Tuesday, March 31, 2015

UConm's Jones, Davis impress at pro day

His audition in front of representatives from 29 NFL teams (Cincinnati, Houston and St. Louis were the only no shows) had come to an end and all that remained was to engage in a little small talk with many of the reporters who covered Byron Jones during his UConn playing days.

Jones admitted that he has become a bit obsessed with fishing and blames former teammate Blake Feagles (son of former NFL punter Jeff Feagles) for this hobby of it. The reality of it is that Jones was reeling in some big fish at UConn's pro day.

The two biggest names to show up in Storrs were NFL head coaches Mike Zimmer of Minnesota and Chip Kelly of Philadelphia.

Quarterback Chandler Whitmer joked that 'is what happens with Byron jumping out of Indianapolis."

Defensive lineman B.J. McBryde said "I have always said that there are human beings and there is Byron Jones."

Jones opened more than a few eyes when he set an NFL combine record of 12-3 in the broad jump. He didn't take long to start trending on Twitter or generating attention from the national media. Since he needed time to fully recover after undergoing shoulder surgery in October for a torn labrum which brought a premature end to his UConn playing days, Jones opted not to run the 40 or do the bench press at the NFL combine. So the pro scouts turned out by the dozens with some teams sending four or five representatives.

Jones did not disappoint. He had an unofficial time of 4.36 in the 40 (since they were hand timed, it will go down as unofficial times) and set a personal best with 18 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press. He also got to go through a 1 on 1 drill with Zimmer towards the end of practice and also spend a little bit of time talking with Kelly.

"It is very rare that you have (head) coaches that come to your pro day and work you out," Jones said. "It was great to have those guys here."

Jones admitted that Zimmer had him drop his hips and have different arm placement than he is accustomed to in the drill and thinks it took a little time to adjust. Still, he had few regrets about his pro day even if he didn't do the rest of the agility drills because of his impressive work at the combine. Nothing was more impressive than the broad jump as he set a world record. Of course, the broad jump hasn't been part of track and field competitions since the early 1900s. Still, a world record is a world record.

"My main goal is not to be a world-record holder or run the fastest 40, my main goal is to be a great NFL player," Jones said. "This is a small step in my journey towards being a great NFL player."

Jones is as explosive an athlete as there is in the draft but he so much more than a guy who puts up great numbers on a track. He was a four-year starter, the first two as a safety and the last two seasons he played cornerback after Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson headed off to the NFL.

The two NFL cornerbacks were among the players who first put the idea into Jones' head that he could be a professional prospect.

"I had a lot of guys giving me the low down on 'hey, you are a good player, keep it up and you will be in the league.'" Jones said. "I didn't believe them at first but as I got older I was able to see.

"We are turning them out (NFL defensive backs). All the guys in the league, they are doing pretty well."

Jones said he recently spoke with Wreh-Wilson for about 40 minutes and Gratz for 30 minutes. Most of the time was spent catching up on things but there was also time to talk a little NFL.

Jones said it doesn't matter where he plays at the next level.

"I am a versatile player," Jones said. "I don't mind if they move me to safety, I actually enjoy that. At the end of the day you are a defensive back, a corner/safety."

In terms of the injury, he said he is fully recovered. Jones was told nobody would downgrade him if he failed to do the bench press since his collegiate career ended with a shoulder injury serious enough to require surgery but he wanted to prove to the scouts and himself that his shoulder was fine.

"It feels strong, I have full mobility," Jones said. "It was surprising with 18 (reps)."

Jones looked back on the frustration of his injury-shortened senior season.

"I was injured in camp and why is it now?" Jones said. "I had pretty much a clean injury report since I started playing football and it is the most important season going into the NFL but as it went on, it is fine I can come back from this no problem, get the surgery and get back to full health.

"It was hard to see those guys struggle. It was hard to do. There was nothing I could do at that point except give them encouragement, coach them up as hard as I can."

Since his remarkable work at the combine, the attention on Jones has just taken off. He is starting to show up as a late first rounder in some mock drafts. Jones was told by his agent to not put much stock into the stuff said and written about him -  both good and bad - in the days, weeks and months leading up to the draft. He isn't pounding his chest about setting a world record either.

"I didn't care then and don't care now and only care about the combine record and took care of that," Jones said. "I guess just more interest, anything that could get more people in your corner, they want to look at you and you physical ability and football ability."

Davis' day was limited to running the 40 and doing position drills.

Davis did 23 reps on the bench press at the combine and was among the top performers among the receivers in the 60-yard shuttle. Former Dallas Cowboys draft guru Gil Brandt tweeted that Davis was one of two receivers at the combine who didn't drop a catchable pass during the 2014 season so he had the hands and size (6-2, 216) to play at the next level. Did he have the speed? That was the major question. If he ran his 40 in the high 4.6 or 4.7 range, his stock might plummet. Instead, he broke 4.5 in both of his attempts. You could almost hear him moving up the draft boards as he finished running.

"You are anxious, a little worried but you have to be confident at the same time. I am a man of faith, I prayed about it and I said I know what happens, You are with me regardless," Davis said.

So how did Davis prepare for his run to glory?

"Speed work. I am a gym rat, I can't leave. I stay after and work on 10-yard starts. I was happy to improve my straight-line speed and prove my route-running ability. I worked hard and can't wait for that day to hear my name called."

A total of nine UConn players took part in the pro day. Offensive linemen Gus Cruz and Alex Mateas, defensive linemen Reuben Frank, Angelo Pruitt and B.J. McBryde, receivers Davis and Deshon Foxx, Whitmer and Jones.

So notes from the day:

Foxx said he ran in the 4.4s, he tied McBryde with the best broad jump of the day at 10-3 and had a vertical of 32 1/2 inches. A Tennessee scout chatted with him after his positional drills.

"I was hoping to run faster but I am pleased with my performance today," Foxx said. "I thought I did well in the route running, I felt like I was able to catch everything, my routes were pretty crisp and I was using my hands so I was feeling comfortable.

"Growing up you dream of playing in the NFL so coming out here and performing in front of all the scouts, it is a great oppurtunity for me. Being able to talk to a few of them afterwards, it really helps my confidence and makes me believe I performed well."

Frank did both offensive and defensive drills since he was a fullback earlier in his career. He looked really good catching the ball and said teams wanted to see if he could handle things as a fullback. He had 25 reps in the bench press, went 9-7 in the broad jump and 33 1/2 in the vertical. I will be writing more on his busy day probably at some point tomorrow.

