Monday, August 31, 2015

Definite Xavier High flavor on UConn's depth chart

UConn's depth chart features a starting quarterback from Georgia, a starting offensive tackle from Denmark, the No. 1 center hailing from Virginia and four of the eight defensive backs calling Florida home. In the end, however, the two-deep chart has an unmistakable Xavier High School connection.

Not only is starting linebacker Graham Stewart a former Xavier standout but so are reserve quarterback Tim Boyle and backup defensive end Sean Marinan.

"It is awesome, all of those guys I have known them and it is not a surprise to me because I know their character and I know their work ethic," Stewart said.

Xavier is the only high school with multiple players on the UConn two-deep chart making it quite special for the three former Falcons.
"It is amazing," said Marinan, the son of Xavier High football coach Sean Marinan Sr. "That is something we worked for in high school, we all had a dream and we just love it. It is awesome."

With four state titles in the last five seasons, it's hardly shocking to see that success translate having players from that program on the only FBS program in the state of Connecticut. The aura around the Xavier program doesn't stop there. Back in 2010 Villanova All-American linebacker Don Cherry was a star on a Trumbull High team which lost to Xavier in the 2010 CIAC Class LL title game at Rentschler Field and one of his best memories was of the rather enthusiastic Xavier High student section.

"I remember on the Xavier fans on the other side going crazy, the whole stadium was awesome and it was packed so it was a really memorable game," Cherry said. "Although we lost, it was a great experience to play against a top-tier team like Xavier."

Stewart gave his two cents on the fan support the Xavier High athletic programs receive.

"They take it very seriously and when your whole school is full of guys, they are going to be into the sports so it is easy to join in," Stewart said.





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Colts cut loose former UConn star Donald Thomas

Donald Thomas' time with the Indianapolis Colts came to an end today.

Thomas had one of the most unusual journeys to the NFL. The New Haven native was playing pickup basketball with Danny Lansanah when Lansanah suggested he try out for the football team. He eventually earned a scholarship and a starting spot. His play was enough for the Miami Dolphins to take Thomas in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL draft.

However, Thomas' NFL career has been slowed by injury. He suffered a foot injury after earning a starting guard spot with the Miami Dolphins and in 2011 he joined the New England Patriots. His play was impressive enough that the Colts signed Thomas to four year $14 million contract in 2013. Thomas would only play two games for the Colts as he suffered a season-ending torn quad and also a biceps injury. He returned to the field for the 2014 season only to reinjure his quad on training camp.

The Colts, who took Thomas off the Physically Unable to Perform list a couple days ago, announced he was among the players cut as teams work to get down to 75-man rosters by tomorrow.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

It's finally official: Shirreffs is UConn's starting QB

A year ago there was some actual mystery involved in the naming of UConn's starting quarterback, a job that went to Casey Cochran before one too many concussions resulted in the retirement of the former Masuk High star.

Well, there would be no such drama this season. While UConn coach Bob Diaco waited until today to announce that Bryant Shirreffs would start Thursday's season opener against Villanova, it was abundantly obvious that the North Carolina State quarterback was the clear choice to win the job.

In the two scrimmages we were allowed to watch Shirreffs was head and shoulders above the competition. In the second one, Shirreffs worked exclusively with the first-team offense while Tim

In the two scrimmages during preseason camp, both held at Rentschler Field, Shirreffs was unofficially 22 of 32 passing for 236 yards with two touchdowns and an interception as he was easily the most productive quarterback. Now it is time for Shirreffs to take control of an offense which has lacked quality play from the quarterback position since the graduation of Dan Orlovsky.

"People will tell me all the time that we have had struggles at UConn all the time in the quarterback area but I couldn't tell you that much about it because I have only been here a year," Shirreffs said. "I just know what I can do and I am going to do it to the best of my ability.

"I don't think any other quarterback is trying not to play well, I am going to try to play the best that I can. I wanted to be the best I can be and wherever the coaches, wherever I was on the depth chart, that was up to them. I wanted to prepare the best that I could and have it show up on the field. I don't really think of first string, second string, seventh string, that doesn't matter to me as long as we are winning."

Shirreffs played in eight games as a freshman at North Carolina State in 2013, running the ball 34 times and passing it five times. In his second game Shirreffs had a 28-yard touchdown run and a 7-yard TD pass in a win over Richmond.

While Shirreffs has displayed arm strength and accuracy during camp, his ability to make plays with his legs will provide an added dimension to UConn's offense.

"I can't wait to watch," UConn senior running back Max DeLorenzo said of Shirreffs taking command of the offense. "He leads by example more than by vocal but we have some other vocal guys but he will be even more of a leader when he starts making plays like I know he will."

It will be a new era with not only a new quarterback but also a first-year offensive coordinator in Frank Verducci.

"I love Bryant Shirreffs, I think his teammates will say that he is one of if not the hardest working guy on the team," Verducci said. "Bryant Shirreffs is a guy that every minute you invest with him, you get a return, he is a joy to work with."

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No real surprises on UConn's depth chart

UConn's depth chart is out and not a heck of a lot of surprises.

Bryant Shirreffs, as expected, is the No. 1 quarterback. There is a share situation at tailback with sophomores Ron Johnson and Arkeel Newsome listed as starters.
On offense and defense, there are four true freshmen on the two-deep chart as second-team guys (WR Tyraiq Beals, LT Matt Peart, TEs Chris Lee and Zordan Holman).

Also, Ellis Marder is listed as the No. 2 strong safety even though Anthony Watkins was seeing most of the time with the second-team defense in the preseason.

DEPTH CHART
QB: Bryant Shirreffs, SO; Tim Boyle, JR
TB: Ron Johnson, SO or Arkeel Newsome, SO; Max DeLorenzo, SR
WR: Noel Thomas, JR; Brian Lemelle, JR
WR: Thomas Lucas, SO; Tyraiq Beals, FR
TE: Alec Bloom, SO; Chris Lee, FR
TE: Tommy Myers, SO; Zordan Holman, FR
LT: Richard Levy, JR; Matt Peart, FR
LG: Tommy Hopkins, SO; Steve Hashemi, SO
C: Brendan Vechery, SO; Dan Oak, FR
RG: Tyler Samra, SR; Kyle Bockeloh, JR
RT: Andreas Knappe, JR; Trey Rutherford, SO

DE: Kenton Adeyemi, SR; Cole Ormsby, SO
DT: Foley Fatukasi, SO; Sean Marinan, JR
DT: Julian Campenni, SR; Mikal Myers, JR
DE/LB: Luke Carrezola, SO; Cameron Stapleton, SO
LB: Graham Stewart, SR; Vontae Diggs, SO
LB: Junior Joseph, SO; Jon Hicks, JR
LB: Marquise Vann, SR; Matt Walsh, JR
CB: Jhavon Williams, JR; John Green, JR
CB: Jamar Summers, SO; Javon Hadley, JR
FS: Obi Melifonwu, JR; Junior Lee, SR
SS: Andrew Adams, SR; Ellis Marder, JR

K: Bobby Puyol, JR; Michael Tarbutt, FR
P: Justin Wain, JR; Bobby Puyol, JR
KO: Michael Tarbutt, FR; Bobby Puyol, JR
H: Tim Boyle, JR; Brian Lemelle, JR
KR: Arkeel Newsome, SO and Josh Marriner, SO
PR: Brian Lemelle, JR; Tyraiq Beals, FR
LS: Dom Manco, SR; James Bedell, FR

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Looking at how Villanova/UConn game became a reality

I can't even put a number on just how many times I've been asked "why is UConn playing Villanova?" in Thursday's season opener.

Playing an FCS team could be a nice way for UConn to get going after a 2-10 season. However, facing a team ranked third in the preseason FCS polls and led by reigning FCS national player of the year John Robertson is a risky venture for the Huskies.

UConn coach Bob Diaco was asked if he knew how the game got on the schedule at Wednesday's media day but he said it happened before he got to Storrs.

I spoke to Villanova coach Andy Talley a couple days ago and he has an answer to this question.

"I think we've been playing a I-A team for a lot of years and certainly when we were looking into moving into the Big East as a football program and going I-A in football, UConn was a familiar foe in basketball and in many sports," Talley said. "That was sort of the beginning of trying to schedule teams who could potentially were Big East schools. Last year we played Syracuse, this year UConn and we have Pittsburgh next year, Temple was at the time was a Big East member when this game was set so we started to schedule teams that potentially we would play if we were to go into the Big East in football. I think that was 'let's test the waters a little in the Big East and see how we shape up as a FCS team on our way to being a FBS team.' Of course it never happened so we ended up with these games. We played Maryland, the Air Force Academy, Central Florida so we play a lot of different teams."

