Saturday, February 28, 2015

UConn spring preview: Quarterbacks

UConn will open spring practice a week from today so I figured it would be a good time to take a look at what the Huskies have to work with going into spring practice. I will take a position or sometimes double up on some positional groups.

I will start with the quarterbacks. It's a group that the Husky faithful can only hope makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity.

Junior Tim Boyle is the only one of the three to have thrown a pass in a game for the Huskies. He appeared in nine of the 12 games a season ago but a 52.4 completion percentage and one touchdown versus three interceptions won't wow anybody. Boyle was thrown into the fire as a true freshman after the Huskies got off to an 0-4 start and I'm not sure he was ready for what was coming. This is a huge year for him to prove he can be the type of quarterback an offense can be built around. The 6-foot-3 Boyle has the size and arm strength to make all the throws. He hasn't always handled pressure from the opposing pass rush as well as he needs to. He should have an edge over Bryant Shirreffs and Tyler Davis since he has been with the program the longest.

Shirreffs is an intriguing prospect. He played in eight games as a freshman at North Carolina State, running for 158 yards and a touchdown and completing 4 of 5 passes for 17 yards and another touchdown. His numbers as a high school senior were rather impressive as he had more than 3,700 yards of total offense. Although Boyle can make plays with the legs, Shirreffs is definitely more adept of thriving as a dual threat quarterback.

Davis graduated from Mepham (N.Y.) High School early so he is currently enrolled at UConn and can take part in spring practice. Casey Cochran's ability to go through spring drills after wrapping up a record-breaking career at Masuk was invaluable in allowing him to get onto the field as a redshirt freshman. Davis is a prospect that was at the top of the wish list of the current staff and like Shirreffs, he has shown a real ability to make big plays in the run game. Davis had six games with more than 150 rushing yards including 378 in one of the contests. After throwing five interceptions in his first three games as a senior, he had just one for the rest of the season so that is a good sign.

Obviously quarterback is the most high-profile position on any team so it will generate plenty of attention. However, the quality of the quarterback play has held the Huskies back in recent years and it will be interesting to see not only who emerges as the No. 1 guy but also if they have what it takes to be more than just a game manager.

A year ago Don Patterson was in charge of coaching the quarterbacks but when the dust cleared after a revamping of offensive staff coaching duties, former receivers coach Wayne Lineburg was moved to work with the QBs.

"It is important that we raise our level but every position we have to be better," Lineburg said. "Obviously quarterback is a focal point, you get too much blame when you lose, too much credit when you win. It is a big position and we have to do a great job of finding a guy that is going to lead the team, move the team and score points. Who is that guy who is going to protect the bal and do those things. If we can do those things, it will help us out and lead us to better production."

Since we didn't get to see Shirreffs in action a season ago, I was curious about Lineburg's thoughts on his potential.

"I have seen him some but mostly he was on the scout team so I haven't been able to watch him a ton so it will be interesting to see how he does." Lineburg said. "He has a good skill set and he is an intelligent guy and he has shown some leadership skills. We will have to see how he does and I'll be able to tell you more at the end of spring of where he is."
Coached quarterbacks for several years at Richmond so it was a natural position for me having played it. I love receiver play but I love quarterback play as well so I am looking forward to working with those guys.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

More tailgating time for UConn season-ticket holders

Since the party aspect of college football is a major selling point, UConn has added an additional hour of access to Rentschler Field parking lots for tailgating before the 2015 home games.

One of the requests from the season-ticket holders was to have the parking lots open earlier so now that will be the case with the lots opening five hours before kickoff. This is only for season-ticket holders.

Applications to renew recently went out to season-ticket holders and from what I am hearing, the process of accepting new season ticket requests is going to happen in the next week or two.

People interested in more information about becoming a season-ticket holder can call 877-AT-UCONN

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Former UConn star Branch to be cut by Raiders

Tyvon Branch has been one of the most productive of the UConn products at the NFL level since being drafted by the Oakland Raiders.

However, Branch's time in Oakland has come to an end with reports that he has been informed by the team that he is going to be released.

Branch expressed his gratitude for his time with the Silver and Black on his Twitter account

It was a blessing to play for the raiders wearing that shield was special to me... Thanks to the Davis family for giving me a chance!

Branch had three straight 100-tackle seasons from 2009-2011 and likely would have made it four straight if he hadn't missed two games during the 2012 season. Branch played in 62 out of 64 games from 2009-12 as the Raiders starting strong safety. However, injuries forced him to miss 27 of the 32 games over the last two seasons. He finished with 476 tackles, eight sacks and four interceptions in 75 career games.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

UConn signee a fan favorite

The Newark Star-Ledger just completed an online voting contest for the best dunks of the high school season. Among the candidates was UConn football commit Nazir Williams highlight video featuring a pair of dunks for Bridgeton High School.

Williams' dunks finished seventh in the voting receiving 80 votes.

Williams, who projects to play defense at UConn, also scored the 1,000th point of his career over the weekend.

Marshe Terry, another signee from New Jersey recruited to play on the defensive side of the game, had 22 points to lead Northern Burlington to a 74-50 win over West Windsor-Plainsboro South on Tuesday.

Williams, Terry and fellow incoming freshman Ian Campbell will be in action when the New Jersey basketball playoffs kick off.

Williams' Bridgeton team is the No. 4 seed in the South Jersey Group 2 bracket and will host Buena on Mar. 2 at 7 p.m.

Terry's Northern Burlington team is seeded 12th in the Central Jersey Group 3 tournament and will play at fifth-seeded Neptune on Mar. 3.

Campbell and Pequannock is the No. 9 seed in the NJSIAA North Jersey Group 2 playoffs and will play at Glen Rock on Mar. 2 at 5 p.m.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Former UConn WR Williams signs with Falcons

Nick Williams defied the odds when he made the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent. Perhaps he can do it again as he was signed today by the Atlanta Falcons.

Williams played in five regular-season games with the Redskins during the 2013 season finishing with three catches for 15 yards.

He was cut by the Redskins last season despite catching touchdown passes in back to back preseason games.

Monday, February 23, 2015

UConn's Byron Jones putting on a show at NFL Combine

A shoulder injury might have brought a premature end to Byron Jones' senior season but it took only a few minutes at the NFL Combine today in Indianapolis for him to show he is explosive as ever when it comes to jumping.

Jones had a broad jump of 12-3 which shattered the NFL Combine record set current New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins when he was at Southern Mississippi.

The reaction of the fellow defensive backs when Jones' broad jump was shown on NFL Network was priceless.

Jones followed that up with a 44.5 inch vertical, the second best at the combine this year trailing only receiver Chris Conley from Georgia's 45-inch mark. Conley also had a broad jump of 11-7.

Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said "this is sick, I could watch this all day."

Later in the day Jones recorded the fastest 60-yard shuttle at the combine . His time of 10.98 seconds as he was the only player to break 11 seconds in the drill. His time of 3.94 in the 20-yard shuttle was third among defensive backs while he had a time of 6.78 in the 3-cone drill which was the fifth best among DBs.

With Jones coming off the shoulder surgery, he opted not to run the 40. He will do the 40 at UConn's pro day on March 31. Geremy Davis (who tied for the lead among receivers in the bench press) also held off on doing the 40 at the combine and will run it at the pro day. It's just a hunch that every NFL team will be represented at that pro day.

Obviously Jones will be flying up the draft boards although his performance is hardly a surprise. Even playing on a team with guys currently in the NFL earlier in his career, Jones was always the most athletic player on the team. Credit to the NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah for having Jones listed among his top 50 players before the combine.

He began his career at safety for UConn. After the graduation of Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Jones was moved to cornerback. He had 24 tackles and two interceptions before injuring his shoulder on a tackle attempt in the seventh game of the season.  He finished with 223 tackles and eight interceptions in 43 games at UConn.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Strong showing at combine for UConn's Davis

A day after matching the best performance in the bench press among receivers, Geremy Davis had some additional impressive efforts at the NFL Combine.