Whitmer threw passes to receivers at the Georgia and Georgia Tech pro days. He said he drew quite a bit of interest from teams after those events. He is planning to work out for Cleveland and Tampa Bay. I heard one scout said "that's quite a throw" on one of his deep balls today.

"I am making the trips and trying to get in front of as many people as possible," Whitmer said, "I had some great opportunities. I was happy to be back here."

McBryde might have had the most impressive showing when he went 10-3 in the broad jump. This is a guy pushing 300 pounds. Maybe it was just some extra love for a Pennsylvania boy but McBryde got plenty of time with the Eagles' reps there including Kelly, who recently called McBryde's father.

"He was happy to talk to a hometown guy," McBryde said. "I was talking to Coach Kelly a little bit, he was saying that he called my dad and trying to get in touch with him. My dad called me Saturday and he set me up a little bit. He talked on the phone really somber 'I got a phone call today.' I thought 'what happened?.' He said that one of coaches from the Eagles called. I jumped off the table, I am outside screaming."

There were two CFL scouts there to see Mateas, who is the No. 2 rated prospect in the CFL draft. They chatted with him for quite some time (more on Mateas will be coming later).

Pruitt had the best showing in the bench press with 26 reps. I caught up with him about what a crazy ride it has been after an ankle injury forced him to stop playing for UConn after just one game as a senior and will be posting stuff about that at some point.

Finally, former UConn star Anthony Sherman was in attendance. He was rated as the No. 1 blocking fullback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus and I spoke with him about his NFL career as he prepares for his third season with the Kansas City Chiefs and fifth season overall. I'll get around to providing an update on him as well.

Current UConn players turned out to watch former teammates in action at Tuesday's pro day

Byron Jones, Angelo Pruitt and Geremy Davis check out action in bench press at UConn's pro day

Angelo Pruitt gets measured before vertical jump

Plenty of reasons of smile for former UConn stars

Pretty good day at office for former UConn stars

With Byron Jones, who stole the show at the NFL combine, set to run his 40-yard dash, UConn's pro day figured to be well attended. That was certainly the case as 29 NFL teams and two from the CFL were here today.

Jones certainly did his part, running an unofficial time of 4.36 seconds. Despite having his senior season ended prematurely due to a torn labrum, Jones decided to do the bench press. He was figuring 14-16 reps at 225 would be a good number. He ended up doing 18.

Jones' day ended with Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer doing some 1 on 1 drills focusing on his technique. Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly was also in attendance as was former UConn fullback Anthony Sherman of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Geremy Davis also had a strong effort at the combine and the only question was whether he could run fast enough to move up the boards. Well, he certainly did that. There was those who thought a 40 time in the mid 4.5s would be enough to send him up the draft boards. He broke 4.5 in both of his runs which certainly should make him some money.

Angelo Pruitt led the way in the bench press at 26, with Jones standing on his sensational broad and vertical jump numbers from the combine, Reuben Frank led the way in the vertical (33 1/2 inches) with both Deshon Foxx and B.J. McBryde having broad jumps of 10-3. McBryde's effort was especially impressive since he is pushing 300 pounds and he did not break the 10-0 mark in practice jumps leading into the combine.

There will be much more from today either later today or in the coming days but it might take a little while because I didn't get home from covering the women's Division I regional in Albany until about 3 a.m. and was up at 7 so I'm a little bit tired.

Here are the videos I shot (except the one with reaction from Jones because of a malfunction with the Tout app on my phone).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Some under the radar position battles at UConn

Unless UConn moves tomorrow's spring practice to Albany (where I will be for the NCAA women's basketball regional) I won't be at the third practice that the media is allowed to watch the first 20-30 minutes.

That doesn't mean I don't have some thoughts on what has been transpiring during spring camp.

As always, there are some interesting positional battles. No, it is not all about quarterback, quarterback and more on the quarterback competition.

A couple things I noticed from the two practices I was able to watch is that Ryan Crozier seems like the guy at center and that after redshirting last season, Sheriden Lawley and James Atkins are getting long looks to get into the defensive end rotation.

Let's start with the center position. Coming into spring practice the feeling was that Daniel Oak, who redshirted a season ago, and Kyle Bockeloh would fight it out for the starting center spot.

During the opening practice, Crozier (who the last three games of the season at left guard as a true freshman) was the center on the starting offensive line with classmate Trey Rutherford moving into to the starting role at left guard. At practice No. 5, the lineup was the same. Crozier playing center and Rutherford at left guard was a subject I brought up in the press conference with Diaco.

'We are seeing if he can snap and block to the right, snap and block to the left with power," Diaco said on Crozier's work at center. "It looks like he can. We look at the gun snap and it looks like he can. What we've like to do is we'd like to have the best player play and most physically gifted play, to take those five guys and start there. Which guy can snap of those five? The other guys are doing a great job. We will be able to function with all three. The Crozier experience is going to continue to move forward.

"That (Rutherford's experience as a true freshman) is a big help. All of those guys have reps. Crozier was a starter, Rutherford played a ton, Samra was a starter, Andreas was a starter, Richard was a starter so you have five guys who either started or played a bunch of football and they are all back not that you are looking at '16 but this is a young group."

At defensive end Kenton Adeyemi, Folorunso Fatukasi and Cole Ormsby proved last season that they belong as rotational guys at defensive end. Diaco would like to have a fourth player in place before the start of preseason camp in August. When UConn did some 11 on 11 drills, Lawley was out there with the second-team defense.

"He is (competing) for the next guy in spot at defensive end," Diaco said. "You have James (Atkins), you have Sheriden, you have some guys coming in and somebody needs to take over that otherwise we will be 3 (players) for 2 (positions) at that end position where we will take Kenton, Foley, Cole and go 3 for 2. We'd like not to have to have to do that if we develop the next man in so we will see."

UConn announced some details of the March 31 pro day and April 11 spring game.

The pro day (which will not be open to the public) will be on campus beginning at 8:45 a.m. While most of the attention will be focused on NFL combine star Byron Jones and Geremy Davis, normally all the UConn seniors take part in the event.

As far as the spring game, parking lots open at noon (three hours before the spring game) with the gates at Rentschler Field opening at 1 p.m. The fan fest will also open at 1

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

UConn seniors setting the tone

The frustration was rather obvious when Graham Stewart took a peek into his crystal ball.

Stewart and the rest of the seniors felt incredible pain to seeing a respected group of seniors leave the UConn program with a 2-10 record as well as a string of four straight losing seasons. Stewart doesn't know what the record will be in his final season but he is very clear that Stewart and the fellow seniors are taking the steps they feel are necessary to be more successful.