Villanova and UConn played every season from 1987-1996 as Yankee Conference rivals with six of those games decided by seven points or less. The last meeting came in 1999 at UConn's Memorial Stadium and it was a classic three-overtime game  won by Villanova 48-45. It was Randy Edsall's first season at UConn so Talley is one of the few coaches who can say he owns wins over Tom Jackson, Skip Holtz and Edsall while they were the head coaches of the Huskies.

"It was always a heated rivalry," Talley said. "I always enjoyed our games with Connecticut. It was always special because it was really my second home (Talley played at Southern Connecticut State and got his start in coaching as an assistant coach at Simsbury High School) so to come back there and bring the Wildcats into town and play in front of a lot of people who knew me was always a very special feeling."



Good start for UConn commit

While we are still a couple weeks away from the start of the high school football season in Connecticut, that is not the case in other parts of the country.

Case in point, UConn commit Quayvon Skanes accounted for four touchdowns in his first game as the starting quarterback as Chicago's Phillips Academy High School opened the 2015 season with a 40-16 win over Fenwick.

I did not see stats for Skanes but he had two scoring runs, including one of 80 yards and also threw touchdown passes of 30 and 12 yards.

Skanes caught 41 passes for 981 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior but he moved to quarterback following the graduation of Dewayne Collins.

Fellow Class of 2016 commit Donovan Williams missed Hylton (Va.) High's season opener with a back injury.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Time for some UConn offensive line chatter

Bob Diaco had a lot to say in the 30 or so minutes he was available to the media at Wednesday's media day.

However, the one comment that really surprised me was when he spoke about the freshmen and had this to say:

"The offensive line, the defensive line, the tight end position, in the linebacker corps and that group there, that could become a mess. So where are they participating? They are participating, potentially, in the skill positions. I am fairly certain that is going to be the hallmark of this year. I can't imagine in the two deep there being a true freshman that is going to be a guy that the team is counting on (at those positions). The only one would be Matt Peart at left tackle and he is by no means ready to go in the game and play. We'll see if we can get him ready to go into the game in a week."

Peart was consistently working as an offensive tackle with the second team during all the three practices/scrimmages we were able to check out during preseason camp which made Diaco's comments all the more noteworthy to me.

When you look at the fact that UConn has been forced, mostly due to injury, to start four different players at right tackle during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, having quality backups at tackle is no small matter.

I followed up with offensive line coach Mike Cummings on which players would join sophomore Trey Rutherford as options as tackle behind starters Richard Levy and Andreas Knappe.

I assumed that former starting tackle Dalton Gifford would be at the top of the list of contenders and Cummings had plenty to say about Gifford.

"Dalton has played every position on the offensive line," Cummings said. "There are four tackles in there for sure who have played tackle. Tommy Hopkins have played tackle, there are a lot of guys who can play at that position."

One of the more intriguing situations in camp centered around Dalton, who began the 2014 season starting at right tackle while Knappe got healthy. Yet, there he was working with the third string as he was behind a true freshman (Peart) and true sophomore (Rutherford) and at the first practice I was at true sophomore Steve Hashemi was also seeing time at tackle ahead of Gifford.

"Dalton is doing a good job, he is working hard, he is a good teammate," Cummings said. "If he is taking anything personally, it is probably on the positive end. He has a great attitude and is a great senior. Anytime we ask Dalton to go in, he is ready to go. He isn't day dreaming through camp, he is ready to go."

Hashemi, a former St. Joseph of Trumbull star, has had an interesting camp. He moved to tight end as a freshman and after moving back to his natural offensive line position, he has worked in at both guard and tackle.

"We have him at both right now, we have him playing guard," Cummings said. "He has the skill to play either of them and he is a tough guy. We are trying to get the right people on the field at the right spots. He could play guard for us, he could play tackle. he is doing a great job. The biggest thing is he athletic, he is tough, he loves the school, he loves the state and that goes a long way."

Of course who is going to be the second string offensive tackles isn't as pressing of an issue as how the interior offensive line is going to perform. They seem to have had their struggles when I was there but Cummings and offensive coordinator Frank Verducci said they are encouraged by what they have seen from center Brendan Vechery and guards Tommy Hopkins and Tyler Samra.

Cummings believes Vechery will benefit from going head to head with defensive tackle/nose guard Julian Campenni every day in practice.

"I don't know if there is a better guy you could practice with at that position, I don't know if there could be," Cummings said. "He is getting a lot of work.

"Hopkins and Vechery are doing well, they learn every day. It is not like they are new to the position, they are working very hard."

Samra, who could be the only senior starter on offense depending on what happens with running back Max DeLorenzo, has plenty on his plate as he needs to take care of his duties but also add leadership with first-time starters Vechery and Hopkins next to him.
"We came a long way just coming from spring ball," Samra said. "Losing Ryan Crozier (to a season-ending leg injury) was pretty hard on us but Vechery is stepping up. You can see we are working together as a unit which was something that was kind of hard for us last year because we had a lot of newcomers, a lot of new starters so this year, this camp we have come a long way.

"They all know the game, it is not getting them used to (playing). We are getting better as a unit. It is more fluid in everything we do on the line."

UConn coach Bob Diaco also weighed in on Vechery's growth as the Huskies starting center.
"I am very interested what that play is going to look like (at center)," Diaco said. "I can't wait for the game to watch these guys play. I can't wait to watch Vech and see what he's going to be in the game after all this preparation and work that he's put in. He looks good, every day he gets better and better, learns something new about the spot so it is exciting."

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Wain getting his kicks on the field and in the classroom at UConn

In the eyes of Justin Wain, success as a punter and in the classroom pretty much go hand and hand or perhaps hand and foot would be more appropriate.

Twice during Wain's time at UConn he earn a 4.0 grade-point average and more often than not, his GPA has been north of 3.9.

At yesterday's media day I finally had the chance to catch up with Wain and discuss his brilliant work in the classroom.

"Everything has to be perfect, it might just be the punter thing, everything has to be perfect for a good punt and everything has to be perfect in the classroom too," Wain said. "That carries over, that is what Coach (Bob) Diaco tries to get us to do, classroom carries over to the football field."

Wain has been a regular on the American Athletic Conference All-Academic team. I was curious when he first went all in during his pursuit of a perfect report card.

"In high school," Wain said. "They teach you that it is important to get good grades to get into college. I wouldn't say they were all straight A's in high school but I was trying to get good grades in high school. It is the same thing in college, get good grades and go to grad school."

Wain might be onto something in terms of the correlation between special teams productivity and academic success. A total of 31 football players marched in the parade of UConn student-athletes with at least a 3.0 in either the spring or fall, 2014 semester. Joining Wain on the list was starting kicker Bobby Puyol, long snapper Dom Manco and punt protector Sean Marinan. When UConn recognized its top student-athletes at halftime of a February women's basketball game against South Carolina, Wain, Marinan and reserve kicker Will Rishell were among the 20 athletes in all sports honored for attaining a 4.0 GPA.

"In special teams, you have to do everything right," Wain said. "For us, we only get one chance to do it so eliminate all the errors that you can so we get the counts right, the directions right and execute everything else right so it is just like school."

At the last scrimmage Wain was among the players I mentioned as standouts as he dropped one punt on the 1 and boomed another one out of the end zone for about 45 yards. Although there were no returns in the scrimmage, the punt would almost certainly had resulted in a fair catch in a real game situation. If that is an indication of where Wain is right now, he could be a much improved punter in his second season as the starter.

"I am working hard right now," Wain said. "It is all about getting consistent, consistent, consistent so I spent a lot of time with that. I am definitely a lot stronger than I was last year and I have a lot more explosion so I have seen that carry over from a weight-lifting standpoint and a leg standpoint."

Wain decided to spend the entire summer up at UConn rather than heading home to North Carolina.

"We keep working on it and it has been a good year," Wain said. "I spent all of my summer here so I didn't have a chance to go back home. It is all consistent drops and that is what we do."

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

UConn's Campenni had a day to remember

Media day is in the books and not too much news of the earth-shattering variety came out of the day.

The captains were linebacker Marquise Vann (the only 2014 captain returning this season), offensive tackle Andreas Knappe, safety Andrew Adams and defensive lineman Julian Campenni.

I'm not really surprised by any of the picks. I thought there was a chance of a second offensive player being named a captain and perhaps junior receiver Noel Thomas could have been that player.

