Thursday, August 20, 2015

Shirreffs, Newsome and Thomas shine at UConn's scrimmage

Today was our last look at the team until the week of the Villanova game and we had another scrimmage to take in at Rentschler Field.

The first order of business was that Dhameer Bradley, the most targeted receiver in Saturday's scrimmage, was not out there. UConn coach Bob Diaco said he wasn't going to get into specifics but said he is a little nicked up.

"I am not commenting on that kind of stuff but it a day to day, ticky tack thing," Diaco said.

Also, Diaco's declaration that he would name his starting quarterback two weeks before the Villanova game proved not to be the case as today is that magical two-week mark and he said he would wait until game week to make an announcement. However, there's not a lot of mystery there as Bryant Shirreffs took every rep with the first team while Tim Boyle saw all the work with the second team offense. The other quarterbacks did not get out there until the very end when the third and fourth teams were getting a look.

First thing to note is that unlike on Saturday when the starters played the starters, today the first-team offense squared off with the second-team defense and the No. 2 offense played against the starting defense.

According to my VERY UNOFFICIAL STATS I had Shirreffs was 12 of 17 for 128 yards and two touchdowns while Boyle was 8 of 15 for 76 yards (although he would have been close to 100 yards had the officials counted a pass to Brian Lemelle. Lemelle took a few steps with the ball before losing control and fumbling it out of bounds. The pass was ruled incomplete but just as easily could have been ruled to be a completed pass). Both quarterbacks had two touchdowns with Boyle throwing an interception to Jamar Summers which could have been a pick 6 had it been a real game. The other starting cornerback Jhavon Williams dropped one of the easiest interceptions he will ever have a chance at. Boyle did throw a gorgeous pass to Josh Marriner for a touchdown in the red zone drill.

Arkeel Newsome was the No. 1 rusher with nine carries for 56 yards and a pair of touchdown runs and he also had a couple of catches while the top receivers were Noel Thomas (6 for 71) and Tyraiq Beals (4 for 28). Thomas had two or three highlight variety catches. I wrote about Thomas after Saturday's scrimmage so won't go there again but he looks more and more like Geremy Davis by plucking every ball thrown his way the more I see him.

I probably saw Newsome play in high school at least 12 times. I barely recognized him a season ago with how tentative he was when he carried the ball on run or pass plays and especially on kickoff returns. Today as I watched his incredibly quick feet set up blockers and tacklers and then aggressively dart through the hole, I thought to myself that is the Arkeel Newsome I remember.

"Wherever I am, I am just fighting for that extra yard and focusing on ball (security) and keeping my feet moving at all times," Newsome said.

"Moving faster is just me knowing everything I had to do. I think it was a lack of focus and being nervous about making mistakes which made me a little timid and nervous."

When I asked Newsome is he was carrying a ball with him everywhere including to bed at night, he chuckled and said he was. Whatever he is doing, it is working. Diaco said all the running backs are doing a much better job in the ball security department than they did at a similar point during last year's camp.

"The ball carriers have been much better," Newsome said. "Obviously the proof will be in the pudding on game day but even leading up to this point, there is a lot less ball security issues."

What does Newsome credit for his ability to run between the tackles without putting the ball on the ground?

"Strength is definitely a big part of that. I make sure I am doing whatever I have to do," Newsome said.

I would have liked to have seen Ron Johnson power his way into the end zone on a couple of runs within a shadow of the goal line but Mikal Myers and his fellow second-team defense was up to the challenge.

Other than Summers with the interception, linebackers Graham Stewart and Marquise Vann had sacks as did Cole Ormsby. I was really impressed with what I saw from Kenton Adeyemi, especially early in the scrimmage. True freshman David Ryslik continues to make his presence felt at defensive tackle and he crashed through the line for a TFL as he stuffed Johnson for a 6-yard loss at the 1 to force a punt. With how impressive Luke Carrezola has been and with Julian Campenni and Foley Fatukasi forming a dynamic 1-2 punch up front, seeing Adeyemi and Ormsby look as good as they did today could be a great sign.

There was plenty of field goal practice in the scrimmage as the drives were stalling. Freshman Michael Tarbutt was perfect as he made 39, 43 and 23 yard field goals while  Bobby Puyol made a 30 yard kick and was wide right on a 46-yard attempt. Punter Justin Wain had one punt downed at the 1 and another impressive punt out of his end zone good for 43 yards.

Other than some changes at receiver due to Bradley's absence and Brian Lemelle no longer working with the No. 1 offense, there weren't many changes to the two-deep chart. Thomas Lucas and Beals saw much more first-team work at WR today than on Saturday. While it remains to be seen what it looks like when they start playing for keeps but with each passing day Beals is looking more and more like he is going to have a major, major impact on this team.


Blogger Jim said...

Thanks for your great coverage of UConn football. Keep it up.

August 20, 2015 1:56 PM 

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