"I am a guy from Connecticut so it is kind of like taking ownership," Stewart said. "I take a tremendous amount of pride in that I definitely don't want to finish my senior year the way last season finished, I think that would stick with me forever and I can't let that happen."

Just like last season, there is a small group of seniors on the UConn roster. Last year other than receivers Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx, center Alex Mateas and cornerback Byron Jones, most of the remaining seniors were either players splitting playing time or those who rarely see the field. That is certainly not the case this time around.

Stewart, fellow linebacker and returning captain Marquise Vann, safety Andrew Adams, defensive linemen Kenton Adeyemi and Julian Campenni are defensive players accustomed to playing key roles, tight end Sean McQuillan, guard Tyler Samra and running back Max DeLorenzo are players with at least two years of being regular contributors while Junior Lee and Dom Manco are among UConn's best special teams players.

The seniors are determined to not only walk the walk but talk the talk as well.

"We got together in the beginning and kind of talked about what we wanted to do and the bigger goals," McQuillan said. "We want to be one of the senior groups that everybody feels like you can come up to, you can approach, you can talk to and we just want to be a close-knit group and make sure everybody is comfortable with each other. This senior group has a goal in mind and we are not going to stop until we get there."

UConn coach Bob Diaco has liked what he has seen from his seniors during the early stages of spring practice.

"Even now we are all in so 'what do we do? How does that look like, sound like, smell like, taste like so what do I do?" Diaco said. "We are ready so that is the kind of phase we are in right now, that group helping them have a voice, helping them have an appropriate voice and collectively all of them from John Bogue all the way to Max to Graham to Kenton to Andrew and that whole group, they are really doing a nice job with the team."

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Walsh making an impact at linebacker for UConn

It certainly hasn't taken former Hand High star Matt Walsh to make his presence felt at linebacker.

Walsh was an All-State linebacker at Hand but when he came to UConn, he was moved to fullback. A team-first player like Walsh gave everything he had to become the best fullback possible but anybody who watched his search and destroy missions when he covered kicks for the Huskies must have figured he was playing out of position.

The UConn coaches certainly picked up on that because they moved him from fullback to linebacker during the offseason. Today was the fifth spring practice and during the 11 on 11 portion of practice that the media was able to see, Walsh was already firmly in place at inside linebacker with the second team.

Today also happened to be the first day we had access to the players and Walsh was among the players I requested to speak to. However, due to a tight scheduling window since today was the first day of classes after spring break. he had only six minutes with the players and tight end Sean McQuillan, tackle Andreas Knappe, safety Andrew Adams and linebacker Graham Stewart were the only players brought in for interviews.

Although I could not speak to Walsh about the transition, others were more than happy to talk about his move to linebacker.

"He is a linebacker more than he was a fullback," Stewart said. "He looks really fluid. he is all here and he is open to absorbing all the information and learning it fast.

"You can't teach the physical part of it, you can teach all the mental parts and nuances so he should be good."

Diaco, who takes an active role in coaching the linebackers, first referred to Walsh's move to linebacker as an experiment meaning that he could move back to offense if it didn't work out. Well, I don't think you have to worry about that happening.

"I'm really pleased," Diaco said. "You hear the rumblings, you follow his high school career, you come here and he is at fullback. You look at that for a year and it is like 'you know what, let's just take a look at this.' It really does look like his natural position (is linebacker) so without knowing too much about the defense, he did some things each day that gives you hope and makes you believe he is at the right spot."

Speaking of former Hand High stars, Diaco also raved about walk-on defensive back Nick Vitale.

"Nick Vitale, I could go on forever about these guys. Nick's got a medical issue, he plays the whole season, never takes himself out, quietly goes about his business," Diaco said. "It wasn't a little thing, it was a big thing and then the season ended, quietly two weeks later he went and addressed it over break. He hasn't missed a meeting or practice, hasn't talked about it. doesn't want us to talk about it or tell the team about it. You see a guy like that who loves Connecticut, he loves the state of Connecticut, he loves the University of Connecticut. We are putting those guys out front. JJ Bivona (a walk-on safety who played at Bunnell) addressed the group today, same thing how much he loves Connecticut, how honored he is to serve UConn, that is what these guys bring to the team. They bring the extra heartbeat that is necessary."

Another walk-on drawing praise from Diaco was former Xavier High star Sean Marinan.

"He (Marinan) is a great teammate, son of a coach so he is a great teammate, he has the right answers, he knows what to do in the locker room," Diaco said. "There are a lot of things that he adds before we even get on the field. On the field, he is a battler. He is a fighter, a scrapper, demonstrative. He plays one of our greatest roles, he is the middle shield on the punt team which as the middle shield, you run the punt team, you are the quarterback of the punt team. He is a field general doing
that job, he embraces that, he loves it."

Health wise UConn looks to be in good shape. As he did in the opening spring practice, safety Obi Melifonwu was wearing a yellow (injury) jersey since he is coming off shoulder surgery. Melifonwu is still out there doing most of the drills.

"He is doing everything except cutting it loose from a live situation," Diaco said. "Controlled drills where he could attack the ball in the air and defend the ball in the air, all of those drills. It is when we start to articulate 11 on 11 is why he has that jersey on and it is so he can participate full speed and not worry if he is going to have contact. He's 100 percent."

Bob Diaco on two latest additions to UConn team

The paperwork has been filed and UConn football coach Bob Diaco was able to talk on the record about Florida State transfer EJ Levenberry and quarterback Garrett Anderson, who is transferring in from Laney College, a two-year school in Oakland.

"He is a national recruit at his position," said Diaco, who recruited Levenberry when he was at Notre Dame. "He was probably ranked in the top 3-5 in the country (at inside linebacker). We wanted him bad, I think it came down at the end of the day to Oklahoma and Florida State. He is big, he is the quintessential inside linebacker in our defense.

"He has good to great speed. He is fast for a big guy. He has an intangible nose for the ball, he is a great young man. He loves to train, he loves to win, he is all about winning so he is going to add to the culture. He has a championship ring."

Because Levenberry enrolled at a junior college after leaving Florida State, there is a chance he could play immediately at UConn rather than sit out the normal one year as a Division I transfer.

"That is a process for his family and the institution he is at," Diaco said. "What waivers, obviously we will do everything we can do to help facilitate the process for sure. If that happens, to me that is icing on the cake, it is gravy, it is not an entree. We are just glad to have him on the team and be able to participate."

Levenberry played two seasons at Florida State and was a member of a national-championship team. If he has to sit out the upcoming season, he can redshirt and have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Levenberry and Anderson will both arrive in June, enroll in summer session and will be able to take part in preseason drills.