Campenni, who might have been UConn's most consistently efficient player a season ago, reminds me so much of former captain Shamar Stephen.

People around the program were aware of what Stephen brought to the table heading into his senior season but not many outside of the program seemed to be as aware of his talents as they should have. The same could be said for Campenni who was fourth on the 2014 squad in tackles for loss but likely first in number of blockers he occupied and number of opposing center he tormented.

Stephen went from relative unknown to NFL prospect and then was one of the better rookie defensive linemen in the NFL a season ago after being drafted in the seventh round by the Minnesota Vikings. While I'm not sure if Campenni/s lack of height will scare off NFL scouts, I believe he is primed for a special senior season.

The naming of the captains was done on Wednesday which also happened to be Campenni's 22nd birthday making it a rather memorable day all around.

"I am very happy to hear that they named me one of the four captains," Campenni said. "I am honored to have that. I love every guy in there so."

When I mentioned to Campenni that he is a bit quiet especially compared to fellow captain Vann, he got a good chuckle admitting that in comparison to somebody like Vann, he would be considered to be on a quiet side.

"I guess I am quiet, yes I am more of the behind the scenes guy," Campenni said.

He was not quiet, however, in stating his expectations for the defensive unit returning 10 of its top 12 tacklers as he believes it has the potential to be among the best units in the country.

"I think there is a lot of excitement about our team and we have to go out there and get some wins," Campenni said. "I think the Rent is going to be rocking this year

"That is what you want to aim for, you want to aim to be the best. A lot of the older guys like Andrew (Adams), Junior (Lee), Marquise (Lee), we were two defense that were top five in the country so we know what it takes. Every guy on the team that is what we are working for."

There's plenty of experience on the defense led by seniors Campenni, Vann and Adams as well as classmates Kenton Adeyemi and Graham Stewart as well as junior Obi Melifonwu. However, for this to be an elite defense, it will be imperative that a talented group of sophomores hit the ground running. Linebacker/defensive end Luke Carrezola has been rather impressive at the practices/scrimmages the media was able to watch while defensive lineman Foley Fatukasi drew incredible praise from defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter today.

"Foley has as much skill as any guy I have been around as a defensive lineman," Poindexter said. "When he's got it going, he is going to be hard to block. He is a young player so he has a learn to do it on a down by down basis but he has as much skill as anybody we are going to play so we are excited about that."

Just as a frame of reference, 14 players from the University of Virginia were taken in the NFL draft when Poindexter was a star safety from 1994-98 and another 32 selected during his time on the Virginia coaching staff from 2003-13. That list includes defensive linemen Chris Canty and Chris Long.

Poindexter also talked up Carrezola, who could add some pass rush off the right side that has been lacking since the graduation of Trevardo Williams.

"Luke, he is in the right spot, he knows how to play the defense, he is big, a lot stronger," Poindexter said. "I am very excited about him. He got to play a little last year, he got nicked up towards the end of the season but he got that game experience. We are excited about what he is able to do this year."

Campenni also had plenty of praise for the two talented sophomores.

"You look at him (Carrezola) from last year to this year, he really transformed himself so it is going to be exciting," Campenni said.

"He (Fatukasi) is a monster, he is strong, he is quick and he is what you would want. If I could pick who I could be like, I would like to be like Foley. He kind of has the whole package. He has, including this year, three more years and it is going to be scary in these next three years what he is going to start doing. He is a great player. Since I got here, he has always been kind of a physical freak but he is just starting to get better and better in practice. He played well last year, he got better in the spring, he got better this camp so he is just getting better every day."

Other sophomores expected to make a major impact on the defense are linebacker Junior Joseph, defensive ends Cole Ormsby and Cam Stapleton and cornerback Jamar Summers.

I asked defensive line coach Kevin Wolthausen specifically about Ormsby, who led the team in sacks as a redshirt freshman.

"Cole has done everything we have asked him to do," Wolthausen said. "He does all the same techniques for stopping the run, he is very explosive, has hand speed and just happens to be one of our better pass rushers but that is not all that he can do."



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Some thoughts from UConn's media day

The major news coming out of UConn football media day might have been that there wasn't much news at all.

Seniors Julian Campenni, Andrew Adams and Marquise Vann were named captains along with junior Andreas Knappe after a balloting from what UConn coach Bob Diaco said was a vote from everybody in the UConn football family.

He also said he would wait until Sunday to name his starting quarterback and go into specifics on most starting spots. Bryant Shirreffs has been running with the first team throughout preseason camp and it would be a surprise for him not to be the No. 1 guy at quarterback. The only other positions where there were multiple players seeing first and second team reps came at defensive end where Kenton Adeyemi and Cole Ormsby are both pushing for a starting spot and receiver where there has been a battle for the No. 2 spot. Diaco said Thomas Lucas is looking like he could start along with Noel Thomas, who was the most impressive player I saw at the three practices/scrimmages I witnessed.

Media day began with about 30 minutes of Diaco addressing a variety of issues. He was rather upbeat, as you would expect him to be, about how camp has progressed. The biggest surprise to me was him saying that older players could be in line to get reps over true freshmen Matt Peart and David Ryslik, who have been consistently working with the second team at offensive tackle and defensive tackle respectively. I think it would be wise to try to protect their redshirt this season so perhaps that is the plan. That would especially be the case with Peart since starting tackles Knappe and Richard Levy are only juniors so if Peart played this season, he would be a junior by the time Knappe and Levy graduated. If he is redshirted, he would have three seasons of eligibility.

 "I think it is hard to play freshmen," Diaco said. "As ready as they are, they are still going to cost you. It is going to be that moment, they are freshmen, even the best freshmen I have ever been around that is all players. When you specifically boil it down and start thinking about freshmen participating at the power positions and skill positions, now it is like a disaster. The offensive line, the defensive line, the tight end position, in the linebacker corps and that group there, that could become a mess. So where are they participating? They are participating, potentially, in the skill positions. I am fairly certain that is going to be the hallmark of this year. I can't imagine in the two deep there being a true freshman that is going to be a guy that the team is counting on (at those positions). The exceptional freshmen, the only one would be Matt Peart at left tackle and he is by no means ready to go in the game and play. We'll see if we can get him ready to go into the game in a week.

"The skill players, they are really talented players. Tyraiq Beals is going to play, Hergy Mayala is going to play. He is exceptional, Tyraiq is exceptional. Aaron McLean, he is going to be in there and possibly Frank Battle. I don't anticipate any freshmen defensive player participating in the two deep at this point.

"We are going to slide Sean Marinan over and take a look at him behind Foley because David (Ryslik) is just not ready."

Diaco also said that tight ends Chris Lee and Zordan Holman should be on the travel squad and participating in very specific roles.

It isn't often that Diaco is critical of one of his players but he admitted that junior receiver Dhameer Bradley "had a very listless beginning to camp, a lackluster beginning."

Here's more of Diaco on Bradley.

"The reasons are irrelevant, he struggled producing. We love Dhameer, a great teammate but like a batter in a slump, almost like the harder you try the worse it gets or a golfer whose game is off the tracks and you are trying to get it back on the tracks and the harder you try, the worse it gets. He kind of went through a little bit of a phase like that which set him back a little bit. He has taken great accountability for that time, he is indomitable in changing it. We are going to allow for him to perform and produce at the level that he can and he should.

"Those younger players are on fire so yes it is a challenge."

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Bigger, stronger Adeyemi hopes to save his best for last at UConn

You could go down the list of returning players at UConn and see the transformation in their bodies over the last year or year in a half. However, there might not be a player who has taken to Matt Balis' strength and conditioning program more than senior defensive end Kenton Adeyemi.

Adeyemi was listed at 257 pounds as a true freshman and played in the 264-266 range over the last couple of seasons. On the most recent roster Adeyemi is listed at 291 pounds and he believes the additional weight will serve him well especially in holding up against the run.

"I feel like I did what the coaches asked me to do," Adeyemi said. "They said it would not only help me but help the team if I got bigger in our defensive schemes to run the 3-4. Last year running the 3-4 and with me being 260 pounds wasn't ideal so I figured I would get as big as I can."

Adeyemi believes that the additional weight has not come at the expense of his speed or quickness. He is ready to bring more pressure from the left defensive end position. Adeyemi believes the defensive line, which combined for just 9 1/2 sacks a season ago, can be a more disruptive unit.

"I put a lot of work this offseason into my personal pass rush and from watching the guys, I can see we got a lot better at pass rushing as well so I think we are going to dial up a little more pressure this year," Adeyemi said. "Hopefully we can (rush the passer) on the edges a little bit more and get a little more pressure on the quarterback.