Davis did the 3-cone drill in 6.86 seconds which tied him for the seventh best effort among 33 receivers who did the drill. He was also third out of 20 receivers in the 60-yard shuttle with a time of 11.28 seconds. Davis was eighth with a broad jump of 10-4, was in the middle of the pack with a 36.5 inch vertical leap and perhaps was at his best during the pass-catching gauntlet when he did not drop a pass during two runs of that drill.

Davis did not run the 40 but will get that opportunity at UConn's pro day on Mar. 31.

On Monday it will be time for Byron Jones to run and jump in front of the NFL scouts.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Strong start for UConn's Geremy Davis at NFL Combine

The positive vibes surrounding former UConn wide receiver Geremy Davis have been hard to miss this week.

Gil Brandt, former talent evaluator of the Dallas Cowboys, had this to say about Davis.

2 WRs at #NFLCombine had final college years in which they had 0 catchable-ball drops:

--> Geremy Davis (44/44)
--> Darren Waller (26/26)
While most of Davis' work at the NFL Draft Combine will come tomorrow with the running, jumping and other agility tests, the bench press was conducted today for the receivers and he finished tied for first with 23 repetitions at 225 pounds. West Virginia's Kevin White also finished with 23 as did Sammie Coates of Auburn. The performance was better than nine offensive linemen.

Davis checked in at 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds which is pretty close to what UConn listed him at (6-2, 216).. If he puts up some strong numbers tomorrow, especially in the 40, he could start flying up the draft boards.

When we met with the UConn assistant coaches earlier this week, I asked Wayne Lineburg who was the receivers coach last season for his thoughts on Davis with the Combine being this week.

"He is a great kid, a hard worker and hopefully he does really well at the Combine," Lineburg said. "He did a real good job as far as his work ethic and showing other guys how it works so he is a good kid to coach."

Yale's Tyler Varga also did 23 reps on the bench press.


Cummings hopes UConn's offensive line continues to mature

Tyler Samra is one of two returning offensive linemen to start
all 12 games at UConn during 2014 season
The exact timeline is a little fuzzy to Mike Cummings.

At some point during his first season on the UConn football coaching staff all the weeks felt like all the other ones. So just when Cummings, who was hired to be the offensive coordinator and work with the tight ends, began taking on more of a hands' on approach with the struggling offensive line escapes him.

"Some of it is a blur for me but I would say it was around week four," Cummings said.
The timing would make sense. The fourth game of the season was the nightmare at South Florida when the Huskies abandoned the passing game for a significant portion of the game because the coaching staff didn't want to risk more costly turnovers.

Once the season began the practices were not open to the media which is nothing new as it was the same way when Paul Pasqualoni was the Huskies' head coach. The result is I didn't fully understand how involved Cummings was in the improved play of the offensive line until the season was over.
UConn coach Bob Diaco did want to use the fact that Cummings was being pulled in a few different ways as an excuse. But when the season came to an end, it was clear he was going to make some changes on the offensive side of the ball. Mike Foley, who coached the offensive line from 2006-10 when future NFL running backs Jordan Todman and Donald Brown were among the nation's most productive tailbacks. When Pasqualoni was hired, he brought in George DeLeone to work with the offensive line and Foley moved over to work with the tight ends during the 2011 and 2012 seasons and started the 2013 season in the same capacity. When Pasqualoni and DeLeone were fired after an 0-4 start, Foley returned to work with the offensive line. He was the only coach retained by Diaco before deciding that something had to be done.

When the dust settled none of the remaining offensive assistants had the same responsibilities. Nobody was more impacted than Cummings who returned to his speciality of coaching the offensive line. While he is still listed as co-offensive coordinator, veteran NFL assistant coach Frank Verducci was brought in to be the offensive coordinator and call the plays.

In retrospect Cummings admitted the time be devoted on fixing the leaky offensive line probably hurt his performance as a play caller.

"I spent all the individual time with the line," Cummings said. "The division was doing position, individual (work) with the offensive line and then I spent time with the team in the other (practice periods).

"It is difficult when you spend so much time coaching five guys that it feels like it is a different world. It if difficult because you are focused and locked in on a particular portion of the offense that when you step out into the big picture, you kind of go back to that part of the offense which is a huge part of the offense."

The results were hard to overlook.

UConn did not allow a sack in three of the last four games and the running game was more productive as well. After the East Carolina game UConn had one game with at least 160 rushing yards in the last 31 contests. The Huskies accomplished the feat three times in the last five games with the 249 yards against SMU is the most since a Nov. 11, 2010 game against Pittsburgh.

"That was huge," Cummings said. "That does mean a lot. If you coach the position, you are motivated by players getting better. You are not motivated by notoriety, obviously you want to win the games and that is primary but seeing players get better and develop skill wise, emotionally, socially those are big deals."

Cummings said he is 100 percent all in with his new role. I'm sure seeing somebody else call the plays must have stung Cummings a little but he certainly said all the right things about Verducci's arrival and his changing role.

"Frank is very detailed," Cummings said. "I think he has a very good vision and plan and I think it is a shared vision. I enjoy working with him, he really likes collaborative efforts with the staff which is big. He lets the position coaches have ownership."

As for the players he will be working with, Richard Levy and Tyler Samra started every game at left tackle and right guard respectively. Andreas Knappe likely would have started every game at right tackle if not for a leg injury he suffered late in preseason camp. He started the last seven games while true freshman Ryan Crozier was the starting left guard for the final three games. UConn did lose Alex Mateas, the starter at center in all 12 games, and Gus Cruz, who got the start at left guard for the first nine games. Those were the only losses on the offensive line. Trey Rutherford, Thomas Hopkins, Kyle Bockeloh and Gifford lead the list of the other linemen who got game experience a season ago. Obviously the biggest question facing the offensive line is who is going to earn the starting center job. Daniel Oak, who redshirted last season, drew plenty of praise for his work in practice. He figures to push Bockeloh for the job. Cummings couldn't say enough good things about Oak, who added 13 pounds since the end of last season and is now listed at 278.

"Dan Oak made a lot of progress," Cummings said. "He is a smart player, he is very tough. While he didn't get the game experience, we felt it was best to redshirt him because we could. He is a player that we are expecting a lot from him. We were able to put him in (practice) and he was able to battle with our defense as a next man in, not as a scout team or look team (center) and he was very aggressive. He did a good job, not a great job but a good job against our nose men which in our league are very difficult to block."

Another player of interest is Shelton's Steve Hashemi, who was moved to tight end and saw time on special teams as a true freshman. With so many tight ends as part of the incoming freshman class, Hashemi can move back to the offensive line which is what he was recruited to play.

"He has a lot of upside and he is going to develop," Cummings said. "He is only 270 pounds. I say only 270 but he's going to weight 300 and some pounds. He is a good big athlete who could step in and be able to do the job we asked him to do. Now we've got somebody for that job so we will bring him back and put him in the position we really wanted him in."

Obviously true freshmen Crozier and Rutherford were seeing time throughout the season and the Huskies had inexperienced starters at the tackle position. It is only natural that there were some growing pains.

"There is a frustration part of it that you know they are going to be really good but they are not there yet so you had to pull it back and make sure what you teach them is to the smallest common denominator so they can successful," said Cummings, who helped turn Eric Fisher from lightly-regarded prospect to become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft during his four years coaching the offensive line at Central Michigan. "As they get older it is really fun because they have the building blocks and experience. It is not a guy who is in his third year and hasn't played, it is a little different."

