Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Highlighting intriguing positional battles at UConn camp

Bob Diaco's proclamation that he believes the 2015 UConn football team, the same one picked to finish last in the American Athletic Conference East Division, to win every game and be in contention for one of the four spots in the national playoff will generate most of the buzz from Tuesday's American Athletic Conference football media day.

However, he had plenty more to say especially when it came to the positional battles to watch when preseason camp starts later this week.

Predictably he quickly mentioned the quarterback derby, touched on the defensive end competition between home-grown products Kenton Adeyemi and Cole Ormsby as well as what figures to be quite the duel between for the second-string outside linebacker between Vontae Diggs and Omaine Stephens.

Then came a bit of a shocker as Diaco suggested that former Hand High star Matt Walsh could push last year’s leading tackler Marquise Vann for the starting weak-side linebacker spot.

"It is going to be great competition for the Will linebacker between Marquise Vann and Matt Walsh," Diaco said. "Matt Walsh has been a guy to be in conversation. The best guys are going to play for as long as they can be the best guy, if we are at the same position and the game is 75 plays and you only better than me for 45 of them the art form is identifying that as a coach and bringing you in on the 46th play, you are ready to e the best guy again.

"Matt is a fine young man and he has always been that but he has taken a whole new step in his preparation and investment. This guy is on his way as a man and now he is in the right spot. This guy can really see the plays. Our defense specifically the front needs to be driven by one of those two players so based on who the most demonstrative communicator, the most willing communicator is, I am not going to have two, I already know that. Hopefully in the future we will, that is a good thing but I know I am looking at a group of four or five and I need one. However that one guy is, he is going to start at outside linebacker."

Walsh was far from the only player to draw rave reviews from Diaco.

He said that if Noel Thomas "is not among one of the most dominant receivers in the country than shame on me."

Diaco believes Andrew Adams and Obi Melifonwu form the best set of safeties in the American Athletic Conference. But perhaps his strongest words came when prodded about senior defensive tackle Julian Campenni.

"He has made a whole new level of investment, that he was left off the all-conference team is astounding because nobody whipped him and very few blocked him. he was too much for most centers in the league," Diaco said. "That he wasn’t on the all-conference team anywhere was a tragedy. Now I had a chance to watch that, I watched him in he games and he only got better. His conditioning is higher, he is quicker, he is stronger. he is more tuned in, his football intelligence is higher so what is he going to do now? If they couldn’t block him a year ago, what are they going to do now? he is going to be really something."

Rarely a day has gone in the last week without former UConn receiver Geremy Davis drawing praise for yet another circus catch in New York Giants training camp.

Perhaps none of the 35 players at AAC football media day has a better idea of how Davis turned himself from under the radar recruit to a sixth-round NFL pick than his former high school teammate Silverberry Mouhon, a senior defensive end at Cincinnati.

"He was a hard worker, he was a guy who worked on his craft and was really technical with everything," said Mouhon, a teammate of Davis for three seasons at Norcross (Ga.) High. "Once he got into training camp and he is going to be there for a long time.

"I know what he was capable of, I said ‘hey, No. 85 he is serious. He can catch the ball anywhere if you throw it around him.’"

Mouhon would love nothing better than to add to the list of Norcross High graduates on NFL rosters.

"It inspires me a lot that he was a sophomore when I was a freshman, he was able to develop and taught me how to get better, work on my leadership skills," Mouhon said.

It’s not easy to replace a player who was the No. 1 overall pick in the Canadian Football League draft but everything seemed to be in place for sophomore Ryan Crozier to became the Huskies’ starting center.

Crozier, who started the last three games at guard as a true freshman, made the transition to center during spring drills and was set to replace Alex Mateas in the middle of the UConn offensive line.

However, Crozier suffered a leg injury that will sideline him for the upcoming season.

"His spirits are so high, he has stayed connected to the group," Diaco said. "He was really going to have a breakout year at that position."

Junior offensive tackle Andreas Knappe echoed Diaco’s sentiments.

"He is one of my good friends so you never want to see anybody go down," Knappe said.

Redshirt freshman Dan Oak and redshirt junior Kyle Bockeloh are the next two players listed on UConn’s depth chart.

"Next man in, here we go," Diaco said. "Everybody gets pads, we all get to lift, we all get to be in the meetings, get in there and do your jobs."



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