbacks Tyree Clark and David Stevenson and former highly-touted recruits Joe Williams and Kivon Taylor are among the players no longer part of the UConn program for a variety of different reasons.


New UConn offensive tackles brace for major challenge

Heading into last season there was not a position on the UConn team with more experience than offensive tackle as the duo of Jimmy Bennett and Kevin Friend have been protecting the edge for a few years.

In the "what a difference a year makes" department, now the Huskies have a starting left tackle (sophomore Rich Levy) who played a couple of snaps in a mop-up role against Buffalo and the other right tackle was projected to be former defensive lineman Andreas Knappe. With Knappe likely to miss the season opener against BYU due to a lower-leg injury, Dalton Gifford returns to man the position where he started six games in place of Friend a season ago.

BYU didn't exactly set the world on fire in the pass-rush department last season and the returning players accounted for just 14 sacks during the 2013 campaign. Still, there will be plenty of eyes on the offensive tackles to see how they hold up.

"It is just a matter of stepping on the field and getting going, getting game experience," UConn offensive line coach Mike Foley said. "Guys like Rich Levy have done a tremendous job through camp and through the spring and it is game experience now. He has the tools, it is just a matter of getting up there and gaining that experience, being productive. That is college football too, you don't keep them forever so it is the next guy up to go in there and be productive. It is their time to go in there and get it going. The other tackle, Gifford is in there and he has done a nice job throughout camp, he's played for us. He started for us last year when Kevin Friend went down towards the end of the year. Those guys are going to be on the field and they are starting to come together.

"It will be a real test for us and we are real anxious to see where we really are. I think we have gotten better within ourselves playing against our own team and everything else but now it time to line up against somebody else and see where we really are. We are not a finished product. I think this is an offensive line that will grow and get better as the year goes on. That is not saying that we won't be ready to play Friday night, we will be ready but I think we will be a group that will keep improving because we don't have a ton of experience with these guys."

Both Gifford and Levy said they learned so much from Bennett and Friend even when they weren't playing.

"It was motivation for everyone, the fact that we can fill their shoes in terms of picking up where we left off at," Levy said. "For me, it was motivation because with Kevin (Friend) and (Bennett) leaving and I wanted to be how he was, if not better. I learned a lot. I learned not to get down after a bad play, I learned how to bounce back, I learned how to persevere and keep going no matter what the situation is."

Gifford relied heavily on any advice he could get from Friend when he was thrust into the starting lineup.

"I just took it a day at a time. I was really close with Kevin and Jimmy and those guys," Gifford said. "Being with the 2's and being around them all the time allowed me to be ready for anything so whenever I have to go in, I was ready to go in to play at a high level. Kevin really prepared me and made sure I wasn't too rattled to go in the game.

"In the beginning when I wasn't sure if Kevin was going to be able to play or not and I was just making sure I was going to try my best to play at his level or above his level. Once I got into the flow of the game, the nerves settled and the smoke cleared I just played at my level and hope that was good enough for everyone."

Gifford drew praise from Foley and UConn head coach Bob Diaco for how far he came during preseason camp. He rose to the challenge after Knappe went down and Gifford began to work with the first team.

"I've been making sure to work on a lot of my fundamentals and the little things that make the big things happen easier," Gifford said. "That is the focus I have had in preseason camp to make myself better starting with the small steps and working up to the big stuff."

Levy's focus was more on the physical side of things. He is in the best shape of his life and it shows.

"I feel like I made the most progress with my footwork," Levy said. "I didn't have the best footwork last year and I committed time to getting better in the offseason and really grinding. I would say the change that we went through as a program and the nutrition factor really helped me a lot."

Emotions will be riding high when Levy trots onto Rentschler Field for his first collegiate start on Friday night.

"I just remember where I came from and all the people who depend on me back home, people who want to see me succeed as much as I do," Levy said. "I use that as my motivation every day to do the best of my ability.

"It is going to be very special. It is going to be a very different thing to witness but I feel as though I have worked for it."

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

One last night to shine for some UConn products

The NFL preseason schedule comes to an end tomorrow when even team will be in action. It won't take very long for the teams to start announcing the tough decisions as the teams have to cut their rosters from 75 to the regular-season maximum of 53. While the majority of the former UConn players currently on NFL rosters are likely to make the final roster of their respective teams, there are some who will be fighting for their jobs tomorrow.