It also helps that the offensive linemen continue to bulk up led by the tackle duo of Levy and Knappe.
"They are pushers, shovers, mushers were everybody else is a runner," Cummings said. "They are totally trained for that, that has been a big improvement for Andreas, he has been through the battles."

NEWSOME, JOHNSON READY FOR AN ENCORESpeaking of young players getting a baptism under fire, there wasn't much time for tailbacks Ron Johnson and Arkeel Newsome to act like the true freshmen that they were a season ago. With Max DeLorenzo the only experienced tailback on last year's team, Johnson, Newsome and redshirt freshman Josh Marriner were thrown right into the mix from the opening game.
That experience should serve the young running backs well this season.

"He is a guy that is obviously very explosive so we tried to find ways to get him the ball," said UConn assistant coach David Corley, who coached the running backs last season. "We got the ball in his hands and a couple of times he was able to make some big plays happen. It is a natural maturation process. In your first year of college there are so many distractions that are happening, things are moving faster on the field then they were in high school. I think he was able to settle himself. I think he is better prepared now  what is expected from him, what is necessary and I think he is looking forward to these 15 days of spring practice and find a way to get better every day.

"They had no choice but to grow up. You come out high school, you are used to a certain speed of the game, a certain size of the opponents. Now you are in college and you are playing against grown me who are 21/22 years old. I think those guys definitely, it was a process and it didn't happen overnight but I think they learned and they grew up quite a bit in those 12 games last year."

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

UConn recruiting coordinator reflects on incoming freshmen

It was a bit of a mad scramble last January and February when newly hired UConn recruiting coordinator Kevin Wolthausen and his fellow coaches did the best to add quality players to the prospects recruited by Paul Pasqualoni and his staff.

The results were pretty impressive as the eight players signed after Diaco's hiring included Ron Johnson, who finished as the Huskies' leading rusher, and Ryan Crozier, who started the final three game at left guard.

This time around Wolthausen spearheaded a recruiting process where there was an entire year to pinpoint the prospects they wanted to bring into the program.

When we met with the UConn assistant coaches yesterday, it was the first chance since signing day that I got to ask Wolthausen about his thoughts of the 22 incoming freshmen.

"We knew what we were looking for and even though it was a short time, when you look back some of those guys were really able to come in and do a nice job from day one," Wolthausen said of last year's recruiting class."

There weren't any surprises on signing day as most of the work was already done by the UConn coaches.

"It was a full on assault," Wolthausen said. "It was a different climate from the first time but what we were looking for was clear.

"We spent signing day making sure everything got done properly, everything was in and they were all accounted for. There is that night and a couple of days there but we dealing with 2016 on that day so it is ongoing. That is just the nature of how it is and how it should be."

Six of the 22 signees were receivers although Marshe Terry and Nazir Williams both project to play defense at UConn. The addition of Frank Battle, Tyraiq Beals, Hergy Mayala and Aaron McLean will join a young nucleus of receivers as the quartet of Dhameer Bradley, Brian Lemelle, Thomas Lucas and Noel Thomas are going into their third year in the program. Nobody was happier to see the addition of new receivers than new receivers coach David Corley, who worked with the running backs a season ago.

"They are talented kids, big, physically imposing guys," Corley said. "We are excited to get them in here, get them into our nutrition program, get them in the weight room and just continue to build upon what they already have and turn them loose out there, let them be matchup problems for defenses."

Look at UConn's schedule

The 2015 UConn schedule has been posted and with four of the six road games coming against teams coming off winning seasons, it will not be an easy second season under Bob Diaco. It will also feature two games in 14 days against triple-option offenses and anybody who watched the Huskies struggle against Army a season ago realize that could be a daunting task.

Sept. 3 vs. Villanova
2014 record: 11-3
Last game vs. UConn: Villanova won 48-45 in 3 OT on Oct. 16, 1999
About the Wildcats: Villanova quarterback John Robertson could be one of best players the Huskies will face in the upcoming season. Former Trumbull High star Don Cherry returns after leading the Wildcats with 134 tackles and 10 sacks.

Sept. 12 vs. Army
2014 record: 4-8
Last game vs. UConn: Army won on Nov. 8, 2014
About the Black Knights: Huskies are probably still reeling from the offensive show put on by the Black Knights a season ago. Larry Dixon and Angel Santiago. the two top rushers a season ago, are both coming back. as is Joe Walker, who like Santiago scored two touchdowns in the win over  UConn.

Sept. 19 at Missouri
2014 record: 11-3
Last game vs. UConn: Teams have never played
About the Tigers: Biggest news surrounding Missouri was that sack master Shane Ray declared for NFL draft. Maty Mauk, who threw for 2,648 yards and 25 touchdowns, figures to be in contention for plenty of individual awards while Russell Hamsbrough returns for his senior season after running for more than 1,100 yards and 10 TDs last year. Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer both recorded more than 100 tackles last season.

Sept. 26 vs. Navy
2014 record: 8-5
Last game vs. UConn: Navy won 41-17 on Sept. 30, 2006
About the Midshipmen: Navy will have to replace seven starters on offense and six others on defense. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds is a headliner on offense after running for 1,191 yards and running for nearly 850 more a season ago. Linebacker Daniel Gonzales returns after recording 86 tackles and intercepting three passes during 2014 season.

Oct. 2 at BYU
2014 record: 8-5
Last game vs. UConn: BYU won on Aug. 29, 2014
About the Cougars: The duo of quarterback Taysom Hiill and outside linebacker Bronson Kaufasi were as impressive as any offensive/defensive duo the Huskies faced a season ago. Receiver Mitch Matthews is another playmaker while Latanoa Pikula is the top returning tackler.

Oct. 10 at Central Florida
2014 record: 9-4
Last game vs. UConn: 37-29 UConn win on Nov. 1, 2014
About the Knights: Junior quarterback Justin Holman (2,952 passing yards, 23 TDs) and junior tailback William Stanback (697 rushing yards) are back to lead the offense. The defense lost its top five tacklers.

Oct. 17 vs. South Florida
2014 record: 4-8
Last game vs. UConn: 17-14 South Florida win on Sept. 19, 2014
About the Bulls: Tailback Marlon Mack and quarterback Mike White are a pair of playmakers to build an offense around but three starting offensive linemen graduated. Nigel Harris and Jamie Byrd return to lead the defense which returns its top five tacklers.

Oct. 24 at Cincinnati
2014 record: 9-4
Last game vs. UConn: 41-0 Cincinnati win on Nov. 22, 2014
About the Bearcats: Mike Boone emerged as a productive running threat as a freshman and one of his nine TDs came vs. the Huskies. Max Morrison and Shaq Robinson form dynamic 1-2 receiving punch. Safety Zach Edwards is top returning tackler but front seven needs to be rebuilt.

Oct. 30 vs. East Carolina
2014 record: 8-5
Last game vs. UConn: East Carolina won 31-21 on Oct. 23, 2014
About the Pirates: Replacing leading passer (Shane Carden), top rusher (Breon Allen) and No. 1 receiver Justin Hardy will be no easy task but Isaiah Jones, who caught 81 passes a season ago, leads the list of returning offensive playmakers. Leading tackler Zeek Bigger will be among AAC's best defensive players.

Nov. 7 at Tulane
2014 record: 3-9
Last game vs. UConn: 12-3 Tulane win on Oct. 11, 2014
About the Green Wave: Sherman Badie returns after rushing for more than 700 yards as a freshman. Nico Marley, who had 13.5 tackles for loss, is the top returnee on defense.

Nov. 21 vs. Houston
2014 record: 8-5
Last game vs. UConn: Teams have never played
About the Cougars: Kenneth Farrow is back after rushing for 1,037 and 14 touchdowns. There won't be a quarterback controversy as former starter John O'Korn transferred to Michigan. Greg Ward earned the No. 1 QB spot a season ago and threw for more than 2,000 yards. Ward won't have top receiver Deontay Greenberry to throw to as he declared for the NFL draft. Steven Taylor, the leader in sacks and tackles for loss, is the top returning player on defense.