"I think the three of us (Adeyemi, Folorunso Fatukasi and Julian Campenni) can wreak havoc all year. I think we have one of the best defensive lines. We have Cole (Ormsby, who had 3 1/2 of those sacks) behind us, we have Mike Myers, Sean Marinan coming off the bench who can help us a lot so I feel like all six of us are deep at defensive line to help the team tremendously. (Freshman David) Ryslik is going his thing, he is coming along nicely. He came in, he is 300 pounds and has good size. We are hoping he could help us in the future."

Adeyemi spent a season at prep school after high school and then had a redshirt season followed by two seasons where he played in a total of six games and made four tackles. He has been very impressed by how quickly Ryslik had adjusted to the speed of the college game during UConn camp.

"It is real hard," Adeyemi said. "You go from being the man in high school to having to come here and realize you are a little fish in a big pond. He is working on the transition and I like his progress so far."

In the one practice and two scrimmages I have been at, nine of the defensive starters have remained the same while Marquise Vann has seen the majority of the time with the first-team defense at WILL (weak-side) linebacker while being pushed and occasionally spelled by Matt Walsh. However, both Adeyemi and Ormsby have been seeing first-team reps. Adeyemi believes the competition is good for both players.

"Me and Cole are pushing each other tremendously," Adeyemi said. "Cole is a tremendous football player, a tremendous D End, a real strong kid who is 260-270 pounds and strong as an ox. He definitely pushes me and I push him to get better every day "

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Former UConn WR Williams pushing for NFL roster spot

Former UConn WR Nick Williams is tied for the team lead with seven
catches in two preseason games with the Atlanta Falcons
Nick Williams continues to make his presence felt in his push for a roster spot with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.

Williams finished with four catches for 43 yards in last night's 30-22 loss to the New York Jets. He was targeted six times, tying him for the team lead with former East Carolina Justin Hardy, taken in the fourth round in this year's draft. Williams also returned three kickoffs for 77 yards and had 10 yards on two punt returns.

Led by Julio Jones, Roddy White, Leonard Hankerson and special teams ace Devin Hester, the Falcons currently have 10 receivers on the active roster so Williams has some work to do. Of course, he has been down this road before. After being under utilized during his time at UConn, he made the 2013 Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent after making seven catches in four preseason games. He had catches three times in a five-game span in the second half of the 2013 season for Washington. Despite catching six passes including two TD receptions in the 2014 preseason, he did not make the 2014 Washington roster.

In other pro football news, Byron Jones told reporters that his injured left shoulder feels good and he is hoping to return to practice with the Dallas Cowboys next week while Marcus Easley, sidelined with a knee injury, returned to practice with the Buffalo Bills. Also, Jesse Joseph made his first regular-season tackle with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes in last night's 23-13 win over the BC Lions.

HAHN TO START SENIOR SEASON ON SIDELINE
UConn commit Eddie Hahn underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus on Thursday.

Hahn, who was an all-state quarterback as a junior at Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic, told the NJ.com's Joe Zedalis that "everything happens for a reason" and he was told by the doctor who did the operation that he was fortunate that he did not suffer a torn ACL which would have forced him to miss his entire senior season. Instead, Hahn is hopeful that he will miss just a game or two.

"I can begin throwing and light workouts in about two weeks," Hahn said. "After that, it all depends on how things go. I don’t know if it will be one game or two, I just want to get back on the field."

The injury happened when he was tackled in a scrimmage against Pope John on Tuesday. He told the UConn coaching staff about the injury on Friday.

"They were happy it wasn’t anything major and that I wasn’t going to miss my entire senior year," Hahn said.

Red Bank Catholic opens the season with a game against on Long Branch on Sept. 11.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Versatile DeLorenzo ready to contribute during final season at UConn

The scrimmage stretched from the late morning to the early afternoon on a balmy Thursday at Rentschler Field but Max DeLorenzo's work was far from being finished.

While his five carries only netted 11 yards, the lone senior running back on the UConn squad had a chance to display another aspect of his game when he floated down the near sideline. Bryant Shirreffs' pass was just a tad on the high side and a little behind him when DeLorenzo reached up and snared the ball for the most impressive reception by somebody not named Noel Thomas. The 12-yard catch got the drive going in the right direction and could be a sign of things to come.

DeLorenzo has caught a total of 14 passes in three seasons at UConn but it is a part of his game that is has a lot of confidence in.

"That is one of my strengths. In (Berlin) high school I was good with my hands, came into high school with good hands but now I am finally getting utilized as a receiver, in the slot and I love it," DeLorenzo said. "I love being versatile and consistent with everything I do whether that is fullback, tailback, slot, wideout or whatever."

At the first practice the media was allowed in to watch, offensive coordinator and running backs coach Frank Verducci could be heard saying to DeLorenzo "I've never seen you catch the ball better."

If that is what it takes for DeLorenzo to get on the field, that is fine with him. A year ago DeLorenzo had a bit of a bizarre season. He led the team with 57 rushing attempts in the first five games of the season. Then he had just 13 carries over the next six games as true freshmen Ron Johnson and Arkeel Newsome became featured backs. Then in a season-ending loss to SMU he ran for a season-high 66 yards aided by a 46-yard touchdown scamper.

Johnson and Newsome are both back and looking more confident as well as quicker so it would seem likely they will once again be key cogs in the running game. Josh Marriner, also heading into his sophomore season, is another young runner with plenty of promise. DeLorenzo knows the deal and he is ready to embrace any role the coaches have for him.

"It comes to the point where we have so much talent especially us four at tailback and we are all going to have a role," DeLorenzo said. "Some games I may get less than five carries, some games I might get 15 plus you never know. It is just what the coaches want, how the rhythm of the game is going and who is hot."

So what has DeLorenzo seen in his younger tailbacks?

"Mental growth and maturity," DeLorenzo said. "They are all obviously talented and not knowing the game, the defenses too much last year and they are starting to pick it up. You can see the blitzes that are coming, see holes, set up blocks so as long as they keep going like that, they will be great."

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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.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

UConn's Andrew Adams on Senior Bowl watch list

Senior safety Andrew Adams, who led UConn with 65 solo tackles and four interceptions during the 2014 season, was the only Husky named to the Senior Bowl watch list.

Stratford's Tyler Matakevich, a linebacker at Temple, is also among the 375 players on the watch list and is one of 27 players on teams UConn will face this season on the watch list.

It should be noted that 21 players not on the watch list released last August played in the 2015 Senior Bowl. The 2016 game will be played on Jan. 30.

Missouri: C Evan Boehm, LB Kentrell Brothers, CB Kenya Dennis, RB Russell Hansbrough, OG Connor McGovern
Navy: QB Keenan Reynolds, DT Bernie Sarra, FB Chris Swain
BYU: QB Taysom Hill, LB Bronson  Kaufusi, OT Ryker Matthews
South Florida: S Jamie Byrd, OG Brynjar Gudmondsson
Cincinnati: OG Parker Ehinger, WR Mekale McKay, WR Chris Moore, DE Silverberry Mouhon, WR Shaq Washington, CB Adrian Witty
East Carolina: LB Zeek Bigger, LB Montese Overton, TE Bryce Williams
Tulane: DE Royce LaFrance, OT Arturo Uzdavinis
Houston: CB William Jackson
Temple: DT Matt Ioannidis, LB Tyler Matakevich

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Junior Joseph a hit in middle of UConn defense

The 2014 season was a bit of an eye-opening one for the players learning the Bob Diaco/Anthony Poindexter bend but don't break style of defense. However, few players had more to learn than Junior Joseph.

Joseph gradually saw more time at middle linebacker as the season wore on and his emergence was a bit overshadowed by the buzz created when former starter Jefferson Ashiru left the team.

What can't be overstated, however, is the invaluable experience Joseph gained especially when he started four of the last five games of the season. He led the Huskies with six solo tackles in the season-ending loss to SMU while 16 of his 24 solo tackles came in the final four games of the season.

Joseph was the top tackler in the spring game and he has followed that up by getting off to a strong start at camp. He was especially effective during UConn's scrimmage at Rentschler Field on Wednesday.

There can be little doubt that Joseph is growing into his role.

"Last year was difficult because I never played linebacker before (in college)," Joseph said. "I was playing defensive end so learning a new defense with a new coach was something I had to adapt to. It took a while but I am glad to finally understand the defense, understand a lot more."

Joseph can benefit by the experience around him on the defense as he is flanked by linebackers Graham Stewart and Marquise Vann, playing directly in front of him is Julian Campenni and behind him is safety Andrew Adams. The quartet of seniors have combined to start 69 games over the last two seasons.