"Same stuff, big, physical, when he was participating, he was really down on interceptions," Diaco said of Anderson. "He is smart with the football, throws a very good ball. He is very mature, kind of taking the next step. My understanding is in the next few months he will be married, family is important. He is a grown man ready to take the next step in his life, finish up his degree work and play some football. There aren't a whole lot of other things that distract him in his life which is nice and he has the tools."

Diaco said "quarterbacks" when discussing the desire to add to the current crop of QBs. There are three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster heading into spring drills. North Carolina State transfer Bryant Shirreffs, who sat out last season after transferring, saw the first-team reps when UConn had 11 on 11 drills at today's spring practice. Tim Boyle is the only quarterback on the roster who has taken a snap with the Huskies and true freshman Tyler Davis graduated early from Mepham High School, is currently enrolled at school and eligible to take part in spring practice. We'll see if another player is added to the quarterback competition or if the extra person is walk-on Brandon Bisack out of Fairfield Warde or another scholarship quarterback joins the team. Obviously Diaco is limited by what he can say about players who have yet to sign with the Huskies.

"That group is going to be able to grow and the group is going to get bigger over the summer," Diaco said. "There will be a couple of guys added to that group of three and Will (Rishell) but the competition happening between those three has been good."

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QB Shirreffs taking first-team reps at UConn spring practice

There was a little extra treat for the media today as the post-stretching portion of practice began with 11 on 11 drills with the first team offense playing the first team defense before going into positional drills. Normally we only get to see stretching followed by positional drills before the time we are allowed to watch practice expires.

We were requested to shoot very tight videos on the 11 on 11, focusing on individual players instead of wide shots of formations so we don't give away information and trends to opposing teams. Unfortunately, since I use my iPhone to do the videos, I have no zoom capabilities so I held off on shooting video until the positions drills started. I did, however, take some notes on who was working with the first and second teams.

First up, Bryant Shirreffs took the snaps with the first team offense with Tim Boyle coming out with the second team. We only saw a series with each of them and not much to report. Shirreffs certainly looks comfortable throwing on the run but he also missed some pretty easy throws. There were a couple of drops as well while Shirreffs and Boyle took their reps.

Shirreffs looks extremely comfortable throwing on the run but when I asked Diaco about that, he chose his words carefully. He did not want to talk up any of the quarterbacks over the others just yet.

"He does look like that," Diaco said. "He is definitely a threat with the ball in his hands, that is for sure because he is big and fast."

Diaco was quick to add that he thought Boyle also threw the ball well while on the run. In my opinion, Boyle is at his best when he drops back to pass.

"It has looked very, very good," Diaco said. "We are pleased with the position, we are pleased with the battle. That group is going to be able to grow and the group is going to get bigger over the summer. There will be a couple of guys added to that group of three and Will (Rishell) but the competition happening between those three has been good. There has been some separation. I am reluctant at this point to say anything specific about it and I don't mean to be coy but there are more situations that need to happen. Right now it has been even situation downs, we got into a little bit of critical down work, we got into a little bit of red zone critical situation work. Guys will flourish as this string of situations unfold that all requite a different style of quarterbacking. It will happen soon I think, hopefully by the end of this week, hopefully there will be some separation."

Ryan Crozier is the No. 1 center as he was during the opening practice. This is what I had for the starters on both sides of the ball. Richard Levy and Andreas Knappe were the starting tackles, Trey Rutherford and Tyler Samra worked with the first team at guard. Ron Johnson was the tailback with the first unit. I did not get the numbers of all the receivers and tight ends but did see receiver Dhameer Bradley and tight ends Sean McQuillan and Tommy Myers out there during the first series.

On the defensive side of the ball, Kenton Adeyemi, Foley Fatukasi, Julian Campenni and Luke Carrezola were up front, Junior Joseph, Graham Stewart and Marquise Vann were at linebacker with the normal starting secondary of Jhavon Williams, Jamar Summers, Obi Melifonwu and Andrew Adams.

When the second team defense came out, converted fullback Matt Walsh was at middle linebacker.Cameron Stapleton, Mikal Myers, Vontae Diggs, Cole Ormsby, Sheriden Lawley, Jon Hicks, Javon Hadley, Brice McAllister and Junior Lee. My contacts may have been playing tricks on me since it is kind of early but I wrote down No. 25 as the other player with the second-string secondary and since that it backup receiver James Sullivan, my eyes might be playing tricks on me.

The second team offensive line consisted of Brendan Vechery, Tommy Hopkins, Zach Rugg, Steve Hashemi and Dan Oak.

Among the visitors at the practice were incoming freshman Aaron McLean and former defensive linebacker B.J. McBryde. McBryde, who was an absolute delight to cover, said he is getting fired up for the Mar. 31 pro day.

Diaco said he wanted to go right into the 11 on 11 drill just to make sure everybody was mentally engaged since it was the first day back after spring break.

"Monday mornings are always a little bit of a challenge," Diaco said. "Today is always a concern and they did a fantastic job today. I knew right away, I said in the team meeting that there is a different look, a different identity with them sitting there bright eyed, bushy tailed, they are ready to work and excited to be back together and I know we all feel like that.

"It is just in case the lights weren't on full blast, I wanted to hook battery charges up to their chest, give them a little shot of energy. It is hard to put your toe in the water when the first thing in practice after you warm up is to articulate good on good on an 11 on 11 situation. It is a drill we do, it is a speed drill more than it is a contact drill. It is mostly about the speed that they move and the speed of the communication and the challenge of the communication so it is running at an unrealistic pace. The ball is predetermined in the spots that it moves so it is easy to move it at a very fast rate."
There will be much more later today and in the coming days. Unfortunately with today being the first day of the resumption of classes, we were limited to a total of six minutes with a selected group of players. The good news is that two of the four were McQuillan and Stewart who are both quote machines so I should have some pretty good stuff from them to share.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Former Florida State LB transferring to UConn

Former Florida State linebacker EJ Levenberry is transferring to UConn according to a report by www.insidenova.com. The report of the transfer was confirmed by a post via the UConn football official Twitter account.

Levenberry is expected to enroll at UConn in June, had 60 tackles in two seasons at FSU. He was recruited out of Hylton High School by UConn head coach Bob Diaco and defensive assistants Anthony Poindexter and Vincent Brown.

The report said Levenberry will file a waiver in an attempt to be able to play in the upcoming season but if that is denied, he will redshirt and have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

He had a career-high eight tackles in a 2013 game against North Carolina State and had two tackles in the 2013 ACC championship game. Levenberry returned an interception 78 yards for a touchdown in an 80-14 win over Idaho on Nov. 23, 2013 and also had six tackles against Syracuse as a freshman.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Former UConn LB scheduled to take part in NFL veteran combine

Former UConn linebacker Scott Lutrus is among the players expected to take part in the NFL veteran combine in Arizona on March 22.