Nov. 28 at Temple
2014 record: 6-6
Last game vs. UConn: 36-10 win over Sept. 27, 2014
About the Owls: Former St. Joseph of Trumbull star Tyler Matakevich will be one of nation's best linebackers as a senior while quarterback P.J. Walker returns after throwing for 2,313 yards and running for another 324.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Defensive linemen putting in the work at UConn

Luke Carrezola (15), Mikal Myers (92) and Cole Ormsby have added
a combined 41 pounds since end of 2014 season adding strength to front 7
This is pretty much the calm before the storm in the college football season.

The hoopla from national signing has subsided and the start of spring practice is still a few weeks away so the biggest news out of UConn was some of the changes on its roster.

I've already addressed Matt Walsh's move from fullback to linebacker but another aspect of the recently posted spring roster has been the weight changes. There isn't a position that has been a bigger change in the listed weight of players than on the defensive line.

Walk-on Sean Marinan, a former Xavier High star and one of three football players honored for having a 4.0 grade-point average in one of the two most recent semesters, leads the way as he went from 264 to 286. Kenton Adeyemi added 19 points and is now listed at 287 pounds. Mikal Myers added 14 pounds and is now at 326. On the other end of the spectrum, Foley Fatukasi dropped nine pounds to get down to 298 pounds. Cameron Stapleton and Luke Carrezola, while listed at linebackers, can be used as defensive ends as well and there could be better suited to hold up at the line of scrimmage as sophomores after adding 20 and 18 pounds respectively.

We met with the UConn assistant coaches earlier today and I spoke with defensive line coach Kevin Wolthausen about how the defensive linemen have been changing their bodies.

"You have not just a strength and conditioning coach, he (Matt Balis) is everything," Wolthausen said. "You have the trainers, the nutritionists and everything and that is why we can look at the frames we can look at and they can develop so well. We had guys who have gone 'x' number of years at a certain level of training and then who knows.

"Foley Fatukasi, he got down in weight to get back up, Julian Campenni and all of those guys they attacked it and will continue to do that. We are expecting them to have great results
"It is a group that we added the two redshirt freshmen (James Atkins and Sheriden Lawley) and now we have to take a look at them in the spring and it is a group that just by the nature of understanding what we are doing, you expect (improvement) and what they expect out of each other how can you not be excited about the next level of development."

Linebackers coach Vincent Brown echoed Wolthausen's sentiments as the young players who were thrust into key roles a season ago will be more physically able to handle things at the point of attack.

"They will be 10 times better," Brown said. "They are stronger, their understanding of how to play the position and techniques will be so much better. With those guys, they are eager to learn so they are growing every day. I am really excited to watch them grow.
"It is a nice blend, you have some veteran leadership with Marquise (Vann) and Graham (Stewart) because they bring an element of strength and toughness, they have been here, they have been through some really tough times here. I am hoping the younger guys like Junior Joseph, Stapleton, Vontae (Diggs), Luke and they are all embracing their roles within the defense. We are excited to come out and watch these kids come out and play."

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New offensive coordinator no stranger to UConn's Bob Diaco

Bob Diaco has proven that he is one loyal person in his brief time running things at UConn.

With the exception of holdover offensive line coach Mike Foley, every assistant coach on his first staff with the Huskies worked with Diaco at one time. Following some major issues with the offensive line during the 2014 season which was a major reason why the Huskies ranked near the bottom in the national rankings in almost every offensive category, Foley was not retained. Diaco knew pretty much who he wanted to add to the offensive staff.

When the dust settled, Foley's departure was far from the only change on the offensive side of the ball. Mike Cummings, the offensive coordinator a season ago, was moved to work exclusively with the offensive line, Don Patterson went from working with the quarterbacks to coaching tight ends, Wayne Lineburg went from mentoring receivers to quarterbacks while former running backs coach David Corley is now coaching receivers. Frank Verducci, who has worked with five different NFL teams, was brought in to be UConn's offensive coordinators and work with the running backs.

Today was the first time Verducci and the other assistant coaches were made available to media since the 2014 season ended and he addressed his relationship with Diaco which dated back more than 25 years when his father coached Diaco's brothers in high school. I asked Verducci if it was the chance to run his own offense or the opportunity to work with Diaco that resulted in him coming to Connecticut and he said his chance to coach alongside Diaco was a major determining factor.

"I have known him since he was 15 years old and it's almost, I wouldn't say a father, but a big brother and uncle watching him rise through the ranks," Verducci said. "We share a common vision. For me to be able to come in here and mesh that vision with his and carry that vision to the offense, I am excited about that.

"His father and my dad were best friends, his older brothers played their entire high school career for my dad so I have known his family forever it seems like. I have watched his career and I couldn't be more proud of him."

So what attributes does Diaco possess that will make him a successful head coach?

"He is the most sincere guy I have ever worked with," Verducci said. "He is going to tell you the good and the bad, now it is up to you to digest it and move forward from there. He has tremendous energy and he has what all the great coaches have, he has tremendous passion. He has, for a lack of a better term, the complete package. We all share his vision and our job is to impart the message.

"He is truly a self-made man. He got started as a graduate assistant when I was at Iowa. I had hoped in some way that we would work together at some point and this is just a wonderful situation to share in his vision. I was aware there were going to be some changes on the staff and I followed the season closely, I understood what the difficulties had been so we talked about it. Coach is very big on chemistry and it was evident when I came here."

Verducci will have no easy task. In Diaco's first season at UConn the Huskies ranked dead last among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in red-zone offense, was 123rd out of 125 teams in total offense and the offensive numbers for passing yards and third-down conversions as ranked near the bottom of the rankings. When you factor in that the Huskies lost their top two
receivers and most experienced offensive linemen to graduation.
While he is in the early stages of getting to know the players he will build the offense around, he has resisted the temptation to form any preconceived notions of what he has to work with by pouring over hours of tape from UConn's forgettable 2014 season.
"One of the things I learned in professional football is it isn't really about what you were or what you are going to be, it is about what you are right now," Verducci said. "We are not going to know that until we get them out on the field in the spring. My job is to form the offense. The offense is flexible in that we will play to the strength of the players and try not to ask them to do things they are not capable of doing yet."

Verducci was with the Cincinnati Bengals when Corey Dillon broke the NFL's single-game rushing record and with the Dallas Cowboys when Emmitt Smith became the league's all-time leading rusher. He admitted that a power running game is something he wants to establish. However, the true look of the offense won't start being displayed until spring practice starts on March 7.

"How we get there will depend on the talent available on Saturdays and what their strengths are," Verducci said. "It may not always be a fullback, it may be a second tight end or a third tight end. The beauty of this offense is the offense allows us to create matchups and my job is to find the matchups.
You can see their movement skills in the out of season conditioning program and the thing is you don't have five of the same guy. You have a skill set here, a skill set there and another skill set. The challenge there is to play to their strengths but not so rigid that when Arkeel (Newsome) is in the game it is an outside run, when Ron (Johnson) is in the game you know it is an inside run, when Max (DeLorenzo) is in the game you know it is a pass so you have to be able to mix it up and have to work on the deficiencies that they have. You can't just work to their strengths, if Arkeel is a great outside runner but not great in pass protection, he has to get better in pass protection. You'd like a guy to be the lead dog in the pack and I would hope that competition brings that out but if not, we will play to their strengths."

With Matt Walsh moving from fullback to tailback, Jazzmar Clax is the only fullback on the roster. Verducci said that DeLorenzo could see time at fullback.

"It is all in how you package it," Verducci aaid. "Is Max a fullback or it he a second tailback in the game? He has a unique skill set that hopefully we can maximize and hopefully improve him as a player of things that maybe he doesn't do great right now. Everything he has shown me to this point is he is willing to do that."