Here's a look at the 19 former Huskies in the NFL

Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: It has not been the easiest of preseasons for Beatty as he works his way back into shape following a horrible leg injury suffered in the 2013 regular-season finale but he is very much a part of the Giants' plans.
Tyvon Branch, S Oakland: Another player coming off a serious injury, Branch is looking to getting back to being one of the NFL's hardest-hitting safeties.
Donald Brown, RB San Diego: Brown isn't pushing for a roster spot as much as he is trying to prove he deserves a major workload in a crowded Chargers' offensive backfield.
Darius Butler, DB Indianapolis: By all accounts he's had a pretty solid camp and he figures to be a key member of the Indianapolis secondary.
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Easley's calling card is not his work as a receiver but as one of the league's best special-teams players so look for his to stick around despite not recording a catch in the preseason.
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Gratz has been getting talked up as one of the rising young defensive stars on the Jaguars so look for him to remain in Jacksonville for quite some time.
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: After being held without a catch in the first two preseason games Griffin erupted for 71 yards on five catches including a 31-yard touchdown pass. Despite a strong finish to his rookie season Griffin seems to have slid a bit down the Texans' depth chart but he should be on the roster.
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay: One of the great stories to emerge out of the Buccaneers camp. He played in five games with Green Bay in 2008 and did not appear in a regular-season game again until the final game of last season. Now is seemingly is going to be a regular contributor for the Buccaneers.
Robert McClain, DB Atlanta: He is being challenged for the slot as the top nickel corner for the Falcons but is more than holding his own as he seems set to play a third straight season with the Falcons.
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Moore was fortunate that the neck injury he suffered in a preseason game at Green Bay wasn't more serious. I'm not sure if he'll play tomorrow or not but he factors into the Raiders' plans in a major way in his second season.
Dan Orlovsky, QB Detroit: He's making a strong bid to be the No. 2 quarterback behind Matthew Stafford as he has completed 29 of 46 passes for 316 yards in three preseason games.
Kendall Reyes, DE San Diego: One of the key players on a young San Diego defense he has had a quiet preseason with just three tackles but he's not going anywhere.
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: One of the league's best fullbacks, Sherman will continue to be Jamaal Charles' lead blocker while catching the occasional pass out of the backfield.
Yawin Smallwood, LB Atlanta: After making three tackles in the first preseason game he has been very quiet in the last two games. I've heard very little about him during training camp which is usually not a good sign for a seventh-round pick like Smallwood.
Shamar Stephen, DL Minnesota: An injury to Linval Joseph opened up some playing time and the rookie seventh-round pick has certainly capitalized with 11 tackles in three games. With the rave reviews he has been drawing with his work in training camp, I'd have to think he'd be on the Vikings' active roster.
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: His situation is one of the most interesting of all the former Huskies. The feeling was he was going to be the primary backup to Toby Gerhart but rushing 18 times for 26 yards in three preseason games is not the way to carve out a niche on a team. Don't see him being cut but a strong game tomorrow could help his cause.
Nick Williams, WR Washington: Normally catching touchdowns in back to back preseason games would be enough to earn a roster spot especially after being on the team a season ago. However, it remains to be seen if he gets caught up in a numbers' game at receiver in Washington. If he does get cut he could go on the practice squad but perhaps another team has seen enough to give him a spot on their 53-player roster.
Lawrence Wilson, LB Rams: Wilson has been bouncing around the league looking to find a home. He is coming off a pretty good effort with three tackles and a pass defensed but he could have some work to do to make the roster.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: With Alterraun Verner being signed by Tampa Bay there is a chance for Wreh-Wilson to become a full-time starter with the Titans. It sounds as if he is in an extremely close competition with Cody Sensabaugh and the worst-case scenario would seem to be having him be the nickel corner.

Familiar faces at UConn fan fest on Friday

When UConn held its spring game, the members of the UConn women's basketball team were there signing autographs. Well, they will be doing the same on Friday from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at Rentschler Field between Gates A&B.

Also, something that might be of interest to people - former UConn defensive back Ty-Meer Brown is second-string free safety and Shakim Phillips No. 3 at wide receiver on Boston College's depth chart heading into season opener which was posted yesterday.

UConn's Wain thankful for new coach's arrival

If I were to start a list detailing how Bob Diaco is different from some of his predecessors I might not be finished before Friday night's opening kickoff. However, one of the things that really struck me about Diaco is his desire to work with punters. Yes, an overachieving former Big Ten linebacker is not afraid to admit it as he relishes the chance to work with the punters.

"It is fun," Diaco said. "I am working on the field and this is one of my better parts of the day. I love coaching the punter so you get this collection of guys, other than Bobby (Puyol) he is a trained specialist so he is fundamentally kind of tracked and prepared to function and produce. Justin (Wain) shows up and he is this gangly (former) walk-on who has no idea and you watch him move a bit and he possesses some traits so it has been very fun to coach Justin, he is very coachable; he wants to be good. He has (tangible) traits because he is long and athletic, he has good hands, he's got a long pendulum, good leg speed so there would be no reason why we wouldn't be able to be a productive punter. I have been coaching the punters for a long time, I enjoy coaching them and he is getting better and better every day."

What is so intriguing about all of this is that Diaco understands the nuances of punting. I am sure if you asked most major-college football head coaches to work with the punter it would be the equivalent of traveling to a foreign country. They know a good punt when they see one, love seeing kicks with extending hang times and cherish the art of delivering the coffin corner punt to pin opponents within the shadow of their own goal line. However, when it comes time to get that out of a punter, I'm not sure how many coaches could pull that off.

It goes without saying that if UConn took roll call on which players are most excited about Diaco's arrival that Wain would be at the top of the list.

"He is really knowledgeable about punting and he gives me a schedule of what I do so I do drill after drill after drill," Wain said. "There is not a moment when I am not doing something that is helping me punt.

"We used to never have anybody who would help us with punting so if I do something wrong, he knows what I did wrong. It is always great having somebody helping you along the way. It is nice that I don't have to call my coach back home to ask if I am doing something wrong so it is great having him here."

For the past four years Cole Wagner was a known commodity for the Huskies. It didn't matter what else might have been going wrong, when it came time to punt UConn out of trouble Wagner almost always delivered. I'm not saying that Wagner was called upon often but he headed into the latter part of the 2013 season with a chance to set the FBS record for most career punts. That is one record that Wagner was thankful he did not attain. Now the punting will be handled by Wain, a sophomore from Wilmington, N.C. who hasn't punted in a game since he was a senior at Ashley High School in 2011. Wain did, however, average 45.2 yards per punt during the spring game with a long of 65 (although that was little or no pressure applied which will not be the case on Friday).

"You go out with the mindset of you have to get better every day and this is what I am going to work on today, that is my goal and the next  day it is the same thing," Wain said. "We will work and get better. It is kind of the same thing, we are looking to get better but now you have more of a role with the team now where we are no longer backing up people, now you are the punter. It is a little different mindset but it is a similar mindset, we are just trying to get better every day."