Lutrus was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars after going undrafted in 2011 but did not make the team. He was signed to the practice squad by the St. Louis Rams three days after being released. Lutrus was signed by the Indianapolis Colts off the Rams' practice squad and played four of the final five games during the 2011 regular season.

Lutrus had three straight games with multiple tackles in December of that year but injuries kept him from building on his strong finish in 2011. He tore his ACL in 2012 and was placed on injured reserve and was released by the Colts in 2013.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

UConn commit stars in state tournament loss

Marshe Terry's basketball season came to an end but not without the future UConn safety helped put a scare into one of New Jersey's best teams.

Northern Burlington was only down 33-30 at halftime to the Ewing HS team ranked eighth in the Newark Star-Ledger top 20. Ewing pulled away in the second half for the 78-65 victory in the Central Jersey Group 3 semifinal.

Terry had 18 points and eight rebounds in the loss. He had two 3-pointers in the game and ended his senior season by scoring in double figures in his last six games. In the three games in the Central Jersey Group 3 tournament Terry averaged 17.3 points as 12th seeded Northern Burlington upset No. 5 Neptune, No. 4 Somerville and then made top seeded Ewing work in the semifinals.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Former UConn DB Butler remaining with Colts

The Indianapolis Colts announced that it had signed Darius Butler to a contract extension.

Butler, originally drafted by New England out of UConn in 2009, will be coming back for a fourth season with the Colts.

He had a career high two forced fumbles during the 2014 season to go with 46 tackles and eight passes defended. Butler has 131 tackles and eight interceptions in 41 games with the Colts over the last three seasons.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

UConn commit Terry's hoop dreams live on

UConn incoming freshman Marshe Terry doesn't appear to be in a hurry to see his basketball playing days come to an end.

Terry hit a pair of free throws in the final minute to account for the tying and winning points as his Northern Burlington High team upset Somerville 44-43 in the Central Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals.

Terry had 11 points, 11 rebounds and two steals and 12th-seeded Northern Burlington advanced to the section semifinals where it will meet top seeded Ewing on Monday.

It wasn't all good news as UConn signee Nazir Williams' Bridgeton team fell to Haddonfield 61-47 in the semifinals of the South Jersey Group 2 bracket. Williams was held to three points (snapping a streak of 10 straight double digit scoring games).

UConn's first spring practice is in the books

The first spring practice of 2015 is in the books and there's not too much to report from the 30 minutes we were able to check out.

Safety Obi Melifonwu was wearing a yellow jersey with a red cross indicating that he wasn't fully recovered but he was able to do some stuff during practice.

A few things that caught my eye. First, Cameron Stapleton went out there with the starting defense while the starting offensive line featured Ryan Crozier at center, Trey Rutherford and Tyler Samra at guard with Andreas Knappe and Richard Levy manning the tackle spots.

I was struck by the way new offensive coordinator Frank Verducci would make the entire offense go back into the huddle if he felt they lacked the proper sense of urgency when they got to the line.

There were some high school recruits at the practice including Southington tight end Jay Rose.

Here are some videos from the practice

Friday, March 06, 2015

UConn spring preview: Offensive line

At this time tomorrow the UConn football team will be making their way to the field for the first of 15 spring practices (with No. 15 being the spring game) so it is a perfect time to wrap up the position by position previews with a look at the offensive line.

No position group has received more scrutiny over the last two or three years than the offensive line.

A year ago things regressed so badly that UConn basically didn't even attempt to throw the ball for long stretches in a loss at South Florida. UConn coach Bob Diaco gave offensive coordinator Mike Cummings more of a hands' on role with the offensive line shortly after the team returned from Tampa. As the season wore on there were signs of progress as the top three rushing games happened in the second half of the season and there were fewer sacks and pressures being allowed when the Huskies did drop back to pass.

The good news is that tackles Richard Levy and Andreas Knappe got plenty of on the job training in their first season as starters. They looked so much more comfortable in the latter portion of the season after both having some issues early on. Dalton Gifford is another tackle with starting experience and with the way injuries tend to occur on the offensive line, depth is extremely important. Thomas Hopkins also saw some time as a redshirt freshman.

A pair of returning starters are back at guard as well. Senior Tyler Samra started all 12 games at right guard while Ryan Crozier moved into a starting role at left guard for the final three games and the Huskies and he is the type of player a line can be built around. Trey Rutherford saw lots of snaps a season ago as a true freshman and seemingly has a bright future while Zach Rugg is a player who could offer depth at guards and perhaps even at center.

Replacing Alex Mateas at center has to be the top offensive line priority during spring. Daniel Oak is a promising prospect who often times worked in as the No. 2 center during practice a season ago even as he redshirted.

"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, he is a player that we are expecting a lot from. 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."

Oak figures to compete with Kyle Bockeloh for the starting spot. While it is never good when there is a lack of experience at the center position considering how many calls on the offensive line are done by the center, Cummings is optimistic that whoever emerges as the starter can get the job done.
Steve Hashemi came in as an offensive line a year ago but was athletic enough that he was moved to tight end because of a lack of depth at that position. Now he is back at offensive line. With some veterans ahead of him at tackle, it's uncertain what role he will have but Cummings likes his potential.

"He has a lot of upside and he is going to develop," Cummings said. "He is only 270 pounds. I saw 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. "

I hope everybody enjoyed a look at the team over this last week. Here's a breakdown on when the previews were posted

Feb. 28: Quarterbacks
Mar. 1: Defensive line/linebackers
Mar. 2: Running backs
Mar. 3: Wide receivers
Mar. 4: Tight ends
Mar. 5: Defensive backs/special teams

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Former UConn LB returning to Buccaneers

Coming off a breakthrough season, it seems like former UConn linebacker Danny Lansanah's journeyman days are over.

After Lansanah had 82 tackles and three interceptions (two he returned for touchdowns), Lansanah was signed to a qualifying offer meaning he will return for a third season in Tampa.

Lansanah played in five regular season games with the Green Bay Packers during the 2008 season and did not appear in another game in the regular season until suiting up for Tampa in the 2013 finale against New Orleans.

UConn spring preview: Defensive backs/special teams

While losing a player as talented as Byron Jones in the middle of the season is never a good thing, if there is a silver lining it is that the returning defensive backs found themselves thrust into bigger roles following Jones' season-ending shoulder injury.

Now the key is for that experience to be turned a more consistent level of play.