He also views the shifting in coaching responsibilities as something that could benefit him and the staff.

"All of those guys have a new opportunity and really my attitude it is the strength of this staff.," Verducci said "If I have a question with running backs, I will go straight to David Corley. If David has a question with the receivers, he has a great resource in Wayne. We have three coordinators who were on the offensive staff so I know I have great resources. To me this is a absolutely a collective effort."

Position coaches rave about UConn's Matt Walsh

Looking at the spring roster, there aren't too many surprises in terms of the positions listed. The lone exception was the move of Matt Walsh from fullback to linebacker.

Walsh was an All-State linebacker during his days at Hand High School and has been a force on special teams. Today happened to be the day when we got to speak to the UConn assistant coaches and while the story I will be filing will be on new offensive coordinator Frank Verducci, I caught up with linebackers coach Vincent Brown and David Corley, who coached the running backs a season ago to get their take on how Walsh will fit into his new role.

"The beauty of playing the game especially the way we want to play it is we want a passionate, energetic guy, guys who are eager to do the job,"said Brown, a former NFL linebacker. "Matt got this gleam in his eye, this excitement of 'man, I actually get a chance to come back to the side of the ball that I really enjoy.' I am excited to watch him grow and see what he can bring to the defense.
Our defense, our inside linebackers have to be great communicators and really control the defense. That is one thing I think Matt would really excel in. He is a very bright kid, very articulate and he will learn the system."

As for his former position coach, Corley loved how easy it was to coach Walsh.

"I always enjoy guys who are coachable and guys who are willing to do things the way you ask them to do it," Corley said. "That is the kind of guy that Matt has been, has done all the special teams and he is a hard-working kid. You enjoy people who are willing to take coaching and do what you ask them to do."

With Walsh now a linebacker, Jazzmar Clax is the only fullback on the roster. I asked Verducci, who also will coach the running backs, if he was looking at Max DeLorenzo or Josh Marriner to see some time at fullback. It didn't sound like that was the plan for Marriner but that DeLorenzo could be used in two-back sets and see time as a fullback or fullback/tailback hybrid.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A little more on UConn's spring roster

Taking a closer look at UConn's spring roster, which I reported was posted a few days ago, and a few things jumped out at me.

First, former Hand High star Matt Walsh is now listed as a linebacker after spending last two seasons at fullback. The only other significant positional changes I noticed weren't really changes at all as Steve Hashemi is back being listed as an offensive lineman and Sheriden Lawley is once again listed as a defensive linemen. They were both shifted to tight end a season ago because of a lack of bodies at those positions.

When I first looked at the roster, the heights and weights were the same as in the final game of the 2014 season. That is clearly not the case any longer. Here are the biggest movers

Alec Bloom, TE          235 to 257
Cameron Stapleton LB 226 to 246
Kenton Adeyemi, DL 268 to 287
Luke Carrezola LB      230 to 248
Sean Marinan DL        264 to 286
Mikal Myers DL         312 to 328

Also, the biggest drop of weight was by quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, who was listed at 228 when he redshirted after transferring from North Carolina State and he is now at 216.

There were some number changes as cornerback Javon Hadley goes from No. 11 to 4, linebacker Junior Joseph is now No. 11 after wearing 39 a season ago, Hashemi goes from 83 to 73 now that he is a full-time offensive lineman while Lawley goes from 88 to 50 (although if memory serves me right, he did have No. 50 late last season).

Monday, February 16, 2015

UConn signee a state champion

UConn incoming freshman Tyraiq Beals finished third in the 55-meter hurdles in a time of 7.85 seconds to help his East Orange High School team win its first title.

East Orange captured the NJSIAA Group 4 title with 34 points, edging out West Windsor-Plainsboro South's score of 26 to win the title.

Also, fellow UConn signee David Ryslik set a school record in winning the shot put with a winning throw of 54-9 at the Mid-Atlantic Prep League championships. It is the second time he set the Peddie School record this month as he broke a record that has stood for 12 years in a throw of 53-7 1/4 in a Feb. 4 regular-season meet.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

UConn's spring roster is up

UConn posted its spring roster and taking a quick through the list, I don't see any scholarship players missing so that's a good sign.

Freshman quarterback Tyler Davis, who is currently enrolled and will be able to take part in spring drills, will wear No. 9 and the only other addition I saw was walk-on receiver Tyrae Sims.

There are some walk-ons no longer listed on the roster - kickers Chase Briley and Andrew Paluch, cornerback Nyrell Moore from West Haven, offensive lineman Samuel Murphy and linebacker Alex Gallaer.

Monday, February 09, 2015

UConn football players making the grade

UConn honored its top student-athletes during halftime of the UConn/South Carolina women's basketball game and the football team's work in the classroom was on display for all to see.

Three of the 20 student-athletes to attain a 4.0 either in the most recent spring or fall semesters were from the football team including starting punter Justin Wain (who averaged 38.8 yards per punt), special teams stalwart Sean Marinan and quarterback Will Rishell. A total of 36 members of the football team earned at least a 3.0 GPA including 12 players who started a season ago and three of the four captains (Byron Jones, Alex Mateas and Marquise Vann)

Here is the list with players in bold seeing playing time during 2014 season

Joe Bivona
Alec Bloom: One of three true freshmen to score TD
Kyle Bockeloh
John-Luke Bogue
Jeremy Claflin
Jazzmar Clax: Fullback had five catches for 34 yards, a 6-yard run
Casey Cochran: Starting quarterback for season opener before suffered career-ending concussion
Gus Cruz: Started first nine games at left guard
Chris Deberry
Jordan Floyd: Had one tackle
Deshon Foxx: Led team with 587 yards from scrimmage
Alex Gallaer
Javon Hadley
Steve Hashemi
Jon Hicks: Made 17 tackles
Thomas Hopkins
Byron Jones: Had 24 tackles and two interceptions in seven games
Andreas Knappe: Started last seven games of season at right tackle
Ellis Marder: Had three tackles and fumble recovery
Josh  Marriner: Ran 110 yards and a touchdown
Alex Mateas: Started all 12 games at center
Obi Melifonwu: Finished fourth on team with 75 tackles despite missing season finale
Adam Mueller
Tommy Myers: Used primarily as a blocking tight end, had two catches
Paul Nwokeji
Andrew Paluch
Bryan Paull
Angelo Pruitt: Started season opener in injury-shortened senior campaign
Bobby Puyol: Was 9 of 14 on field goals with long of 45
Kyle Schafenacker
Bryant Shirreffs
Tony Tully
Marquise Vann: Led team with 105 tackles

Verducci hired as UConn offensive coordinator

Frank Verducci has been hired as the new UConn offensive coordinator as Bob Diaco completed the promised makeover of his offensive coaching staff.

Verducci had multiple stops in the NFL and worked with UConn coach when Diaco was a player and graduate assistant at Iowa when Verducci was coaching there.

Verducci, like Diaco, came from the coaching tree of former Iowa coach Hayden Fry. Verducci coached at Iowa from 1989-98. He headed to the NFL, first with the Cincinnati Bengals as the tight ends/assistant offensive line coach from 1999-2001 helping the Bengals finish second in the NFL in rushing one season. He was the offensive line coach with the Dallas Cowboys when Emmitt Smith became the NFL's all-time leading rusher He coached the tight ends with the Buffalo Bills in 2004 and worked with the offensive line the following season before being on the Cleveland Browns staff during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. He headed back to college when he joined the Notre Dame staff and also spent a season on the staff at Florida.