Tonight will be the first of Diaco's appearance on the weekly UConn Football Radio Show with Joe D'Ambrosio and a couple of players. As was the case last season, the shows will air live from Wood-n-Tap in Vernon (236 Hartford Turnpike) so fans can swing by to hear what he has to say. Those in the New Haven can tune in beginning at 6 p.m. to hear what Diaco has to say by tuning into WELI-960.

When they are Saturday games the show will take place on Tgursday but since it is a Friday game, the schedule was moved up a day.

Also, tomorrow Diaco will be chatting up UConn football beginning at 6:30 p.m. at a pep rally on campus (on Fairfield Way across from the Husky statue).

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Former UConn LB Moore back at practice

Moments after the nasty collision Sio Moore, perpetually in motion, did not move. As he was taken off the field on a stretcher, there had to be some concerns whether his promising NFL career was in jeopardy before it really even was able to get underway.

Well, just a few days after the former UConn linebacker suffered the frightening injury, he was back out on the practice field for the Oakland Raiders.

Oakland coach Dennis Allen addressed Moore's return to practice with the media following practice.

"He moved around out there. He’s still not 100 percent, but we felt like he felt like the best thing for him to do was to get out there, move around a little bit, stayed out of contact, but at least go through some of the individual drills and stuff like that to begin to get some movement back "

Reports are that Moore's status is uncertain for Thursday's preseason finale against Seattle, I'd be shocked if they were ready to put him out there for a preseason game.


Former FSU QB dishes on UConn

Danny Kanell, one of the broadcasters doing Friday's UConn/BYU game for ESPN, was on a conference call with former Texas coach Mack Brown today. Kanell was asked about UConn and here's what he had to say

"I’m excited to see this weekend to see the turn around with Bob Diaco and see what he’s implemented. I think they’re going to have their hands full with a BYU team that’s extremely talented and has a quarterback who might be a dark horse contender in Taysom Hill for the Heisman Trophy. But I think it’s going to be a process. It’s going to take some time for Bob Diaco to get his guys in there to start recruiting the type of players that he wants.

I think it’s a pivotal time for UConn and for them as a program. You look at the way football is dividing and the Power Five are starting to separate themselves, and UConn’s trying to make a case to maybe even play into one of those conferences if there are any spots available, and one way they can make themselves attractive is to step up their football program.

"I think it’s going to be challenging for anybody outside of the Power Five to steal guys from within the Power Five. But UConn hasn’t been exactly going after those types of guys anyway. I think there is plenty of talent within this part of the country which it can draw from, and it’s just maximizing the talent around here and developing players once he gets them on campus."

The game will kickoff a few minutes after 7 p.m.

Former UConn WR cut by Steelers

Former UConn wide receiver Kashif Moore was caught up in the numbers' game as he was one of nine players cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers as NFL teams have to slice their rosters from 90 to 75 players.

Moore received plenty of praise during training camp for his work ethic and by the accounts I saw, had a pretty good camp. However, the writing was on the wall when the Steelers signed Lance Moore as a free agent and drafted Martavis Bryant in the fourth round of this year's draft.

Plenty of uncertainty heading into UConn/BYU game

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall watching Notre
Dame, Virginia, UConn tape to prepare.
Season openers can always be a bit of a dicey proposition. How many people out there were predicting Towson to beat UConn or BYU to fall to Virginia in the 2013 openers?

For BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, preparation is all the more challenging because other than some highlight clips from the UConn spring game he has almost nothing to go off of in trying to figure out not only who will line up for the Huskies but how they will line up as well.

Defensively he does have some idea of what makes new UConn football coach Bob Diaco tick since Diaco was the defensive coordinator of the Notre Dame teams that beat the Cougars 23-13 a season ago and 17-14 during the 2012 season. Also, defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter and co-defensive coordinator Vincent Brown were defensive assistants on the Virginia squad which knocked off BYU a season ago.

"That is a starting place," Mendenhall said. "I am sure he has assessed his own personnel, depth and how the matchups might look like, there might be a wrinkle or two as happens every year but when you look at the success that Notre Dame has had and that Coach Diaco has had over his career, that would be the place to start. We project similarly based on where his staff connections have come from and what those systems might look like."

So what does Mendenhall thinks is the key to Diaco's coaching success?

"Hard to know, I don't know Coach personally. Normally you can see some personality traits through how players play and I think players play exactly as they are prepared to play so his players played tough, they played physical and I thought they played sound. Having no met the head coach, my guess is he loves tough football players, is probably a stickler for detail and likes them to play physical. That is what I saw on tape and experienced playing Notre Dame."

While watching BYU tape against Notre Dame and Virginia might give Mendenhall and his coaches some sense of how the Huskies might line up and handle certain game-day situations when BYU has the ball, it is a little more challenging to figure out what UConn will look like on offense since he has little connection to Central Michigan where UConn offensive coordinator Mike Cummings came from or Buffalo where quarterbacks coach Don Patterson spent the last three seasons.

"We certainly have watched UConn tape and did pay particular attention to the games that they were winning to find out exactly what the difference are, if it was strength of schedule, if it was late in the season, if it was home or away, you try to figure out as much as possible but it had a lot to do with how the team played. I think the quarterback is very capable, he added some spark and added some consistency so I was impressed there," Mendenhall said. "I like UConn's receiving corps and I think they have some big play potential there and a nice blend of size, speed and athleticism so they are capable and it showed in the last three games."