The safety position seems to be in good shape with the return of Andrew Adams and Obi Melifonwu.

No player rose to the challenge late in the season more than Adams highlighted by his three interceptions as UConn posted its only win against a fellow FBS team with a stunning 37-29 victory over Central Florida. He is also a physical presence at safety who can play both the pass and run. While there are plenty of candidates, Adams strikes me as ideal captain material.

Melifonwu is a player that when he gets to work out in front of the pro scouts is going to start soaring up draft boards. If you were going to ask what should an NFL-caliber safety look like, Melifonwu would fit the criteria with the size and speed to play at the next level.

However, there have been some issues with Melifonwu in pass coverage. With all the spread teams the Huskies see, Melifonwu is often times given man to man responsibility and seems like the opponents have targeted Melifonwu early and often. That part of his game will have to improve for not only UConn to be successful but also for him to truly impress the pro scouts. The 10-tackle efforts against Boise State and Army show that Melifonwu is a willing hitter. The same could be said for top reserve safety Junior Lee, who had a monster season on special teams covering kickoffs and punts. Ellis Marder and Jordan Floyd got some work a season ago and will push for more time.

A young group of cornerbacks had to grow up when Jones went down in game 7. Jhavon Williams had already carved out a starting spot but true freshman Jamar Summers and converted receiver John Green had a baptism by fire. True freshman Brice McAllister also worked his way into the mix at corner as the season moved forward. There were some predictable growing pains accompanied by costly penalties or big-play strikes by opponents. The events of the 2014 season, as difficult as they were, should only serve to speed up the learning curve for the talented cornerbacks.

Turning to special teams, it will be not easy to replace Deshon Foxx as the primary punt returner. However, looking back, the Huskies did not get much out of the punt return game after a 72-yard return by Foxx proved to be the winning touchdown in the win over Stony Brook. Anybody who saw Arkeel Newsome carry the ball during a record-breaking career at Ansonia High School had to be surprised by how tentative he was in returning kickoffs. I have a hunch that with a season under his belt, he will hit the creases with more abandon as a sophomore. Brian Lemelle could be an option on both kickoff and punt returns while Josh Marriner was able to return a couple of kickoffs a season ago. Nick Vitale was a threat to score whenever he returned a punt or kickoff during his days at Hand High and I will be interested to see if he works his way into a prominent return role with the Huskies.

Kicker Bobby Puyol and punter Justin Wain return after being the primary specialists for the first time in their college career. Puyol had a long of 45 yards as part of making 9 of 14 fields although he must improve on making 50 percent of his kicks from 30-39 yards while Wain showed what he is capable of in averaging 42 and 44.5 yards per punt in back to back games against Boise State and Stony Brook. The key for Wain is to provide more consistency throughout season.

A large portion of kickoff and punt return coverage units are returning led Lee. It should be noted that UConn led all FBS teams in kickoff return coverage, allowing just 15.5 yards per return. Matt Walsh and Noel Thomas are a couple of players who had made their presence felt on special teams as well. Dom Manco had a solid season in his first season as the starting long snapper.

Pair of UConn commits lighting it up on basketball court

Marshe Terry and Nazir Williams are among the headliners of the defensive prospects signed by UConn. However, before they step onto a football field as UConn teammates they are in the process of dominating for their high school basketball teams.

Terry had 23 points to lead 12th-seeded Northern Burlington to a 73-60 win over No. 5 seed Neptune in the first round of the Central Jersey, Group 3 tournament, Northern Burlington will play No. 4 Somerville in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Williams had 16 points, 21 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots as No. 4 Bridgeton defeated No. 5 Sterling 80-68 in the South Jersey Group 2 semifinals. The win sets up a showdown with top-seeded Haddonfield in Friday's semifinals.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

UConn's Diaco: "There is nothing that is the same"

A year ago Bob Diaco headed into spring practice still trying to clean up so many things about the program he was hired to breath life into. It is a process that resulted in some key players sent packing and ultimately led to a revamping of his offensive coaching staff.

As UConn kicks off its 2015 spring practice on Saturday, Diaco said "there is nothing that is the same. Every single person has improved."

Much of the change had to do with the strides the players have made in transforming their bodies. Diaco went through a breakdown of players who either dropped or added weight (with it mostly being the latter) while dropping their body fat percentage.
It started when he discussed the offensive line.

Ryan Crozier went from 282 to 298 pounds while dropping from 28 to 26 percent of body fat
Steve Hashemi added 12 pounds while dropping his body fat
Andreas Knappe dropped a staggering 7 percent of his body fat while going from 301 to 311
Fellow returning starting offensive tackle Richard Levy dropped 16 pounds and has "more functional weight" according to Diaco.
Daniel Oak who Diaco said "is going to have to be a player for us" added 12 pounds while dropping three percent of body fat
Trey Rutherford went from 289 to 296 and a 1 percent drop in body fat
Thomas Hopkins dropped 2 percent of his body fat

As for other position
WR Dhameer Bradley and LB/DE Luke Carrezola added seven pounds each, LB Vontae Diggs is up 10 pounds, RB Max DeLorenzo added 12 pounds and Diaco said "he is faster than we was."
RB Ron Johnson went from 217 to 224 which Diaco termed "pretty significant."
DL Sheriden Lawley went from 238 to 268 and maintained same body fat according to Diaco
DE Kenton Adeyemi added 23 pounds to 287 and dropped body fat one full point, 23 pounds
TE Sean McQuillan is now 253 pounds, DE/LB Cam Stapleton added 24 pounds while dropping his body fat two percent. while fellow TE Alec Bloom dropped his body fat by 2 percent while adding 16 pounds.

"There's a lot of success stories, holistic approach, a lifestyle," Diaco said. "It is not just going into weight room and training hard which they do. It is nutrition, food quality, schedule, lifestyle ..."

UConn also had 36 players honored for attaining at least a 3.0 GPA in the two most recent semesters including punter Justin Wain, defensive end Sean Marinan and quarterback Will Rishell recognized for 4.0 GPAs.

"It's all correlated, there are a few guys but most of the teams that are great, the best players on the team most of them are good students and some. Very few great team produce players who are poor students. There is a direct correlation between aptitude and achievement in class and performance on field as critic components as evaluating (players). "If you are players who can't get it done in the class you are going to be the same guy leaving us holding the bag on game day or on third down."
As for some other issues, Diaco said that freshman Tyler Davis will not be restricted, there is no plan to cutting back of the expectations of Davis because the Huskies only have three scholarship quarterbacks. He said although Tim Boyle has seen live game action in the last two seasons, Boyle, Bryant Shirreffs and Davis will be working from a clean slate. Diaco would love for there to be a pecking order at some point during spring practice. Shirreffs did see plenty of time running the scout or look team in practice but Diaco said that is not even like comparing apples to oranges but more like comparing apples to broccoli. What he said about the two most experienced quarterbacks on the roster is hardly a surprise as Boyle has a better arm and Shirreffs has more foot speed.