"Frank brings 31 years of coaching experience on the offensive side of the ball to our UConn football program with a laundry list of personal and team accolades that are very special,' Diaco said in a statement.“Another aspect of Frank that separated him from others is his experience on coaching the offensive front. I now have great balance on my offensive staff with three experts in the passing game and two experts in how to attack a defensive front. I thought it was important to have that balance rather than adding someone who specifically knows wide receivers or quarterbacks.

“Frank and I have a long-standing relationship because of the type of person he is. We come from the same coaching tree and we have the same philosophies on the development of young men."

I spoke to an NFL source who has dealt with Verducci for the last decade or two and he said "it is a great hire, they are jumping in big time with this hire. He'll bring in the third he learned at Notre Dame, Florida and in the NFL and you will see a lot of changes."

Verducci replaces Mike Cummings as UConn's offensive coordinator. Cummings will stay on the staff and coach the offensive line. Verducci will work with the running backs and that resulted in a bit of domino effect as running backs coach David Corley will now coach the receivers, receivers coach Wayne Lineburg moves to coach the quarterbacks and quarterbacks coach Don Patterson will work with the tight ends.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

ESPN computers not high on UConn's prospects

ESPN posted its preseason power ratings or preseason FPI as it calls it and for those concerned about such things, the Huskies come in at No. 117 out of 128 teams right between Georgia State and South Alabama.

The FPI ranks the 128 teams based on the strength of the offense, defense and special teams. UConn's offense comes in dead last while the defense and special teams rank No. 72 and 81 respectively. Army, which comes in 127th overall, is the only UConn opponent rated lower although Villanova as a FCS team is not included in the rankings.

Ratings like these mean about as much as mock drafts but figured I would pass it on.

Friday, February 06, 2015

UConn's Davis, Jones invited to NFL Combine

The list of invited players to the NFL Combine were announced today and former UConn stars Geremy Davis and Byron Jones were among those headed to Indianapolis.

Davis, a 6-foot-3 receiver from Lawrenceville, Georgia, led UConn with 44 catches and 521 receiving yards despite missing two games due to injury.

Jones had 24 tackles and two interceptions in seven games during an injury-shortened senior season.

One NFL insider I spoke to recently said that Jones is currently projecting to be in the range of a fourth-round pick although his stock could rise to the second or third round range based on how he performs at the combine and at UConn's pro day on Mar. 31. Davis is currently being viewed as a late-round pick or potential free agent. I am sure plenty of eyes will be on Davis when he runs the 40 at the combine.

Yale's Tyler Varga also received an invite as did former Windsor High star Ryan Delaire, a defensive end out of Towson.

The combine runs from Feb.17-23 and is broken down by position groups. Davis and Varga will be part of the day 2 arrivals with the on-field workouts scheduled for Feb. 21. Delaire's on-field workouts will be held the next day with Jones being a part of the day 4 arrivals and his running, jumping or other drills set for Feb. 23.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Former UConn interim HC T.J. Weist joining Michigan staff

Former UConn offensive coordinator T.J. Weist, who led the Huskies' to a season-ending three-game winning streak during the 2013 season after being named the interim head coach, has been named Senior Offensive Analyst on Jim Harbaugh's staff at Michigan.

Weist coached the final eight games in '13 as the interim head coach following the firing of Paul Pasqualoni. He took the year off from coaching after not being a part of Bob Diaco's staff with the Huskies.

Also, Maryland made the news of Terry Richardson being reunited with Randy Edsall official as the former UConn assistant coach was named running backs coach at Maryland a couple weeks after being let go by the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Character, responsibility hallmarks of UConn recruiting class

There were times when I listened to Bob Diaco and his assistant coach run down the bios of the 22 players who made up the first complete recruiting class under Diaco's watch when I felt like I was being taken back to my days covering the Yale football team.

I was always intrigued by some of the stories of the Yale recruits and had similar feelings today. It caught my attention how many different assistant coaches bragged about the zero tardy rated of the UConn signees.

"Every case is different," Diaco said. "I've recruited guys who wake up, walk to a bus, take the bus to a subway, take a subway to a bus, take a bus to a bus stop and walk to school every day and that is not a made up story. It is a big difference there from a guy who lives five minutes from the school and he has 20 tardies or 10 tardies. If you get D in gym class, you are a jerk. I am not going to lie to you. It is simple, look at the transcript and you have a D in gym class, why do I have to change ...

"Things create a profile, you either believe it or don't believe it. Some coaches, they get enamored by chasing the talent for talent's sake. We are not going to operate that way, we are going to hold accountable and make sure we are collecting and recruiting RKGs (right kind of guys)."

There was a class president (cornerback Aaron Garland), a 3.8 GPA student (defensive lineman Kevin Murphy), son of a retired Navy Seal (tight end Chris Lee), player (linebacker William Richardson) who got fellow recruits to get up at 4 a.m. to get in a workout.
"I don't know how many games we are going to win, I think we are going to win a lot," Diaco said. "I don't know how many accolades these guys are going to collect but I anticipate a bunch but I guarantee that every single guy that we will pass off four or five years later better than we found them."

Diaco believes he brought in more than just good kids but talented players and ones with lots of length.

"When we had our weekend when our commitments on campus, most students mistook them for basketball recruits," Diaco said. "We are incredibly excited. When they went to watch the team workout, the team can't help but be energized 'OK, yes I can see what Coach is talking about four months ago.' This is going to be a great help to our mission. We are incredibly excited."

A season ago 10 true freshmen saw time for the Huskies. Diaco doesn't anticipate that being the case this season ago. He believes quarterback Tyler Davis has a chance because he is already enrolled in school and will be able to take part in spring drills. Also, he is one of just three scholarship quarterbacks in the program joining Tim Boyle (who was at the press conference) and transfer Bryant Shirreffs. Diaco also thought kicker Michael Tarbutt could push for time.

"When you are ready, we are ready," Diaco said. "The 2015 locker room without these players is going to be a hard group to beat (for playing time). These guys are ready to go, we have been training them, feeding them, caring for them and loving them for almost 13/14 months. I have to believe if you are doing that, it is going to be hard for a high school kid to come in and supplant one of these guys. If that happens, we are not going to turn away from it but I have no expectation that any one of these players is going to be able to come in and participate."

The class could have been 25 but just 22 were signed. Diaco didn't rule out adding to the class but he is also fine holding back the scholarships for next year.

'The 2016 class isn't a real big class, it is another class that is 15/16 so to go 17/18 is kind of nice or 17/18/19 instead of just filling up," Diaco said. "If a compelling player at a compelling position were to become available ..."

Bob Diaco's first recruiting class at UConn is in the books

It doesn't appear that there are going to be any surprise additions to the recruiting class as UConn just announced that its recruiting class is complete after receiving 22 letters of intent (actually 21 as quarterback Tyler Davis previously signed as he has already graduated from high school and is enrolled at UConn). There will be more after Diaco's press conference this afternoon.