On the other side of the ball the biggest question is who will suit up for BYU and not as much of what the formations will look like. Top tailback Jamaal Williams (who ran for 1,233 yards last season), receiver Devon Blackmon and offensive tackle Ryker Matthews are the players reported to have been suspended by the BYU media while receiver Nick Kurtz is injured. We'll see if others are left behind as well.

On the conference call the Connecticut media had with Mendenhall yesterday I asked him if he was expecting to have everybody else for Friday night's kickoff.

"At this institution we have very unique standards here that are extremely high so I have learned over the time to never say never but I hope everybody else will be in good standing and will be able to make it but until we show up and play there is always some room for someone's choice here or there that ends up costing them a game or two," Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall said that he views last year's nightmarish opener at Virginia has little bearing to the matchup with UConn but he is making one change in the preparation process.

"We are coming a day early," Mendenhall said. "We are leaving on Wednesday and luckily for the opener we have a chance to do that without (missing school time) because school hasn't started for us yet.:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Having some fun with UConn's Geremy Davis

At media day every time I headed towards senior receiver Geremy Davis there was another reporter ready to pepper him with question. My kindergarten teacher would tell you, wherever she is, that I tend not to play well with others so whenever possible I try to do as many 1-on-1 interviews rather than get caught up in the horde mentality. As a result, I missed talking with Davis so I made sure to catch up with him today for a couple of topics that will make for good blog entries or stories down the road. However, it was not all serious business.

I was kicking myself for not playfully asking either Byron Jones or Marquise Vann about which of the three team captains gets the final say when it is time to pick a television program or order dinner since Jones, Vann and Davis are all rooming together.

Well, I got around to getting  Davis on the subject and he responded in the spirit that the question was asked.

"I think it is more of a group thing and we all compromise," Davis said with a laugh. "There isn't an alpha dog, 'I am a leader or I am the leader' but it is more of a compromise so I don't think one of us is going to try to big dog the other."

Before the press conference began UConn coach Bob Diaco debuted on the weekly American Athletic Conference call. UConn SID Mike Enright played the call so we could hear what Diaco had to say and the questions were nothing to write home about (not that the ones during our time with him set the world on fire either) but he did have a nice response when asked how he became such a detail-orientated person.

"I have always done better with a plan although in most cases it was frivolous, like grasping at the wind but I feel more comfortable when I have a plan. I can't stop my brain from thinking about the next moment and sometimes I get complaints from family and friends that it prevents me from enjoying the moment I am in but I feel better when things have a plan and there is detail in the plan."

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McBryde, Adeyemi could play huge roles in UConn season opener

B.J. McBryde and Kenton Adeyemi had as many combined tackles a season ago after offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett and punter Cole Wagner (five for those of you scoring at home). Yet,. as the Huskies prepare to face a multi-faceted Brigham Young offense, the two players expected to see the major of snaps at the right defensive end spot could play major roles in how well UConn is able to slow down the Cougars' offense.

McBryde enters the game as the listed starter but in the practices I was able to see, it was Adeyemi seeing a good chunk of the time with the first-team defense. It would not be a reach to say that this was one of the most competitive positional battles during preseason camp. The feeling is that both players are better off by having the other one to push them.

"They are friends and they compete well against each other, they make each other better and that is all good because that makes our team better," UConn defensive line coach Kevin Wolthausen said.

"One has more mass and the other one has a touch more, I don't want to say speed because B.J. runs pretty well too, but he has a little more explosiveness. I think they feed off of each other well and they are both going to play."

Both Adeyemi and McBryde believe the competition has made both of them better.

"I think everything is going well," Adeyemi said. "They have us working really hard. I think we are both great defensive linemen and both can do different things on the field, both can help the teams in different ways."

McBryde is one of the most engaging personalities on the team. I still remember in the pre-game warmups in the 2013 regular-season finale against Memphis, he went around and shook the hands of each and every senior.

He is thankful to Adeyemi for being their to challenge him on the field while developing a friendship away from the gridiron.

"It is really great with two guys are playing the same position can do battle every day," McBryde said. "Honestly, I have been in that position since my freshman year. Being a guy who didn't have a lot of football experience, I only played my senior year coming in here and being able to jump forward, being a part of this game ... Going against Kenton, I love it because I see him as my brother. We are close to the same age, I am a little bit older but going into work every day and battle against somebody like him is awesome. It kind of keeps you on edge too because I am here now, I am starting now but I have somebody behind me that wants this position just as bad as I do so the hunger never stops."

Look for more from McBryde in tomorrow's edition of the Register.

Knappe looking iffy for UConn opener; OL shakeup by BYU

At a press conference looking ahead to Friday's season opener against BYU, UConn coach Bob Diaco said that offensive tackle Andreas Knappe has not been ruled out but he made it clear that it wasn't looking good. The good thing is that his lower leg injury doesn't appear to be a long-term issue. He also said that everybody on the two-deep chart (Knappe was removed and Dalton Gifford listed as the starter on the depth chart posted four days ago) is good to go.

Diaco also mentioned Josh Marriner, Arkeel Newsome and Brian Lemelle as potential options alongside Deshon Foxx returning kickoffs and/or punts.

BYU released its depth chart earlier today and there was plenty of movement on the offensive line.

In the depth chart posted at the conclusion of spring camp, the only projected starter still listed as a No. 1 guy is De'Ondre Wesley and even he moved from left tackle to right tackle. BYU is going with true freshman Ului Lapuaho is the starter at left tackle. There are co-starters listed at every position except left tackle. The only other major change I saw was projected starting safety Skye Posey now listed as a second stringer.

Getting ready for UConn/BYU game

OK, game week is finally here. Later on today we will be talking to UConn football coach Bob Diaco, some players and BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall via a phone hookup to help start previewing Friday's UConn/BYU game.

