Monday, April 13, 2015

Sophomores impress at UConn spring game

Bryant Shirreffs (4) and Brian Lemelle (18) both had solid showings
Finally wrapped up transcribing the quotes from Saturday's Blue-White game and time to wrap things up.

At first glance I thought the sophomore class made quite the impact and looking closer at the numbers and that is even more evident.

The top two tacklers were sophomores Junior Joseph and Vontae Diggs, who had nine and seven tackles respectively. Nearly half of the tackles were recorded by players who were freshmen a season ago (including those who redshirted). The class also combined for 18 receptions, 133 receiving yards and 114 rushing yards (that is going under the assumption that a 20-yard loss attributed to Josh Marriner was merely a mistake in the final stats because unless I was just zoning out at that point, I don't recall Marriner being hit 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage).

Unofficially four players led the way with five targets and all four are heading into their sophomore seasons (tailbacks Ron Johnson and Arkeel Newsome and tight ends Alec Bloom and Tommy Myers). Last but certainly not least, Bryant Shirreffs led UConn had a game-high 168 passing yards.

After the game I asked Diaco if he was impressed with the growth of last year's freshmen.

"Alec Bloom, Vontae Diggs, Jamar Summers, you watch Jamar Summers out there and it is easy to forget that he was a freshman," UConn coach Bob Diaco said.

If the season were to open today, nine sophomores would be starters on either offense or defense. On offense, it would be Shirreffs, Johnson, Myers, center Ryan Crozier and guard Tommy Hopkins while defensive lineman Foley Fatukasi, linebackers Luke Carrezola and Joseph and cornerback Summers.

Here are Diaco's thoughts on some of these talented youngsters

"Early you could see that he hadn't had the feel of a stadium in a few years. He was kind of gripping it and even some of the checkdowns he hit were coming in hot but after five/six minutes in, he settled into some form. Decisions, ball handling driving it, mechanic of running offense was there, pretty clean that way. He has a nice touch on his shallow passing game. It was nice to see him settle in and throw those nice touch passes. he throws great on the move and he can really move.

"(Myers) absolutely has been a weapon at the point of attack and we have been pleased with how he is finishing the blocking."

"There is a significant role for Josh. You are just looking at one situation. Josh would really be our third down back right now so the combination of pass protection, hands , speed, he does a lot of things well. Arkeel, we've got to get the ball in space, we just have to, kicking game, offense, all kinds of ways. (Senior) Max (DeLorenzo) is another guy who is a jobs guy, ran well today, soft hands, he has a real knack and he runs particular plays well. Ron's going to be a battering ram, a lot red zone, third down, critical down, black zone coming out kind of guy."

"He looks inside like you are supposed to look. He runs down, he has a sense of where the ball is going to enter, he is a heavy hitter, heavy hands, he can really strike and shed. I'd like to see him tackle (better) but he is running to the ball and we are very pleased with Junior Joseph."

"the young guys played well, Atkins, Lawley, Cole played on the white and blue, he has a motor that doesn't quit. We are getting good play out of our boundary outside linebacker position, both Carrezola and Cam Stapleton and Omaine Stephens, (there was) good play there, wasn't a lot of action happening over there. You can see a lot less moments of voids in the defense, busted coverages, ball outside the defense where we lost force hallmarks of how to play good to great defense, you have to play the force. If you don't play the force well, you are not going to play good defense. It was nice to see that there weren't many force issues."

The talk wasn't limited to the sophomores.

Diaco also had tremendous praise for senior defensive linemen Julian Campenni and Kenton Adeyemi.

"There is not a team who graded their center (well) after Jul played them last year so he is continuing his development. He is fighting through some nagging stuff. He played his guts out today. kenton played hard, he is moving his game forward.

"Think about Kenton, now is almost 290 pounds. He was 260 pounds when we met him and now he is 290 pounds, now he can push, he is just as fast as he was long speed and short so now he has another 30 pounds to knock people back."

He continues to rave about the play of converted fullback Matt Walsh, who has found a home at inside linebacker.

"Inside linebackers are hard for me because I have to watch them but I will be shocked if I am not very excited because for 14 practices (he was) great. He was a hard decision about most improved. We gave the nod to Javon Hadley but Matt Walsh was right in the conversation, almost a coin flip. He has been awesome, he is at the right position, it is his natural position. He honestly does not require a lot of coaching to see where the plays are going to happen, he's got a natural feel for
finding the ball. He has been an incredible, not a pleasant surprise, that to me less than it actually is. He is an absolute add, a big plus from the spring. Like Crozier, so is Matt, awesome."

Finally, it was good to see junior receiver Brian Lemelle involved in the game plan. He showed tremendous promise as a freshman. Lemelle was targeted four times and caught all four balls including an impressive catch of a pass near his ankles that he snared with both hands and then turned up field.

"He is a different guy from when I met him," Diaco said. "Purposeful, professional, every day he is a worker. He is not a rah rah guy but he is a guy that you can look to and say 'look at Brian.' Do it like Brian. Brian, get to the front of line and show them how to do this drill. He is one of those guys."



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