Here's the breakdown

Frank Battle, Belen Jesuit (Fla.): 22 catches for 327 and three touchdowns in run-dominated offense for team reaching the Florida 8A regional quarterfinals
Tyraiq Beals, East Orange (N.J.): Had games with 16, 13 and 10 receptions, had four games with multiple touchdown catches including six in game against West Essex. Finished with 80 catches for 1,308 yards and 16 TDs
Trey Blackwell, Cedar Creek (N.J.): Leader of defense which posted four straight shutouts in middle of season, Blackwell had 11 tackles for loss in first four games
Ian Campbell, Pequannock (N.J.): 21 catches for 280 yards including touchdowns in back to back games for 9-2 team which reached the NJSIAA North 1, Group 2 semifinals
Brian Cespedes, New London: Helped Whalers have five games with at least 338 yards of total offense en route to state playoff berth
Tyler Davis, Mepham (N.Y.): Was 73 of 129 passing for 1,092 yards with 13 TDs and six interceptions, ran 213 times for 1,553 yards and 22 touchdowns. Enrolled at UConn for spring semester
Connor Freeborn, Salesianum (Del): Earned second-team All-Delaware Interscholastic Football Coaches Association honors at linebacker
Aaron Garland, Fenwick (Ill.): Had four interceptions, two he brought back for touchdowns, two fumble recoveries and 38 tackles for team which reached Illinois 7A quarterfinals
Zordan Holman, Cheverus (Maine): Croatian native who won multiple awards for being best defensive lineman in state of Maine but could make an impact at tight end at UConn.
Chris Lee, Severna Park (Md.): 27 catches for 353 yards and six touchdowns, three coming in a 28-27 loss to Annapolis. Earned first team Anne Arundel County honors
Hergy Mayala, Trinity-Pawling (N.Y.): Had 37 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns, also saw time as cornerback and punter
Aaron McLean, St. Mark's (Mass.): Had TD catches of 14 and 65 yards in win over Thayer Academy. Team MVP and was also named to All-NEPSAC Class C team for second year in a row
Kevin Murphy, West Chester (Pa.) East: Two-way starting lineman earned second-team All Ches-Mont honors as an offensive lineman although he projects to be a defensive lineman with the Huskies. Had 23 tackles for loss and 4 sacks and 32 pancake blocks.
Philippe Okounam, St. Paul's (N.H.): Team captain and Montreal native saved his best for last with seven tackles in 33-7 win over Rivers in season finale
Dallas Parker, Ponte Vedra (Fla.): Had four games with at least 10 tackles as a senior including 17 with a sack and four quarterback pressures against Merritt Island
Matthew Peart, Governor's Academy (Mass.): Offensive tackle helped Governor's Academy to the Wayne Sanborn Bowl Game as offense scored at least 25 points in seven of first eight games
William Richardson, Ballou (D.C.): Had 72 solo tackles, 15 sacks and four fumble recoveries as a senior after recording 8 1/2 sacks as a junior
John Robinson IV, Dwight Morrow (N.J.): 24 catches for 372 yards and 5 TDs, also caused two fumbles and recovered another as a defensive back
David Ryslik, Hightown (N.J.): One of most highly-touted defensive linemen n state of New Jersey who had one game with 2 1/2 sacks a senior at the Peddie School.
Michael Tarbutt, Canisius (N.Y.): Was 11 of 17 on field goals with kicks of 52 and 60 yards for 12-0 team. Also, 57 of his 79 kickoffs went for touchbacks and had punts of 47 and 50 yards
Marshe Terry, Northern Burlington (N.J.): 4 of his 11 catches went for TDs. Had interception and fumble recovery in 12-6 loss to Pemberton in Commander's Cup game.
Nazir Williams, Bridgeton (N.J.): 35 catches for 566 yards and 3 TDs; 45 tackles, 9 sacks, 5 pass breakups with back to back games with two sacks

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

One final look at UConn's recruiting class

There usually can be a surprise or two on national signing day so perhaps some new names will be a part of the UConn recruiting class when the names are released via social media beginning at 7 a.m. But in the meantime, here is a look at the 22 known UConn commits

Frank Battle, Belen Jesuit (Fla.): 22 catches for 327 and three touchdowns in run-dominated offense for team reaching the Florida 8A regional quarterfinals
Tyraiq Beals, East Orange (N.J.): Had games with 16, 13 and 10 receptions, had four games with multiple touchdown catches including six in game against West Essex. Finished with 80 catches for 1,308 yards and 16 TDs
Trey Blackwell, Cedar Creek (N.J.): Leader of defense which posted four straight shutouts in middle of season, Blackwell had 11 tackles for loss in first four games
Ian Campbell, Pequannock (N.J.): 21 catches for 280 yards including touchdowns in back to back games for 9-2 team which reached the NJSIAA North 1, Group 2 semifinals
Brian Cespedes, New London: Helped Whalers have five games with at least 338 yards of total offense en route to state playoff berth
Tyler Davis, Mepham (N.Y.): Was 73 of 129 passing for 1,092 yards with 13 TDs and six interceptions, ran 213 times for 1,553 yards and 22 touchdowns. Enrolled at UConn for spring semester
Connor Freeborn, Salesianum (Del): Earned second-team All-Delaware Interscholastic Football Coaches Association honors at linebacker
Aaron Garland, Fenwick (Ill.): Had four interceptions, two he brought back for touchdowns, two fumble recoveries and 38 tackles for team which reached Illinois 7A quarterfinals
Zordan Holman, Cheverus (Maine): Croatian native who won multiple awards for being best defensive lineman in state of Maine but could make an impact at tight end at UConn.
Chris Lee, Severna Park (Md.): 27 catches for 353 yards and six touchdowns, three coming in a 28-27 loss to Annapolis. Earned first team Anne Arundel County honors
Hergy Mayala, Trinity-Pawling (N.Y.): Had 37 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns, also saw time as cornerback and punter
Aaron McLean, St. Mark's (Mass.): Had TD catches of 14 and 65 yards in win over Thayer Academy. Team MVP and was also named to All-NEPSAC Class C team for second year in a row
Kevin Murphy, West Chester (Pa.) East: Two-way starting lineman earned second-team All Ches-Mont honors as an offensive lineman although he projects to be a defensive lineman with the Huskies. Had 23 tackles for loss and 4 sacks and 32 pancake blocks.
Philippe Okounam, St. Paul's (N.H.): Team captain and Montreal native saved his best for last with seven tackles in 33-7 win over Rivers in season finale
Dallas Parker, Ponte Vedra (Fla.): Had four games with at least 10 tackles as a senior including 17 with a sack and four quarterback pressures against Merritt Island
Matthew Peart, Governor's Academy (Mass.): Offensive tackle helped Governor's Academy to the Wayne Sanborn Bowl Game as offense scored at least 25 points in seven of first eight games
William Richardson, Ballou: Had 72 solo tackles, 15 sacks and four fumble recoveries as a senior after recording 8 1/2 sacks as a junior
John Robinson IV, Dwight Morrow (N.J.): 24 catches for 372 yards and 5 TDs, also caused two fumbles and recovered another as a defensive back
David Ryslik, Hightown (N.J.): One of most highly-touted defensive linemen n state of New Jersey who had one game with 2 1/2 sacks a senior at the Peddie School.
Michael Tarbutt, Canisius (N.Y.): Was 11 of 17 on field goals with kicks of 52 and 60 yards for 12-0 team. Also, 57 of his 79 kickoffs went for touchbacks and had punts of 47 and 50 yards
Marshe Terry, Northern Burlington (N.J.): 4 of his 11 catches went for TDs. Had interception and fumble recovery in 12-6 loss to Pemberton in Commander's Cup game.
Nazir Williams, Bridgeton (N.J.): 35 catches for 566 yards and 3 TDs; 45 tackles, 9 sacks, 5 pass breakups with back to back games with two sacks

Silly season is upon us

I'm not going to lie, this is not my favorite time of the year.

It has nothing to do another fun-filled experience digging out from a storm but the coverage of two events which can bring out the worst in reporters.

First up is national signing day which is tomorrow. Once the hype from the latest batch of recruits begins to subside, it will be replace by 24/7 exposure to the Mel Kiper Jr./Todd McShay non-stop talk of two-gap players and hip flexibility heading up to the NFL Draft.

There are things I love about the recruiting process. Most of all I enjoy the passion shown by players as they prepare to embark in a truly exciting chapter in their lives. Thanks to the social media dominated world we live in, their thoughts, hopes, dreams and aspirations are out there for all the see. I look forward to learning more about them and telling their stories while they are at UConn and truly hope they found the school of their dreams. And that's about it.