"They are seniors and they are leading the defense with me, helping me lead the defense so it helps a lot," Joseph said.

"I think we have one of the best D-lines in the country and when you have a good D line like that with Foley (Fatukasi), Cole Ormsby, Mike Myers, Julian, it makes the linebacker's job so much easier, everything opens up so that is what I am blessed with, a good D line it makes me play a whole lost better.

"We pretty much returned everyone, we played a lot of young guys last year and the fact that everyone is coming back I feel like our defense got stronger because everybody knows the defense a lot more."

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Shirreffs and Thomas forming bond on and off field during UConn camp

It's already been well documented that yesterday's scrimmage was not the best of days for the UConn offense. However, it wasn't all doom and gloom,

There were a couple of connections from quarterback Bryant Shirreffs to Noel Thomas that were something to behold. While the jury is still out whether the offensive line will enable UConn's running game to take off, after watching one practice and yesterday's combination of practice/scrimmage, it is looking like UConn has found its starting quarterback in Shirreffs and No. 1 receiver in Thomas.

The first time the two hooked up was a thing of beauty as Shirreffs threw a sideline out to Thomas who not only made the catch but showed off his athleticism by getting a foot down.

"It was a well placed ball and he placed it only where I could have it," Thomas said. "I just made sure I got the foot down and got the catch. I actually remember the last practice the receivers working on sideline catches, Coach (David) Corley making sure we get a foot down."

Based on the reaction by UConn head coach Bob Diaco and offensive coordinator Frank Verducci, yesterday was not the first time Thomas came up with a key catch.

When I asked Diaco about the lift that early catch by Thomas gave a struggling offense he thanked me multiple times for asking about Thomas.

"This guy has kind of reinvented himself," Diaco said. "He has always been a special talent and now this guy comes with a purpose to work  every day. He is putting the preparation to have a special year, a breakout year I would say. If he continues to work the way he has been working, he will have a special year."

Verducci has also been impressed not only with Thomas' emergence but the amount of work Shirreffs and Thomas have put in together.

"We are looking for Noel to be that kind of player, a guy that when the chips are down, whenever we need to get a jump start 'let's find a way to get the ball to Noel and see what he can do,'" Verducci said. "He has the kind of potential. He has had a great camp. Tremendous. The hard work that they have put in this summer is extremely evident and it shows up the most in the timing aspect where Bryant will hit that third step, boom get the ball out and Noel is out of his break. It is a credit to them, all the work they have done in the offseason to get to that point. Thank goodness it is showing in their productivity."

According to Neill Ostrout of the Manchester Journal Inquirer Shirreffs finished 10 of 18 for 108 yards while the other four quarterbacks were 7 of 17 for 111 yards.

The two completions to Thomas were among the highlights for Shirreffs.

"Noel and I have gotten really close lately, we are together all the time but with Noel I have learned he can make plays," Shirreffs said. "You saw it today, we have been working on that play for a while and it finally paid off."

If you factor in a drop on a perfectly thrown third down pass Shirreffs would have completed more than 60 percent of his passes working against the No. 1 defense, a unit that could very well be a top 25 or 30 ranked squad this season. Still, only managing one offensive touchdown left Shirreffs feeling like there's plenty of work yet to be done.

"We just need to learn from today, see what we didn't do as well and improve on it,' Shirreffs said. "It is the first time we got out here with referees and simulated a game so you are going to have some mistakes. I had some mistakes so you have to go to the film, see what I did wrong and not do it again. It is good to look forward and now that positive things are going to come the more you worry about what is going wrong and looking back, the more you are going to be stagnant.

"What I liked about today is in my group, I don't know about the other groups, but my group nobody really panicked. We had a couple of slow drives in the beginning but then we got things going there at the end."

While some of the freshmen are already making an impact led by Tyraiq Beals, some of the busiest receivers on Saturday were the most experienced ones as junior Brian Lemelle continues to work with the starters and classmate Dhameer Bradley was the most targeted receiver.

With the graduation of Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx, leadership at the receiver position is falling to Thomas, Bradley and Lemelle.

"I feel like me, Dhameer Bradley, Brian Lemelle, we have the most experience at receiver on the team and we are definitely taking ownership and trying to get everybody up to speed," Thomas said. "We have talented young guys so we want them to play so we try to help them out as much as we can because we definitely learned a lot from Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx."

Lemelle showed plenty of promise as a true freshman but seemed to be a little bit of a forgotten guy a season ago. Now he is set to make an impact as a receiver and on special teams as he could see time returning both kickoffs and punts.

"He certainly has a swagger, he plays like it too," Thomas said of Lemelle. "He plays with a chip on his shoulder and he is going to be good."

It is hard not to notice what Beals has been doing in camp.

While much has been made of Diaco targeting tall receivers, in the two practices I have been to it has been the 6-foot Beals, the shortest of the four true freshman scholarship receivers who has been seeing to most time with the first or second teams. He also had a nice catch near the sideline.

"He is a really a special freshman," Verducci said. "He has come in and acclimated really well, great personality, a very smart young man and I am confident he will put himself in the mix to be a contributor."

Beals had one game as a senior at East Orange (N.J.) Campus HS with 16 catches for 218 yards and another with 13 catches for 259 yards and six TDs so he knows something about catching the ball.

"I know Beals made a great play on the sideline today but every single freshman receiver has really thoroughly impressed me," Shirreffs said. "They came in during the summer and worked their tails off with us in the weight room, Coach Balis really gets after up in the weight room and with conditioning. They all handled it like true champions so to have them on the field and involved in the offense is definitely an honor."

Speaking of youth, I find it interesting that four of the five players on the second-team offensive line are guys either in their first or second year with the program as sophomore Steve Hashemi is at one guard, sophomore Trey Rutherford is at a tackle, redshirt freshman Dan Oak is the center and true freshman Matthew Peart is at tackle. The lone veteran is redshirt junior Kyle Bockeloh.

I was surprised not to see Ron Johnson out there more at tailback but perhaps it was just a chance to see how the other three guys look since it looks like Johnson has put himself in position to have a key role this season . Also, I thought the tight ends would be featured more. They were targeted early and often in the 7 on 7 drill right before the start of the scrimmage but not very busy in the passing game once the scrimmage started.

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

First trip to Rentschler shows UConn has plenty of work to do

Offensive coordinator Frank Verducci summed up what transpired at today's scrimmage perfectly when he said "it wasn't pretty."

I'm not sure much more should be said so this will go down as shortest blog post of my career.

OK, maybe not.

I wasn't down at field level until the very end when the third and fourth stringers were going head to head but it felt like many of the inexperienced offensive players' eyes were as big as saucers with this being the first Rentschler Field experience in key roles for many of them. It was also the first time in camp that referees were on the field and there were also some NFL scouts in attendance so it was a brave new world for many of them.

Before the first snap there was a false start in the middle of the offensive line where the Huskies are very young. Still, had Dhameer Bradley secured a perfectly-throw pass by Bryant Shirreffs on third down the drive would have continued. An interception by Andrew Adams ended the next drive and later on Tim Boyle's pass bounced off Josh Marriner's hands resulting in a pick 6 by redshirt freshman safety Anthony Watkins. One of the first promising drives was short circuited by back to back delay of game penalties and a sack by Cole Ormsby.

"Any time that happens it is not going to work out." UConn coach Bob Diaco said of setting the tone with a penalty on the first offensive play. "It is hard enough to move the football and get the field flipped, let alone shoot yourself in the foot, the next man in offense comes down the field, makes a high red zone penetration and then penalty, penalty, sack and before they did anything they were on the 42 (after getting to the 23)."

There was some good news.

Shirreffs and Noel Thomas hooked up on a couple of gorgeous connections. The first one was a perfectly throw sideline out (perhaps the toughest throw for a quarterback) with Thomas' ability to secure the football and get one foot down bearing just a passing resemblance to Geremy Davis. True freshman Tyraiq Beals continues to work with the second-team offense (as he did in Wednesday's practice) and he had one impressive catch. He is also in the mix for work as a punt returner. Marriner had a string of solid runs on that aforementioned drive to the 23 before the offense self destructed and Max DeLorenzo had the offense's lone TD in the scrimmage.

Beals, second-string left tackle Matthew Peart, second-string defensive tackle David Ryslik and tight ends Chris Lee and Zordan Holman are among the true freshmen in line to not only play right away but be on the two-deep chart heading into the Villanova game.