If there is a theme for this game it will be uncertainty. Although Diaco has faced BYU before as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, the Cougars have no tape on how this UConn team is going to look. With the limited amount of practice time we were allowed to watch, we don't know much more about the Huskies. A year ago you knew the Huskies were going to come out with three receivers and Lyle McCombs would be the go-to running back. Now, I couldn't tell you if they were going to line up with three receivers, two tight ends, a tailback and fullback or two tailbacks and I would expect to see all those variation at some point Friday night.

My focus will shift more onto position matchups as we move closer to the season opener. Over the past week, however, I tried to touch on different areas about the team and allow people to learn more about the players. It started with roommates Geremy Davis, Byron Jones and Marquise Vann joining Alex Mateas as team captains. Yuesterday I wrote about Chris DeBerry, Dom Manco and Justin Wain being given scholarships and today's piece was on the players reacting to the unorthodox manner in which Diaco went about his business in spring practice and preseason camp.

A couple of items worth mentioning. First, BYU is supposed to post its depth chart later on today and perhaps that will give us a better indication if there are any additional suspensions coming. For those interested in such things, the ESPN announcing crew will be Dave Flemming, Danny Kanell and Allison Williams.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Diaco's message seems to be reaching the UConn players

I could devote a week's worth of blogs trying to point out the rather unique way Bob Diaco has gone about his business since being hired as UConn's head coach.

During his introductory press conference it was clear that UConn football was entering a brave new world. Whether it is his use of "key starter" and "key backup" or saying "I am going to scratch where it itches" when asked what his base offensive formation would be. Tangible traits is another favorite of Diaco and he even used "a work in progress" which was a favorite phrase of his predecessor Paul Pasqualoni.

Plenty of people, media certainly included, have weighed in on Diaco and his unorthodox methods. There certainly has been plenty to talk about. Diaco spent much of his time between the end of spring practice and the start of fall camp getting in his car and speaking a meet and greets as he attempts to get the word out about the UConn program he was hired to turn around. During spring camp he invited students to come over knowing that they ultimately hold the key to developing a true home-field advantage. During preseason camp he brought in a steady flow of inspirational speakers and canceled practice one day so the entire team could spend a few hours at Six Flags New England in Agawam. He had walk-ons serve as captains during the spring game and rewarded some of those very walk-ons (Chris DeBerry, Dom Manco and Justin Wain) with scholarships. Who could forget the Women's Football 101 Clinic where the UConn players were having as much fun as the 200 women taking part in football drills. He will have a pep rally on campus Thursday night and has plans for engaging the fans, especially the student section, on game days.

Through all of us the opinions of those most important in Diaco's master plan were not often heard from when discussing the new era of UConn football. It matters little what the people outside the program - including media members like myself - think of the changes. Ultimately, he needs to have the players buy into what he is selling. Diaco predicted that there would be some attrition as some players simply did not fit into his way of doing business and others simply felt they would be better elsewhere. However, as I made the rounds at team media day on Thursday, it was clear to me that the players who remained are very much in tune with their head coach. That is the focus of a story that will be running in the Register tomorrow. Space limitations prevented from getting all the best quotes on the subject into my piece so I will use this space to accomplish that feat.

Let's start with junior linebacker Graham Stewart who knows a thing or two about big-time college football having spent his freshman season at Florida.

"I've played for a lot of great coaches, Stewart said. "Our relationship with Diaco is still new and young but what I can say so far is that he is the kind of guy who can really motivate you and he is an excellent teacher. Sometimes that is hard to find, a guy that can find how you can be taught best. Some guys are visual learners and some guys can learn different ways but Coach Diaco can really get to the core points and teach you things.

"I take great pride in having Coach Diaco as my coach. If I ever make a mistake or an error, I am more upset because I don't want to let him down because I want to show him that I am absorbing anything that he is trying to teach me and exemplifying the type of player that he would want me to be."

Junior linebacker Marquise Vann, one of the team's four captains, said, "at first it was like 'wow, I didn't know a coach like this existed.' Having a coach like this who has that fire, that energy and that level, I want to play for that guy. I am very excited to play under Coach Diaco.

"It is definitely something that is awesome, looking at it, It is better for the guys that are here, guys that don't have to go through those difficult rougher times. It was a little rough for some people but it is something I look at and I hope these guys go to great heights (under Diaco)."

Senior defensive end B.J. McBryde also spoke about Diaco as a players' coach and incredible communicator.

"Meeting Coach Diaco, knowing Coach Diaco and being able to shake his hand is a blessing," McBryde said. "The man is incredible. I went to meet him, I shook his hand and said 'man, you should run for office.' The man knows how to get to people, he knows how to make you feel that energy and how to pull out of you what you don't think you have. He is the ultimate players coach. The fans will be able to see it, everybody will be able to see it."

Let's be honest, in a setting like media day where there are reporters going from table to table and university employees within ear shot, you wouldn't expect to hear players bad mouthing their coach. I am sure if I did the same exercise a season ago that Pasqualoni, the UConn coach at the time, would get glowing reviews. However, my sense is that these players are responding in a more positive manner to Diaco's energetic brand of coaching than the somewhat more distant style employed by Pasqualoni.

Some of the loftiest praise came from Chandler Whitmer and Dalton Gifford, a couple of former starters who lost their starting spots (although an injury to Andreas Knappe means Gifford will likely be the starting right tackle on Friday night).