I hate the hype of it all. I can't stand when I see posts about how such and such a player is a "huge get" by a program like UConn. The fact is that there is not one person (myself most definitely included) who can say with any amount of certainty which players will have during their time at UConn except for those who actually recruit these players. Once again this year I received an email trying to see if I was interested in talking to their national recruiting analyst to get their take on UConn's recruiting class. I replied as I usually do by politely declining the offer since I can't imagine the person I would be interviewing has seen any of the players will be signing play up close and personal. They would be talking out of both sides of their mouths if I were to conduct an interview with them and I don't consider it to be a good use of my or my paper's time. It's the same reason that when players commit I often times will reach out to either their coach or those who have played against them to get a sense of the type of player is getting. It is also why I was happy to get Az-Zahir Hakim on the phone after he was Geremy Davis' position coach at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl because he knows what it takes to make it as an NFL receiver. I'd rather speak to people like that or Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, a former NFL general manager, than listen to the mindless banter of guys like Kiper and McShay.

I find it laughable when  people trying to sound smarter than they actually are proclaim that a player fits the UConn recruiting mold of big, strong, fast players. I can't believe UConn is the only program in the country trying to get big, strong, fast players but apparently there are those trying to push the story line that this quest began with the hiring of Bob Diaco. I am sure when Paul Pasqualoni or Randy Edsall were in charge of the recruiting side of things they passed on kids because they were too big, too fast, too athletic. 'No, I don't want a 6-foot-6 receiver who can run a 4.4 40, I'd rather grab that 5-8 who runs as fast as the average newspaper reporter.' I don't know why teams like Alabama and Ohio State don't try to follow that model of getting the biggest, strongest, fastest players it can secure commitments from. Next thing you will tell me is that MLB scouts will draft the kid with the best fastball or best ability to hit a curveball out of the park on a regular basis.

I hear plenty of talk these days about star ratings and projecting the success of players based on the other scholarship offers. The fact is those things have meant very little in past UConn recruiting classes.

Five players in 2013 class had rating of 5.2, lowest for any UConn commits. That list includes Folorunso Fatukasi, Cole Ormsby two rising defensive stars at UConn . A total of 13 players in Class of 2006 had 5.2 or lower ratings by rivals including future pros  Martin Bedard, Zach Hurd, Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson. Shamar Stephen, who had the third-most tackles of any rookie defensive lineman during the 2014 NFL regular season, was the lowest rated player in UConn's 2009 class.

Wait, there is more.

Among the former UConn players who had a rating under 5.0 by Rivals were Oakland Raiders Sio Moore, a vital cog on the Oakland defense and Zach Hurd, who also spent some time on the Raiders' roster. Joining Moore as two-star recruits coming out of high school were current NFL players Tyvon Branch, Darius Butler, Ryan Griffin, Danny Lansanah, Robert McClain, Kendall Reyes, Jordan Todman and Blidi Wreh-Wilson.

Byron Jones, perhaps UConn's best pro prospect for the 2015 draft, was a two-star recruit. Fellow pro prospect Geremy Davis was a three-star recruit per rivals but they listed as his other offers were from Air Force, Chattanooga, Elon, Hampton, Jacksonville State, Louisiana Monroe, Ohio, Old Dominion, Western Carolina, Western Kentucky. If a current UConn recruit had the list of offers, it wouldn't be met with a ton of enthusiasm for those who obsess over recruiting ratings and offers but he turned out to be a pretty good player in my opinion.

UConn will announce its latest batch of recruits tomorrow as the letters of intent arrive and basically this is my long-winded way of saying the only way to know how good the recruiting class is and which players will make the biggest impact is to wait and watch.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Still some decisions to make for potential UConn walk-on

When Dario Highsmith Jr. woke up this morning, the next four or five years of his life seemed to be setting up perfectly.

The two-time Register All-Stater had plenty of options including going to Yale but the chance to head to UConn as a preferred walk-on seemed too good to pass up. So Highsmith posted on his Twitter account that he had committed to UConn. However, a couple hours ago Army came through with a scholarship offer leaving Highsmith, a quarterback who ran for more than 2,000 yards as a senior at Middletown High School, with some decisions to make.

"I liked what I saw a lot (on a visit to UConn) and just everything about it seemed right," Highsmith said. "Coach (Bob) Diaco explained the preferred walk-on situation to me really well and I saw it as no problem I guess but they it got mixed up because Army offered me. They actually offered me a few hours ago and it really mixed things up for me because it is the different between walking on and playing for free

"I am definitely still thinking things over, trying to set up a visit to Army," Highsmith said.

Since he is not signing a letter of intent with UConn on Wednesday, he has time to weigh his options. He said there is no rush to make a final decision although if things were the same in about a month he would need to speed up the process a bit.

Regardless of whether he goes to UConn or accepts the offer to go to Army, Highsmith was left with incredibly positive vibes about the direction Diaco is taking the program. He bonded with players both committed to UConn and those already there. He said he loved how vibrant Diaco is and the prospect of being a part of that squad is something that appealed to him in a major way.

Highsmith was being looked at as a running back and a guy who could contribute as a returner on special teams. Other teams viewed him as a defensive back while Army could have him be a quarterback in the triple-option offense.

Army has been involved with the recruitment of Highsmith for a while although there hadn't been too much contact in recent weeks. Obviously setting up a visit to West Point is the next step for Highsmith. Either way, it seems like he will walk into a good situation whether it is as a walk-on at UConn or a scholarship player at Army.

It wasn't too long ago that UConn was listed as one possible landing spot for former Notre Dame safety Eilar Hardy, based in large part on the fact that Diaco coached him at Notre Dame.

However, Hardy announced on his Twitter account that he was transferring to Bowling Green.

I will be headed to Bowling Green to play with my brothers @PrimeTimeLewis & @marc_mention4 lets put on for the 6⃣. Blessed opportunity ✊🙏

With Hardy set to graduate in May, he will be eligible to play right away for Bowling Green.

UConn putting finishing touches on recruiting class

A year ago at this time Bob Diaco and his staff was doing a bit of catch up trying to add some players to those who had committed to play for the Huskies when Paul Pasqualoni's staff was handling the recruiting.

Ryan Crozier, who finished the season as a starting offensive guard, and Vontae Diggs, who saw time on special teams and as a reserve linebacker, were among the four players to commit to the Huskies in February.

With a full year to recruit, it has been more of a slow, steady recruiting journey but there are still a few spots to be filled. One of those will go to David Ryslik, a defensive end out of the Peddie School in New Jersey. He made it official when he posted his commitment on Twitter a little while ago but news of his commitment broke yesterday.

It will be interesting to see this class when it is all in place.

Diaco is planning to make quite the splash on Wednesday when the letters of intent start coming in. Not only will the players be officially announced via social media but there will be video interviews with the coaches throughout the day leading up to the press conference when Diaco discusses the latest group of Huskies.

Middletown's Highsmith commits to UConn

Middletown High's Dario Highsmith Jr., who recently was named the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance Male Athlete of the Year, just posted on his Twitter account that he has committed to UConn.


Highsmith threw for 712 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 2,056 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior. He had five 200-yard rushing games as a senior including a season-high 280 yards in a loss to Notre Dame (West Haven) in the state playoffs. He also had an interception against Simsbury and two fumble recoveries against Bristol Central.

He will head to UConn as a preferred walk-on, the fourth known in-state player opting to accept offers to join the Huskies as a non-scholarship player joining Fairfield Warde quarterback Brandon Bisack, Naugatuck receiver Bryan Coney, Wilton linebacker/tight end Jack Dexter. Gunnery tight end/defensive end Luke Sowa, a New Jersey native, is also accepting UConn's offer to be a preferred walk-on according to a post on his official Twitter account. It's a pretty good collection of in-state walk-ons. Bisack passed for 2,585 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior, Coney had 52 catches for 1,171 yards and 20 TDs during 2014 season while Dexter had 60 tackles.