Thursday, April 02, 2015

Observations from UConn's Dog Pound practice

The media got to see more than just the first 20 minutes of practice for the first time during spring drills as UConn hosted its "Dog Pound" practice when students are invited to watch the practice.

Rather than the normal positional drills we get to see, we did get to see plenty of 7 on 7 action and an entertaining 3 on 3 drill when the defensive players had to take on blockers and keep a running back from reaching a line of scrimmage designated as the goal line.

Let's start with the latter drill because it is the only one with real contact I have seen this spring.

Foley Fatukasi was absolutely unblockable, either shedding blockers or simply beating them off the ball to make three tackles in this drill. He blew up tailback Ron Johnson with enough force with one hit that Johnson needed his helmet readjusted by an equipment manager.

Sheriden Lawley also looked good in this drill while Jhavon Williams made a tackle as well. Offensively, it was a good drill for former Valley running backs as Ansonia's Arkeel Newsome broke free for a score as did Shelton's Jason Thompson. Max DeLorenzo gained some tough yards during the drill.

The offensive highlight on passing drills before the start of  the 7 on 7 portion of practice was a tremendous catch by Noel Thomas of a pass thrown behind him. The best way to describe the catch was that it was Geremy Davis like. Thomas also had one of the few catches down the field during the 7 on 7 drills.

It hardly seems a coincidence that when Bob Diaco had players pick out numbers for prizes given out to students in attendance, the first two players chosen were Fatukasi and Thomas followed by tight end Sean McQuillan.

The first portion of the 7 on 7 I saw was between the 30 yard lines.

Bryant Shirreffs was the first quarterback out and completed 3 of 5 passes mostly of the screen and short possession pass variety. Tim Boyle was 1 for 4 but one of the incompletions almost certainly would have resulted in a pass interference call against Graham Stewart in an actual game. Tyler Davis was 2 for 4 with both completions going to Thompson and a dropped pass mixed in there.

The next part of 7 on 7 work was in the red zone and it began with four straight incompletions before Davis hit Newsome on the 5 with Newsome spinning and racing untouched into the end zone. There were plenty of overthrown balls. A highlight came when linebacker Vontae Diggs picked off Shirreffs. Jamar Summers and Matt Walsh had pass breakups. I had the three quarterbacks going 3 for 15 in this portion of practice with at least five of those incompletions being uncatchable passes. That was a pretty horrendous performance with very little chemistry being shown between the quarterbacks and receivers.

There was no player access even though we were told that selected players would be available. Here are some thoughts from Diaco

"He's a talented player, aggressive player, fast, violent, heavy hands. He is working on his game."

"We are going to have some action on Friday. I could probably talk about some separation but I am not going to because it is pretty close. After Friday we will create separation."

"We added a two-minute drill. We were able to simulate the drill, the 1 (starting) offense methodically went down the field. They had some challenges, their backs were against the wall, I want to say on fourth down they converted. It wasn't contrived, it was legitimately executed. We went down the field and put the offense in field goal position and kicked a field goal. It was a nice drill, it was well done."

"Ron (Johnson) brings something that's completely different from Josh (Marriner). Josh is an every down back, he is a third-down back, he has soft hands, he can pass protect and he is fast. Arkeel  is a guy who has to get the ball in space. He has to get the ball often, a bunch during games from different spots doing different things. Ron and Max are our downhill runners, in between the tackles, tough yards, grind it out, knife into small windows guys."

"It is going to look like a game. It is going to be a game but we are not going to have live kickoffs and live kickoff returns."

"It seems like anytime I saw something the group comes out and has an average practice. I got to say the tight ends. Sean, Tommy, Alec and even Nick and the inside linebackers, I'd say those two groups have really come on and improved their work collectively this spring."

"Very good, he is in the right position. Walsh, he has a natural, instinctual eye for playing inside linebacker. He can see the plays, he is figuring the defense out and when he gets comfortable there he will be moving faster."


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