"I don't know if we have enough time to talk about Coach Diaco but he is a great guy and he is truly genuine which is hard to find in this business," Whitmer said. "A lot of coaches will just try to tell you what you want to hear and not really truly care about you. He keeps it real, he is honest and you can tell that he genuinely cares about his players and because of that we want to play for him. Not only has he increased the energy but he has done fun things that has made us enjoy football even more.  He understands that there is a lot to football but there are other things than football. He gives us some time off to reflect and not just grind, grind, grind all the time."

"I thought he was going to be that young, energetic spark that we needed to reboot the program and kind of get us back to where we should be," Gifford said.

"He is always fired up and getting everybody ready to go. It is great when we can come out here with a high energy practice and he has high energy. It helps with the tempo of practice and the energy of practice and we can translate that onto the game field."

Finally, here are the thoughts from offensive line coach Mike Foley, the only holdover from Pasqualoni's staff.

"I think they have responded very well. I think our guys have bought in, they are trying to do the things that Coach Diaco and his staff is asking them to do," Foley said.

"Obviously he is very knowledgeable about football but I think the energy that he brings in as positive attitude, it is really something that is rubbing off on this team and no matter what happens (Diaco's philosophy is) 'we'll keep moving forward and let's improve on it.'

"He has a knack for feeling people and where they are at and he is an excellent motivator. He is getting these guys to buy in to the things that he wants to do."

Good night in NFL for UConn products

Ryan Griffin and Nick Williams were teammates and classmates at UConn as well as underutilized offensive options with the Huskies. They have something else in common, they both had touchdown catches and led their teams in catches in yesterday's preseason games highlighting a day when 11 former UConn products were not only in action by many of them played starring roles.

Griffin had five catches (on five targets) for 71 yards and a 31-yard touchdown reception with 59 seconds remaining in the Houston Texans' 18-17 win over Denver. Griffin's TD pulled the Texans within a point and Tom Savage connected with Travis Laphart for the go-ahead two-point conversion.

Williams caught three passes (on four targets) for 17 yards highlighted by a 7-yard touchdown with 5:03 left to play in Washington's 23-17 loss to Baltimore. It was the second straight game with a TD catch for Williams who is making a late bid for a roster spot among a very crowded group of receivers in Washington.

On the other side of the ball, Danny Lansanah and Shamar Stephen earned starts to help Tampa Bay and Minnesota post victories.

Lansanah had five tackles, one shy of the team lead, and a tackle for a loss in the 27-14 win over Buffalo. I've been a Buccaneers fan since living in Florida in the mid-1980s and I cover UConn so perhaps I'm paying more attention to this than most people but I think Lansanah is one of the better stories to emerge out of the preseason as he has been bouncing around trying to land a spot in the NFL and it certainly looks like he will be there when the Buccaneers select their 53-man roster.

Stephen, a seventh-round pick by the Vikings, has been opening eyes in Minnesota's camp. He drew the start in place of an injured Linval Joseph and had three solo tackles in the 30-12 win over Kansas City.

Lawrence Wilson had three tackles in the St. Louis Rams' 33-14 win over Cleveland 

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

New Haven Gridiron Club to honor former UConn DL

Nate Cotton, a first-team All-Yankee Conference defensive lineman as a junior in 1986 and as a senior in 1987, is among eight former New Haven area standouts who will be inducted into the New Haven Gridiron Club Hall of Fame on Sept. 17.

Charles Bertero, an assistant coach at UConn from 1973-76, will also be among the inductees.

Headlining the list of honorees will be former Southern Connecticut State head coach Kevin Gilbride, who earned two Super Bowl rings as the offensive coordinator of the New York Giants.

The ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. in the Cascade Banquet Facility in Hamden. Tickets are $50 ($45 for club members) and must be ordered by Sept. 10 by sending checks to the New Haven Gridiron Club, Box 32, New Haven, 06501. No tickets will be sold at the door.

Abrams flying under the radar at UConn

It took three days to finish transcribing interviews from about 20 players, head coach Bob Diaco and a handful of assistant coaches at UConn football media day and I thought one of the more intriguing items which I have not seen reported elsewhere is how impressive junior receiver Kamal Abrams was during camp.

There's been plenty of discussion about seniors Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx as well as the group of impressive young receivers brought into the program last year led by Thomas Lucas, Brian Lemelle and Noel Thomas. However, both receivers coach Wayne Lineburg and senior quarterback Chandler Whitmer both raved about what they saw from Abrams even though I didn't specifically ask about Abrams in my interview with either one of them.

"Kamal Abrams who has really stepped his game up this summer" is what Whitmer had to say about Abrams. There will be plenty of people pulling for him considering what happened a season ago. Abrams was also opening eyes during the 2013 preseason camp and seemed ready to make an impact. However, he tweaked something in his knee during pre-game warmups in the season opener against Towson. He didn't get into a game until the Huskies played South Florida in the fifth game of the year.

Another player who I have been hearing more and more about is true freshman Luke Carrezola.

Linebackers coach Vincent Brown said that Carrezola and Vontae Diggs, who are among 10 or so true freshmen who could get into Friday's season opener against BYU "have shown that they have a tremendously bright future ahead of them."

Jefferson Ashiru, whose 58 tackles and eight tackle for losses are the most for any returning UConn linebacker, said "I really like Luke Carrezola, he's very energetic, he wants to get better and is working to get better,"

Speaking of true freshmen, it is very impressive that guards Ryan Crozier and Trey Rutherford were working with the second team offensive line midway through camp and ended camp on the two-deep chart.

"They are two guys who have come out, they have very good ability and they have very good tools," UConn offensive line coach Mike Foley said. "It is a matter of them picking up the offense and knowing what to do, they are both smart guys so they have done very well in camp so I am excited about them. They are going to be very good players when it is all said and done but they have to keep working, get them going and gain that experience."