As for center, Oak and Kyle Bockleoh figure to battle it out for the position but starting guards Tyler Samra and Crozier as well as Zach Rugg could get a look at center."

He also referred to move of Matt Walsh from fullback to linebacker as an "experiment." He feels like Walsh has some abilities to help fill a void at inside linebacker but they will make a decision based on whether Walsh can most help the team on offense or defense.

Diaco said that he expects every player to be able to take part in the first spring practice although some players may be more limited than others.

Diaco also said it is a "definite possibility" that UConn could add another player before the start of preseason practice in August and he is "working that process."

He also said new offensive coordinator Frank Verducci has "full clearance to install his offense."

UConn spring preview: Tight ends

A year ago the pickings were so slim at the tight end position that true freshmen Steve Hashemi and Sheriden Lawley were moved from offensive line and defensive line respectively to give the Huskies enough options at the position.

UConn's incoming freshman class includes three players projected to play tight end so Hashemi and Lawley have moved back to the positions they were recruited to play because  However, the newcomers won't be around to take part in spring practice leaving the returnees plenty of opportunities to impress the coaching staff.

Senior Sean McQuillan is a gifted receiver who had four games with at least three catches a season ago. McQuillan was asked to do more in-line blocking a season ago than at any other time since he has been at UConn. McQuillan has packed on eight more pounds as he is closing in on 250 pounds which should help him in the blocking department.

Tommy Myers was the best blocker among the tight ends and he added 12 pounds. He didn't get as many opportunities to run pass patterns of the other tight ends but he will look to prove to the coaches that he can be a reliable receiver.

Speaking of receiving ability, Alec Bloom has a ton of it. Some people might think he was related to me with as much as I touted him potential a season ago but he just exudes big-play ability as a receiver. He lost playing time because he simply wasn't strong enough at the point of attack to take on defensive linemen and linebackers. However, after adding 22 pounds, Bloom seems to be putting himself in position for a much more expanded role as a sophomore.

Frank Verducci, UConn's new offensive coordinator, has a reputation of being a proponent of old-fashioned power football. That could result in more multiple tight end sets and with only one returning fullback, it's not out of the question that tight ends could be used as H-backs or even lining up at the fullback position.

"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."

Ian Campbell, Zordan Holman and Chris Lee are all coming into the program which is why Hashemi and Lawley were able to move back to their previous positions. I will repeat what I said in yesterday's preview of the receivers, the 15 days of spring practice will be a perfect time for players like Myers and Bloom to give them the advantage in beating out the incoming freshmen for playing time in the fall.

Bob Diaco will be speaking to us today via a teleconference so look for more on his thoughts as we are quickly approaching the start of spring practice.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

UConn spring preview: Wide receivers

As I navigate my way position by position towards the start of spring practice it is hard not to be struck by how the Huskies seemingly return the bulk of their top performers from a season ago - with one very notable exception.

It is impossible to look ahead to the future at receiver without making note of the loss of two very substantial players.

Geremy Davis was not nearly as productive as a senior as he was during his junior season due to injury, a lack of consistent play from the quarterback and offensive line positions. I always found it bizarre to see Davis, who NFL insiders claim was one of the two receivers at the NFL Combine not to drop a catchable pass during the 2014 season, on the sidelines on so many third down plays. He willingness to work the middle of the field was one of the many traits I admired about the way Davis played.

While Davis was the master of one role for the Huskies, Deshon Foxx did everything short of opening and closing the gates at Rentschler Field on game days. He had the longest running play, reception and special teams return. When UConn was down to two scholarship quarterbacks, Foxx saw time at quarterback and added a big-play threat to the running game.

It will be no easy chore replacing what Davis and Foxx brought to the field. The good news is that Noel Thomas, Dhameer Bradley, Thomas Lucas and Brian Lemelle got plenty of work a season ago and all of them except Lucas got onto the field during the 2013 season.

Lucas and Thomas are rangy and athletic players who added a few pounds of muscle in the offseason. Bradley and Lemelle are on the smaller end of the spectrum. Bradley is built similar to Foxx and in fact he is listed at 5-10 and 173 pounds on the spring roster which happens to be what Foxx was listed at a season ago. Lemelle was the most highly touted of the strong group of receivers brought into the program two seasons ago thanks to breaking Pennsylvania high school records for career catches and receiving yards. He was featured prominently in the passing game in the second half of his true freshman season but lost snaps to some of the other younger receivers last season.

Thomas was best known for his ability to down punts into the 5 during his freshman season. He continued to shine on special teams but had just 40 yards on five catches in the first six games of the 2014 campaign. Then when Davis was forced to the sideline, no receiver saw his role increase more than Thomas. He caught at least three passes in five straight games and had four touchdown catches in a three-game span. Lucas didn't receive as many chances as Thomas but he had some big plays. In a game at nationally-ranked East Carolina Lucas had catches of 37 and 43 yards.

Over the last couple of years Davis blazed the path for all the younger receivers to follow. This is a much younger group so it will be important for a pretty inexperienced group to show up with the proper mindset during the 15 spring practices.

"They are still young players themselves so we have been talking about taking advantage of every day, spring practice is not long just 15 days so not wasting a day, not wasting a second," UConn receivers coach David Corley said. "I think these guys are up to the task and they are going to have success.

"We have been talking about leadership as a team and we have been encouraging everybody to take accountability as far as leadership is concerned understanding that everybody's leadership style is going to be different. You want everybody to be able to lead by example, we have a few guys here and there who are able to be vocal and motivate your teammates that way. I am just encouraging all of those guys to lead by example first and be vocal. As time as time moves on all that stuff will shake out and those guys get comfortable with who they are and what their new roles are."
So of this group of receiver who does Corley think is most capable of emerging as a vocal presence?

"I think Noel Thomas is a guy who doesn't mind being vocal," Corley said. "A lot of times with younger players, guys have to transition from being focused on themselves, because when you are a young player it is 'who do I need to be, what do I need to do in order to make this play and make sure I am doing my job.' You transition that to bringing other people around. 'I know what I have to do and now let me help this guy get him situated so he is confident in what he has to do.'"
UConn is bringing in four scholarship freshmen receivers but they won't be suiting up until August. This spring will be a perfect time for the returning receivers to take ownership of the position so that the freshmen has plenty of catching up to do in order to see the field during the upcoming season.
"There are looking forward to that for sure," Corley said. "There is new opportunities and a fresh start."