Defensively Junior Joseph (more on his in the next day or two) looks ready to become a major factor at middle linebacker, Graham Stewart had a sack and defensive tackles Julian Campenni and Foley Fatukasi wreaked havoc.

With No. 1 holder Blake Feagles no longer a member of the team, quarterbacks Tim Boyle and Garrett Anderson got work as holders on field goal attempts before the start of the scrimmage. The most noteworthy part of that part of practice is how players like Luke Carrezola, Javon Hadley and John Robinson nearly had blocked field goals.

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Blake Feagles no longer part of UConn squad

I'm at Rentschler Field for today's scrimmage. While I'm not sure what I will be seeing, I know one player who will not be on the field and that is last year's starting holder.

Blake Feagles, who would have been a sophomore, is no longer on the team's roster and I have been able to confirm that he is no longer a member of the football team.

On the post-spring practice depth chart, punter Justin Wain was listed behind Feagles at holder so it seems likely he will add that to his list of duties.

Feagles, who was also a reserve receiver, is the son of former NFL punter Jeff Feagles. I did a story on Blake when he was a true freshman.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Tough day for UConn products in NFL

The NFL life can be a cruel one.

B.J. McBryde and Deshon Foxx worked their way into getting training camp looks with the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks respectively. I was curious to see how they fared in the preseason opener. However, that opportunity won't be coming.

Foxx was waived by Seattle and now McBryde was placed on a waived/injured list by the Eagles. Add in Trevardo Williams being cut by the Washington Redskins and it was a tough day to be a former Husky. There's a chance that McBryde and Williams could be placed on injured reserve.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Injuries piling up for former UConn stars

The first full slate of NFL preseason games kicks off with six games including Byron Jones making his debut when the Dallas Cowboys play at San Diego.

However, another story angle is the large number of former Huskies dealing with injuries in the preseason including the entire 2013 draft class.

Offensive linemen Will Beatty of the New York Giants and Donald Thomas of the Indianapolis Colts have long-term issues resulting in both of them being on the Physically Unable to Perform list by their respective teams. However the injury list does not stop there for the 27 former UConn products on NFL rosters.

Cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz (calf) and Blidi Wreh-Wilson (ankle) have been sidelined recently. Gratz returned to practice with the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday on a limited basis but it remains to be seen if they will risk playing him when Jacksonville plays Pittsburgh on Friday. However, the Titans have already ruled Wreh-Wilson out of Tennessee's game at Atlanta tomorrow.

Linebacker Trevardo Williams has been sidelined with a hamstring issue and he will not play when the Washington Redskins plays at Cleveland tonight. It also bears watching how much work Sio Moore gets with the Oakland Raiders in the preseason as he works his way back from hip surgery and Ryan Griffin has been held out of practice with the Houston Texans due to an undisclosed injury. Finally, Shamar Stephen missed today's practice with the Minnesota Vikings as he underwent an MRI (although there was no word on whether it was his knee being examined) and there's no word on his status for Saturday's game against Tampa while a groin injury has kept Darius Butler off the field for the Colts.

Here's the breakdown of games including former UConn players even the injured ones

TODAY
New York Jets at Detroit (Dan Orlovsky), 7:30 p.m.
Green Bay at New England (Robert McClain), 7:30 p.m.
Washington (Trevardo Williams) at Cleveland, 8 p.m.
Dallas (Byron Jones) at San Diego (Donald Brown, Kendall Reyes), 10 p.m.
FRIDAY
Tennessee (Tebucky Jones, Yawin Smallwood, Blidi Wreh-Wilson) at Atlanta (Nick Williams), 7 p.m.
Carolina (Jordan Todman) at Buffalo (Marcus Easley), 7 p.m.
Giants (Will Beatty. Geremy Davis) at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
Pittsburgh (Shakim Phillips) at Jacksonville (Dwayne Gratz). 7:30 p.m.
St. Louis at Oakland (Sio Moore), 10 p.m.
Denver(Tevrin Brandon) at Seattle (Deshon Foxx), 10 p.m.
SATURDAY
San Francisco at Houston (Ryan Griffin), 8 p.m.
Tampa Bay (Danny Lansanah) at Minnesota (Shamar Stephen), 8 p.m.
Kansas City (Tyvon Branch, Anthony Sherman) at Arizona, 9 p.m.
Indianapolis (Darius Butler, Donald Thomas) at Philadelphia (B.J. McBryde)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

DE/LB Carrezola off to impressive start at UConn camp

I'm still not sure if I should call sophomore Luke Carrezola a linebacker or a defensive end but this much I know, he is certainly looking like an impact player.

Today was practice No. 6 for the Huskies and the first that the media was able to watch. Once the team finished with the stretching and positional work, Carrezola began to make his presence felt in 11 on 11 and 1 on 1 drills. He showed tremendous explosion off the edge and I believe the only way he could have been in the backfield any more would be if he lined up at running back. If I were giving out three stars like they do in hockey, Carrezola. DT Foley Fatukasi and RB Ron Johnson would be my picks.

"He is tough," UConn coach Bob Diaco said, "He is the epitome of effort and energy. He has development to do as a young player and the season kind of got cut short of stalled (due to injury)  but he is going to be a great player here."

Carrezola showed tremendous potential in the six games that he played as a true freshman and if he had stayed healthy, I truly expected him to play a bigger role in the second half of the season.

Listed at 242 a season ago, now Carrezola is listed at 255 pounds. He certainly looks like he is ready to make his presence felt.

"Now I am really excited for the season and just came into camp ready to go, give my best for the team," Carrezola said. "We have a great trainers here so they helped me every step of the way when I got hurt. Every day I just worked as hard as I could on rehab, as hard as I could in the weight room and I just developed my body.

"I am very comfortable, I love this defense, I love this team and I am going to give everything I can for UConn and the UConn fans. I am fine playing with a chip on my shoulder but like everybody else I am looking to get better and just get some wins."

As for the additional weight he is carrying ...

"Coach (Matt) Balis has done a great job with me and I just love him to death," Carrezola said. "I put on good weight, I am still running well and I am excited. Coach Balis, I'll tell you he will work you out."

Carrezola's teammates have taken notice of his development.

"He is unbelievable," said sophomore tight end Tommy Myers. "Like all of us, he is just working so hard. I think we have all taken that step to the next level not only physically and mentally but also just leaning the game.

"We watch film very single day and the defense just looks unbelievable this year. I think it is just going to be very good."

As for the practice, not much to report. No surprises on the starting defense as it is the same as what was listed in the preseason prospectus (Kenton Adeyemi-Julian Campenni-Foley Fatukasi-Carrezola-Graham Stewart-Junior Joseph-Graham Stewart-Jamar Summers-Jhavon Williams-Obi Melifonwu-Andrew Adams). On offense Ron Johnson looked very quick at tailback and I do mean very quick while Noel Thomas carries himself as a No. 1 receiver. It looks very much like it is Bryant Shirreffs' job to lose at quarterback. Brendan Vechery was the No. 1 center (I will have more on that on the story I am filing for the Register).

As for Diaco's thoughts on the first six practices, here's what he said.

"Andreas has worked on his game, he looks better and better, the two safeties (Adams and Melifonwu) have raised to a level that we expect from them which is greatness so that is positive. Junior (Joseph), (Marquise) Vann has had a lot of pressure on him from Matt (Walsh), he has responded and so has Matt. Kenton (Adeyemi) has put the best six practices together since I have been around so far so there are so many."

If there was a negative in Diaco's eyes, he did see too many people on the ground. At this time of the year it is more about technique than delivering highlight variety hits. I asked Diaco in particular about the huge shot safety Junior Lee put on tailback Max DeLorenzo.

"We train that at other times," Diaco said. "It was outside the tempo. Nobody should have even been on the ground. We will clip every one of those when a guy was on the ground and show it to the players in terms of 'hey, we are going to have trouble being as good as we can be without everybody being available. We can get real good but we need all of this manpower too."
Diaco also gave his thoughts on Shirreffs saying, "he is no longer the new guy. It's over, been there, done that, that's done and here we go. He goes out there and really tries to take command. It is really nice, it is what the team needs and what the offense needs. Bryant in particular has done a nice job leading that group."

Here are his thoughts on tailback Arkeel Newsome:
"He has to squeeze the ball," Diaco said. "If he doesn't squeeze the ball, he is not going to play. If he squeezes the ball he is going to play a bunch. he is electric. We have to get the ball to him in many kinds of different ways and he will hold on it. Ball security has been strong so far through camp so he will get a bunch."