UConn announced it will have a pep rally on Fairfield Way (across from the Husky statue) on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. where Diaco will address the crowd.

Also, for those wanting to get brought up to speed on BYU, the Deseret News has posted some video interviews from BYU players and coaches shot after today's practice.

Also, I was finally able to finish up with all the interviews I needed for a story on the three former walk-ons who were given scholarships towards the end of spring practice. Diaco believes it was one of more important team-bonding moments since he arrived and look for the story on the Register's site later today and in tomorrow's paper.

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Video look at UConn preseason camp

Bob Diaco's first preseason camp has been wrapped up and now the preparations for Friday's season opener against BYU are underway. I figured there would be no better way to wrap up camp than by a collection of videos that I posted during the practices I was able to attend.

Scary moment for former UConn LB

It sounds as if former UConn linebacker Sio Moore avoided serious injury after he was taken off the field in a stretcher in the Oakland Raiders loss to Green Bay in the third preseason game of the season.

Moore, a second-year linebacker in line to be a starter, was motionless on the ground after a collision with Packers fullback John Kuhn. His neck was mobilized and he gave the thumbs up signal as he was taken off the field.

Here's what Raiders coach Dennis Allen said after the game (courtesy of the interview transcript on the team's official site)

"X-rays came back negative, so that’s obviously positive sign," Allen said. "The initial word is really mostly a neck strain. I don’t know what kind of timeline that means, but obviously, the most encouraging thing is that Sio is fine."

After the game the Raiders said it was a neck strain but there was no timetable for Moore's return to the field. He was seem waling through the locker room after the game with a neck brace on but he was not made available to the media.

Moore had two tackles including a tackle for loss in the game while former Husky Tyvon Branch finished with five tackles in the 31-21 loss.

There were three more UConn products on the field in the preseason game between Detroit and Jacksonville. Dan Orlovsky was 9 of 11 passing for 74 yards for Detroit in the 13-12 win while Dwayne Gratz had two tackles and Jordan Todman caught three passes for 32 yards for the Jaguars.

In the CFL, Larry Taylor was activated from the injured list in time to return three kickoffs for 55 yards and six punts for 17 yards in Montreal's 24-16 loss to Winnipeg.


Friday, August 22, 2014

No lack of home-grown talent at UConn

Former St. Luke's star Noel Thomas is one of 11 Connecticut natives
on UConn football team's two-deep chart which was released on Thursday
A quick look at UConn's two-deep chart and there are no lack of local boy makes good stories out there.

The emergence of Casey Cochran as the No. 1 quarterback, Max DeLorenzo as potentially being the top running option, Sean McQuillan the top guy at tight end, Graham Stewart primed for a big season at linebacker and Byron Jones being named as a team captain and emerging as an NFL prospect at cornerback have been reported on in the past and they will continue to dominate the headlines. However, there are some other state natives flying a bit under the radar.

Defensively, Windsor's Cole Ormsby is pushing for quality playing time at the hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end position. Ormsby learned his lessons well a season ago when he knew he was going to be redshirted.

"I worked as hard as I could and tried to be ready," Ormsby said. "I am ready for anything and whatever the team needs me to do.

"I am excited because I want to prove to everybody that I can do it. I am way more prepared with the new coaching staff,"

Well, he is ready to go now. While UConn coach Bob Diaco said Ormsby has the flexibility to be an asset either on the outside or inside, Ormsby said he has worked almost exclusively on the outside.

Moving over to the offense, tight end Tommy Myers has been a fixture at UConn sporting events as long as he can remember since his father Norman played for the UConn football team in the early 1980s and his mother Peggy was one of the stars of Hall of Fame Geno Auriemma's first women's basketball teams at UConn.

Like Ormsby, Myers was redshirted a season ago but is now No. 2 at tight end.

If there is such a thing as a player born to play football at UConn, Myers could certainly fit the bill.

"I remember coming to these games when they were at Memorial Stadium and just always wanted to play UConn football and it feels natural," Myers said. "I kind of fell into the position of tight end because growing up I always wanted to play quarterback or receiver like everybody does but I think I fell into the tight end spot just by size and ability."

He displayed some of that ability in the spring game when he one of four players to catch at least four passes. Noel Thomas was also on the list of prolific pass catches in the game. As a freshman he was best known as a gunner on the punt coverage teams as he displayed a knack for downing Cole Wagner punts inside the 5.

Diaco said Thomas has made tremendous growth as a player and a person in the last several months and he has put himself into the rotation at receiver.

"I just want to help the team win and anything I can do in a positive way," Thomas said.

So what has Thomas been doing to get ready for his sophomore season?

"I've been running a lot, working out with Coach (Matt) Balis (UConn's strength and conditioning coach, he is an amazing guy, and I just want to make sure I catch everything that is thrown to me."

There are 11 state natives on UConn's two deep chart while others like Tim Boyle, Arkeel Newsome, Steve Hashemi aren't on the two-deep but could see action this season. Here is the list of Nutmeg State natives on the depth chart

Kenton Adeyemi (Wethersfield), No. 2 defensive tackle
Chase Briley (Hartford), No. 2 kicker and No. 2 punter
Casey Cochran (Monroe), starting quarterback
Max DeLorenzo (Berlin), starting tailback
Byron Jones (New Britain), starting cornerback
Cole Ormsby (Windsor), No. 2 defensive end
Sean McQuillan (Glastonbury), starting tight end
Tommy Myers (Coventry), No. 2 tight end
Graham Stewart (Durham), starting linebacker
Noel Thomas (Norwalk), Co-No. 2 receiver
Matt Walsh (Madison), No. 2 fullback

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

UConn QB coach dishes on Cochran, Whitmer

There's been plenty written about the quarterback position at UConn since Casey Cochran was named the Huskies' starter in a Monday press conference.