Monday, March 02, 2015

UConn spring preview: Running backs

When it came to the use of the running backs during the 2014 season, bizarre would be the best word to try to describe the state of affairs.

Josh Marriner, who was talked up in a major way by head coach Bob Diaco at American Athletic Conference media day, had 24 carries in the first four games and then failed to carry the ball in four of the next five games.

Max DeLorenzo had a run of four straight games with double-digit carries and then combined for three carries in the next four games.

Down the stretch the Huskies turned to the true freshman duo of Ron Johnson and Arkeel Newsome. Johnson finished as the team's leading rusher while Newsome displayed an ability to be a threat in the pass game. While there were times when their lack of experience showed, it should be noted that the three most productive rushing games of the season came in weeks No. 12, 8 and 9. Johnson's 101-yard performance was one of the few bright spots in the season-ending loss to SMU. Now the hope is that by throwing them into the fire that Johnson and Newsome will be ready to take the next step as backs and provide a consistent running game.

With all four tailbacks and fullback Jazzmar Clax all coming back, the coaches should have a much better feel of what they have to work with after a season's worth of mixing and matching even if the perhaps working with the running backs and calling the plays is the recently hired Frank Verducci. The only back missing from the equation is Matt Walsh, who was moved to linebacker after splitting time at fullback with Clax over the last two seasons.

"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," said Verducci, UConn's new offensive coordinator and running backs coach. "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 is in the game it is an outside run, when Ron is in the game you know it is an inside run, when Max 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.

Verducci did throw out there the possibility of DeLorenzo being utilized as either a fullback or tailback in two-back sets,

"Max will have an opportunity to show ..," Verducci said. "It is all in how you package it. 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.
Marriner is the tailback with the least amount of buzz surrounding him coming into camp but he offers an intriguing mix of speed and strength as he could be the Huskies' strongest pound for pound player.

"Josh is just an outstanding athlete," Verducci said. "That is going to be one of the challenges for us in the spring to put him in enough situations, when you have that many guys you really have to be organized to get all of them the looks necessary to get a clean evaluation out of them."

Sunday, March 01, 2015

UConn spring preview: Defensive line/linebackers

A bulked up Kenton Adeyemi is one of top returning
defesnsive linemen for UConn in 2015 season
Time to continue my position by position preview as we approach the start of spring practice.

I went back and forth on how to breakdown the linebackers and defensive linemen and really didn't know where to put the group of talented youngsters who could see time as a standup outside linebacker or as a defensive end in a three-point stance in the same defensive possession. In the end, I decided to cheat and opted to combine them so consider this a preview of the defensive front seven.
The first thing of interest about the returning defensive linemen is how - at least by looking at their listed weights on the spring roster - they have transformed their bodies.

Kenton Adeyemi is listed as being 287 pounds, an increase of 19 pounds, and Mikal Myers went from 312 to 326. Perhaps even more noteworthy is that Folorunso Fatukasi, who I think could have the most potential of all the defensive linemen, dropped nine pounds and is now listed at 298.
I understand that there is much more to playing football than looking at a players' weight but with the emphasis head coach Bob Diaco has placed on what he called the sports performance aspect of things led by Matt Balis, this is a sign that these players are doing everything they can to be successful.
The list of returning defensive linemen features veterans like Adeyemi and Julian Campenni and some promising youngsters led by Fatukasi and Cole Ormsby.

Luke Carrezola, Cameron Stapleton and Ormsby are three of the aforementioned group that are listed on the roster as linebackers but figure to see time at defensive end as well. They certainly have to be included in the group of players diving in head first into the offseason conditioning program as Stapleton added 20 pounds, Carrezola put on 18 pounds and Ormsby added nine.

The hope is that the progress this group has made in the weight room will translate into standing up better at the point of attack. There were simply too many times a season ago when the line got pushed back a few yards. I think having the entire defensive staff returning should make a huge difference in the familiarity department. Heading into spring practice the players should have a better idea of what is expected of them and the hope it is it translates to playing stronger and faster as a group.

"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," defensive line coach Kevin Wolthausen said. "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."

I'm also curious to see if former Xavier High star Sean Marinan, who is now closing in on 290 pounds, can push for more time in the defensive line rotation after the walk-on saw plenty of time on special teams during his redshirt freshman season.

While plenty of players in the rotation a season ago are back, B.J. McBryde and Reuben Frank have graduated. Frank showed some flashes of providing a pass rush off the edge while McBryde did his work in the interior of the line. While Diaco has been adamant about not pursuing splash plays on defense at the expense of playing undisciplined football and won't send extra players just to say they have 'x' number of sacks, pressures or tackles for loss, a lack of a pass rush was a serious problem a season ago. With all the  talented quarterbacks and receivers in the American Athletic Conference, getting more of a push from the front four is an absolute must moving forward.

The linebacker group has to start with seniors Marquise Vann and Graham Stewart.

Luke Carrezola, Mikal Myers and Cole Ormsby among
top returning defensive players for UConn
A few eyes may have been opened when Vann, a player with 21 tackles in 20 career games, was named as one of the team captains for the 2014 season. However, Vann provided plenty of leadership as well as production with a team-high 105 tackles. Vann had at least nine tackles in eight of the first nine games including a 14-tackle effort against South Florida. If the defensive line can make the strides the coaches are looking for, the next step for Vann will not only be piling up tackles but recording more stops closer to the line of scrimmage. His running mate will be Stewart who brings plenty of physicality to the position. Stewart had a bit of an up and down 2014 season. When he is at the top of his game, he is impossible to miss on the field but he had too many stretches when he wasn't making an impact. It's easy to forget how little football Stewart has played. He saw plenty of time on special teams as a freshman as Florida but had to sit out the 2012 season after transferring and spent the season rehabilitating after injuring himself while lifting.

Junior Joseph showed tremendous growth as the season wore on, eventually beating out Jefferson Ashiru. Jon Hicks, redshirt freshman Chris Britton and converted fullback Matt Walsh could all push for time. Omaine Stephens is a player I remember noticing during preseason camp a couple years back and he is trying to work his way into a more substantial role.

Carrezola, Stapleton. Ormsby and Vontae Diggs received valuable experience a season ago while on the outside and will push each other for playing time. Jalen Stevens could also fight for time on the outside this season.
"They will be 10 times better, they are stronger, their understanding of how to play the position and techniques will be so much better," UConn linebackers coach Vincent Brown said. "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 and Graham 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, 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."