I am going to hold off going too much into who was running with the second team especially among the true freshmen until Saturday. If the pecking order is the same, I would feel more comfortable discussing those players but I saw three true freshmen getting a serious amount of second-team reps.

Finally, I am having issues with my Tout video app  on my phone so until that gets taken care of, you will not be getting videos from me.

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Sunday, August 09, 2015

Former UConn standouts shine in NFL preseason opener

The 2015 NFL season kicked off on Sunday night with the annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.

The preseason opener between the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers gave a chance for a pair of former UConn standouts to shine.

Second-year defensive lineman Shamar Stephen had a team-high five tackles and one of the team's two sacks in a 14-3 win.

Rookie receiver Shakim Phillips, signed as an undrafted free agent, had a highlight worthy one-handed catch which turned into a 35-yard gain and he did it against the Vikings' first-round pick Trae Waynes. Phillips finished with two catches for 43 yards. He also drew a holding call on Waynes on another pass intended for Phillips but also was called for offensive pass interference later in the game.

UConn looking to play faster on defense in '15

Cole Ormsby, who led UConn with 3 1/2 sacks last season, is among the
returning players looking to add more bite to UConn's pass rush in '15
While I am sure there are painful memories for fans, players and coaches alike at the mere mention of UConn squandering a 20-6 halftime lead en route to a season-ending loss to a previously winless Southern Methodist team, there is actually a positive aspect to that game.

Ten of the 11 defensive starters and 19 of the 22 defensive players who got into the game are back for UConn this season. The top 12 tacklers in the SMU game will be suiting up and likely be playing key roles for the Huskies. It is that familiarity that could translate into a faster, stronger, more confident defensive unit.

"These guys have put in hard work, they are very excited to get going and it is time for us to take the next step," UConn defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter said.

So what is the most beneficial aspect of having nearly everybody back (and adding converted fullback Matt Walsh at linebacker and promising defensive end Luke Carrezola who missed the latter portion of the season due to injury).

"Knowing what buttons to push, what will make them tick and they know us and they know what we expect," Poindexter said. "The gray area of feeling everybody out is over with, we can get down to coaching them, taking them to the next level, adding more layers to our defense."

Although UConn finished 49th overall in total defense a season ago, there is not an area of the defense that can't improve beginning with the pass rush.

UConn was 117th out of 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in sacks per game a season ago. If there were a stat for most time the opposing quarterback had to throw the ball I would have to think the Huskies would have ranked dead last nationally.

The return of seniors Julian Campenni and Kenton Adeyemi, in the best shape of their lives, and talented sophomores Foley Fatukasi, Cole Ormsby, Carrezola and Cam Stapleton as well as junior Mikal Myers gives the defensive coaches some talent to work with up front.
"It is an exciting time," UConn defensive line coach Kevin Wolthausen said. "You are always looking to be better playing the run, we are looking to be better rushing the passer, all of those things."

Wolthausen is also excited about the potential of Sheriden Lawley and James Atkins who redshirted a season ago. While they were not playing in the games, they were doing the work in practice and in the weight room. Lawley was listed at 238 pounds and Atkins at 258 in the 2014 media guide but are now listed at 275 and 267 respectively.

"Lawley, Atkins, the young guys coming in this year (true freshmen Felton Blackwell, Kevin Murphy, Phillippe Okounam and David Ryslik who are all at least 285 pounds),  camp is that time to take a look at that guys  as you start preparing for the season," Wolthausen said.
Atkins left the spring game with an injury but Wolthausen said he is good to go for preseason camp which began on Friday. I'll get my first look at the team on Wednesday.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

UConn OC Verducci eager to get offense rolling

During the week there was plenty of time to talk to the UConn football coaches. Certainly Bob Diaco's comments about going undefeated and winning the national championship drew much of the attention. However, I am more intrigued by what new offensive coordinator Frank Verducci had to say about adjusting his offensive schemes to take advantage of his players' strengths than any of the bizarre sound bites coming from Diaco.

Let's just get right to it and pass on Verducci's comments about what things could look like moving forward.

"Everything is possible," Verducci said. "We are always going to accentuate the skill set of the guys in the game, it may be multiple personnel groups, multiple formations, a guy may be listed as a running back and he may be lined up at receiver. A guy may be a tight end and he may be split out. We are going to try to stretch the defense. How do you defend this guy? Do you defend him as a running back? Do you defend him as a quarterback? For us it will be all hands on deck every Saturday and we will try to cobble together the best offense for that group of players who are available that week. We have to be flexible. This is not an offense where everybody has to be able to do the same thing. We are experienced enough and flexible enough as coaches that we are not going to ask Bryant Shirreffs to do the same things that Tim Boyle does. If Garrett Anderson or Tyler Davis are in the game, we will play to their strengths as well. It is no different than if it is Ron Johnson or Arkeel Newsome. The challenge  there is you can't be typecast, you can't have enough crossover that will keep you balanced offensively."

If Verducci walks the walk as well as he talks the talk, there could be a little more excitement than in past years when the UConn offense is on the field.

A year ago there was the mystifying move of taking star receiver Geremy Davis off the field on third down because you wouldn't want your more sure-handed receiver to be on the field in obvious passing situations while dynamic true freshmen Newsome and Alec Bloom were severely underutilized.

I'd love to see Newsome split out as a slot receiver or getting him lined up against a linebacker at times. He has a true threat to take it to the house every time he touched the ball.

It is not going to be a case of merely flipping a switch, however. Other than at offensive tackle, UConn is incredibly young on offense as the No. 1 quarterback is Shirreffs, a transfer from North Carolina State, three of the four tailbacks are sophomores, the receivers still have plenty of maturing to do, the top returning tight ends are both sophomores and there will be two first-time starters in the interior of the offensive line. There are plenty of young promising freshmen receivers and tight ends so it will be interesting to see how quickly they get acclimated to the speed and physicality of the college game.

I got to see one full practice during the spring and to be honest, what I saw from the offense wasn't overly impressive (and that is being kind). The spring game was more of the same  The quarterbacks were 33 of 62 and missed a lot of easy throws while the leading rusher was a walk-on (Jason Thompson). I'm looking forward to Wednesday when the media is allowed to view the entire practice to see what it all looks like. At that point there will be five practices under their belt so it should be a solid gauge of the pecking order in terms of who is making moves to be on the two-deep chart and depending on what drills are utilized, perhaps we will see some of these young playmakers putting on a show as well.


Friday, August 07, 2015

UConn OC Verducci has familiar face in camp

Frank Verducci thinks the world of Billy Williams, who he coached a season ago at Northern Iowa.

There's not much he wouldn't do for the Knoxville, Tennessee native. Well, except for place a call to the staff of a conference rival on Williams' behalf.

Williams, who had catches of 58 and 36 yards as a freshman at Northern Iowa, found himself with a player without a position when a change in offensive philosophy downgraded the importance of the tight end position. When he decided to transfer, he called Verducci with a favor.

"He had actually asked me to call Memphis for him and we play Memphis and I said 'I can't call Memphis and have you scoring touchdowns against me so why don't you come here?'" Verducci said.

That is exactly what happened as Williams transferred to UConn. After sitting out the 2015 season due to NCAA regulations on transfers, he will have three years of eligibility remaining.

"I know the type of young man Billy is, I know his skill set and he is going to be a nice addition to the team," Verducci said. "He will do a great job as a scout team player this year as he mandatory redshirts and more than anything else, I think he is the type of young man we want in the program."

There aren't many tight ends who averaged 47 yards per catch but that is precisely what happened with Williams as a true freshman at Northern Iowa.

"We kind of just piece mealed him last year because he was a true freshman," Verducci said. "We gave him a couple of things to do and those things he did very well. We actually moved him to receiver at one point when some receivers got hurt and brought him back late. I really admired his resiliency as we went through the fall last year. He is a kid who is 1,000 miles away from home in the middle of Iowa and he really developed as a player. He will be a nice piece to plug into the team in '16."

MORE PRAISE FOR MADISON'S WALSH
You've already heard Bob Diaco said that converted fullback and former Hand High star Matt Walsh will be competing with last year's leading tackler Marquise Vann for one of the starting linebacker slots. Now it is time for Walsh's position coach to weigh in.

We had access to the assistant coaches and high up on my to-do list was to get Vincent Brown's take on Walsh's rapid development.

"What Matt showed during spring football is that he has a high level of football intelligence, he's got contact toughness, he's got the ability to make plays," said Brown, a former NFL linebacker. "At the end of the day that is what you are looking for from inside linebackers, guys that are smart, that are great communicators that can make everybody else around them better. We understand that it is not going to be given to him but what he showed is that he has this ability to compete and help and it is going to make all the other guys around him better.