UConn coach Bob Diaco, Cochran, No. 2 quarterback Chandler Whitmer (who is expected to see time in games as well), Tim Boyle and Bryant Shirreffs answered questions from the media and obviously the state of the UConn QBs was the story line in every article the following day. One perspective that was missing was that of quarterbacks coach Don Patterson. Well, that changed on Thursday as the UConn assistant coaches were made available to the media. There's some good souls on this UConn coaching staff but Patterson is easily my favorite to chat with. I could have easily spent all the allotted time we had with the assistants talking to him but I did manage to make it around to a few of the other assistants as well.

When we met the coaches shortly after the staff was announced, most of my time was spent documenting Patterson's incredible story.

Patterson did not let me down in the 10 or so minutes I spoke with him on Thursday.

Here we go.

"The players will tell you that they have great confidence in both of those guys," Patterson said. "I think Chandler and Casey,  it has been a very good competition, it has been a very smooth competition. I think they understand, because we talk about it, but we as a group of quarterbacks we are a team within a team and our job to make sure that this team has great quarterback play regardless of injury which means they all have to be able to play and all have to fulfill their role. If you happen to be third team then your mentality has to be that you are two plays away and stranger things have happened. You have to get ready for the game, that is the hard thing to do if you are a second or third team quarterback, because there is a lot of preparation and yet you may not get on the field.

"I think it is not secret because I know Bob mentioned that Chandler is going to play against BYU so thee is no doubt about it. How much, we don't know, it depends on game situations. We obviously had a lot of confidence in him and even more important than what we think, I think the players have a lot of confidence in him. I know there are fans who wonder if he deserves (to play) but he has to be able to take snaps to be able to play better than he played for us in the past and I am confident in saying 'yes, I am confident that he will play better than he played in the past.'"

With the decision to use both Cochran and Whitmer in games I was curious what Patterson felt were the biggest differences between the two.

"They are similar in a lot of ways," Patterson said. "To be able to play effectively in our offense you have to be a really smart guy and they both have really high football intelligence. They understand the game really well. Their decision making is right on most of the time, their goal is to be right on most of the time. It is impossible to play a perfect game at quarterback but that is what they are trying to do and if they approach that they will be playing as well or better than anybody in the country because it is such a difficult job. They are both really into football, they are the basketball equivalent of a gym rat, they really like the game, they like the strategy of the game, they are both in so many ways extroverted. They are good leaders, they are decisive decision makers, they embrace the expectations that they can handle all the stuff at once It is like being an air traffic controller, you have all these things at one time and you have to make snap decisions."

Diaco has made it clear that last year's UConn season is not something he or his staff is focusing on as they wanted to make their own evaluations. As a result Patterson wasn't fully aware of just how bad things got a season ago. He was a little stunned when I informed him that UConn opponents scored 39 offensive touchdowns in 12 games and 13 of those drives started in UConn territory and absolutely incredulous that the Huskies gave up five defensive touchdowns.

"You have to make them play on a long field," Patterson said. "Statistically it has been proven that the closer you are to the goal line when you take the field the better your chances are to score. Opponents scored five defensive touchdowns last year? That is something I didn't want to know about. They shot themselves in the foot too many times. The first thing you have to do is prevent losing and that all starts with not beating yourselves, having a high football IQ, not having unforced errors.

"The first thing you have to do is not beat yourself. It sounds simple but the University of Alabama always has a quarterback that doesn't get Alabama beat and that is the first thing we have to do is not beat ourselves. Every ball we ever throw in practice is charted, they can tell you but they have thrown 15 picks out of 852 passes here in camp, that is pretty good. One interception every 60 snaps."

Speaking of stats, Patterson posed a trivia question to a couple of us and that was how many wins did the top 11 teams at the FBS level in turnover margin average. The answer was 11. 

"If you protect the ball and you have an edge in turnovers when the game is winding down, you have a chance to win. If you are plus 2 or plus 3, you have a significantly better chance to win but it all starts with not beating yourself. We have room for improvement, we are not quite ready to tee it up and that is OK because the game doesn't start until on the 29th."

Most of the recent news regarding the roster has involved players leaving the program but today UConn announced that current students at the school can attempt to make the team as walk-ons. The deadline to apply is Aug. 28 with the tryout set for Sept. 1.

The unfortunate situation when Linval Joseph was shot in the leg while standing inside a Minneapolis night club has forced the defensive tackle to the sidelines during training camp. In his place former UConn star Shamar Stephen has received plenty of work with the first and second team defense. Stephen is tied for second on the Vikings with eight total tackles in the first two preseason games. Minnesota defensive coordinator George Edwards was asked about Stephen's work in training camp in a question and answer session posted on the team's official site.

Q: How valuable has the time Linval Joseph has missed for Shamar Stephen?

A: Again, we want competition at every position for that reason. That when somebody is down, the next guy is up and he’s got to come in, we don’t want a drop off in performance. From that aspect of it, there’s a young guy, a prime example, that has come in here and worked his butt off all through the offseason, all through training camp and now it’s starting to show in his play. Each week we go out and perform, from that aspect of it, that’s what we’re trying to create at each position.

Q: Do you see Shamar Stephen as a guy that will definitely make the roster?

A: We still have got two more weeks of evaluations, so, everybody is still competing, from that aspect of it. We haven’t said, “Okay, here is our 53-man roster.” We still want that competition going all of the way throughout training camp and now that we’re done with training camp, through these preseason games. It’s a continuous evaluation as we keep going through it.