"He has some natural football IQ, he's got this ability to communicate. If you have a great defense, you are going to need that."

Thursday, August 06, 2015

UConn's Diaco addresses "national champion" quote with fire and brimstone

I have to say this much for UConn football coach Bob Diaco, he does not lack for passion.

By the time I made my way through the mass of humanity at American Athletic Conference football media day, he was already a little riled up and was giving his "we are going to win every game, be in the national playoff and win the national championship" to various waves of media in attendance at the Hyatt Regency in Newport. R.I.

He also threw out the "I've been at this longer than many of you have been at your job" which was a little more heated of a reply than he usually gives to the media when he gets annoyed (and trust me, I have the ability to annoy him and other people I cover as well as anybody).

Well it turned out that shortly after being told that UConn was picked to finish last in the AAC East Division, one of the first questions he was asked was something along the line of "how many games do you think you will win?"

Even more than two days later, the question still irked him. I had seven different quote files on my phone from Diaco addressing a variety of topics and but none were delivered with more fire and brimstone than when he was asked to clarify his remarks predicting a national title this season.

"It either goes over some people's heads or I didn't deliver it properly or it comes off as inauthentic so I am going try to give (an answer)," Diaco said in a Thursday press conference. "I got asked a question that 'how do you want me to answer that?' I didn't ask that back because that was confrontational but in my mind you are asking a competitor, you are asking somebody who devoted their whole life to football since (he was) a small child, you are asking me after investment of hours and time and blood, sweat and tears, of all the things I missed with my own kids, with my wife and everything I invested into this 'how many games do you think you are going to win?' How am I going to answer it. How do you want me to answer it. How do you want our team to hear it? So that was some of the answer. Some of the other part of the piece is we are incredibly excited about these guys. Part two is we are jacked about our football family, we are jacked about our football team. we've got players that have a massive amount of reps under their belt, they are veterans, they are ready to go, they are ready to compete. The third tier is the world is round, we can sail that way and we can not fall off the end. It is round, trust me. Let's go. We can accomplish this.

"I am not a glass is half empty kind of guy. I am a realist. Sometimes that plays out and it should. Sometimes maybe that should just be a day to day work instead of being verbalized but I am also an optimist. I also don't think there is anything I personally can't do. You asked the question, we just got picked to finish last. I just walked out of a meeting where we were picked to finish last. Then I tried to answer a question, I got pressed again and tried to answer it. I got pressed again and tried to answer it, I got pressed again so here you go. The team that is going to finish last in the conference, no that is not true. We are going to go the playoffs and win a national championship, yeah, that was the answer."

Looking at center position at UConn; Poindexter's special honor

Once again the quarterback competition will be a popular topic of conversation during UConn's preseason camp. However, the leg injury suffered by Ryan Crozier leaves some question marks of just how will be snapping the ball to the UConn quarterbacks.

Crozier started the final three games at left guard and made to move to center during spring practice to replace the graduated Alex Mateas. However, Crozier's injury will sideline him for the season leaving the competition at center very wide open.

Offensive line coach Mike Cummings addressed the unfortunate timing of Crozier's injury as well as possible candidates to take over in the middle of the line.

"I feel bad for Ryan and as soon as I feel bad for Ryan, I won't let him disconnect from this football team because he had an injury, we will move forward and get the next man in," Cummings said. "I feel bad for him because he is a great competitor but here's the good news, he played last year and has a redshirt year so he is still going to get him full four years of reps.

"I think we have trained everybody but three guys who have all snapped, the freshmen I haven't worked with them yet so ... We have Dan Oak, (Kyle) Bockeloh, (Brendan) Vechery has been snapping so will put the next best guy in."

I was curious about sophomore Trey Rutherford, who showed the ability to play a variety of positions on the offensive line as a freshman but Cummings said he wants to keep Rutherford, who is listed as a second-string right tackle, playing on the outside.

"We kind of have to settle down where he plays and I think it really will help him to solidify one spot," Cummings said.

With Tommy Hopkins ending spring practice as the No. 1 guy at left guard and with none of the three candidates to start at center having started at UConn, the Huskies will likely have two first-time starters among the three interior offensive line positions.
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"You've heard of (Hall of Fame lineman) Anthony Munoz, he had a first game too and that's how I look at it," Cummings said. "Here's the good news, Tommy Hopkins has played in the games. He has played on offense and he played on the punt team so he doesn't have that anxiety, that is biggest part of it, the anxiety and the situation in the game. Tommy Hopkins is very tough and very smart and I think he will be fine. With the center, we will get somebody ready to go. We could have a young player in there but we have three experienced guys who can help them out."

One of the biggest surprises to me on the depth chart in the UConn football prospectus is that former St. Joseph of Trumbull lineman Steve Hashemi is listed as the No. 2 guy at left offensive tackle. Hashemi was moved to tight end as a true freshman because more bodies were needed there. He went from being listed at 262 pounds as a freshman to 286 pounds on the most recent depth chart. He is ahead of Dalton Gifford and other more experienced linemen on the depth chart.

"Steve Hashemi went from being a tight end to now he is going to be a tackle and has committed himself to gaining weight and getting bigger," Cummings said. "He is tough, loves his team, he loves his university, loves his state, he has a great personality."

SPECIAL HONOR FOR POINDEXTER
The exploits of UConn defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter during his days as a safety at Virginia have been well documented. He had his number 3 retired at Virginia and is one of the most decorated players in Virginia football history. He added another prestigious honor as he is on the ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2016.

While the list of candidates came out a couple months ago, this was the first time I have had a chance to speak to Poindexter since that time. He doesn't even recall the specifics of how he was informed of this special recognition.

"I guess they posted it on Twitter or Facebook, somebody sent me a message,' Poindexter said. "I hadn't been tracking it but somebody sent me congratulations and I looked it up. It is a nice honor, hopefully one of these days I will make it in.

"It goes back to my coaching, my teammates and stuff like that but it is a nice honor. "

The members of the Class of 2016 will be announced in January.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

UConn's safety duo could be one of nation's best

There's plenty of question marks as UConn players report for preseason camp tomorrow. However, the safety position is not among them.

UConn returns Andrew Adams, who has started 19 games over the last three seasons, and Obi Melifonwu, who has started 23 games in the last two seasons. Adams was ranked second and Melifonwu fourth in total tackles a season ago. Reserve safety and special teams dynamo Junior Lee is also back.

UConn football coach Bob Diaco did not pull any punches when I asked him about starting safety tandem at American Athletic Conference media day.

"Tell me who is better tandem of safeties in the conference, tell me a better one?" Diaco said. "They played 800/900 plays so they are veterans, those two guys go into every single game expecting to dominate their individual matchups and be in disbelief when they have bad moments, it is good to have that kind of swagger, that kind of energy."

Perhaps the only things standing in the way of Adams and Melifonwu being touted as an elite safety tandem is improved play in pass coverage by Melifonwu. He is an intriguing prospect with size (listed at 6-foot-3, 216 pounds on UConn's roster), speed and intelligence. With two seasons as a starter under his belt, there's no reason he can't make strides defending the passing game.

Adams loves the potential of the secondary which includes the stating quartet from the latter stages of the season.
"I am very excited to see what our secondary can do," Adams said. "We worked hard in the offseason and in the spring on our pass defense. Jhavon is becoming a great player, he is becoming a great leader. Jamar Summers has some games under his belt last year so I am excited to see what he is going to do and Obi plays right next to me, I am excited to see what he is going to do. He is a freak athletically, he can run out of the gym, he is so fast and I have taken some extra time in the film room to study with him. I am just excited to see what we are all going to do as a group.

"We definitely know each other very well now, he knows what I am going to do before I do it and I am pretty sure he know what I am going to do before I do it. That definitely helps us, we have each other's back on the field.

"We are excited that we can improve. We have a lot of returning starters, we have grown as a defense, the chemistry has grown in the spring and over the summer we have worked on our defense. "

If there is any uncertainty surrounding the secondary it would center around who will be the No. 3 and 4 cornerbacks. It was a role filled by Summers last season before Byron Jones' season-ending injury.

"Brice McAllister got some snaps last year, he is a good player, he is coming along really well, we have Javon Hadley, I like Hadley, he is small but he is feisty. he will stick his nose in on the run and he is not afraid of anybody so I like where we are at (with) the corner position."

McAllister, Hadley and converted John Green got a bit of a baptism of fire a season ago and the game experience they were able to get a season ago could start paying dividends this season.

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