Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Anxious time for UConn's NFL prospects

Last year at this time it wasn't so much a question of if Byron Jones and Geremy Davis would be taken in the NFL draft but just when would the former UConn teammates hear their names called.

Jones joined Donald Brown as the only UConn player taken in the first round when the Dallas Cowboys took him with the 27th overall pick while Davis was selected by the New York Giants in the sixth round.

There's more of a wait and see approach with the current crop of UConn pro prospects.

At least one UConn player has been selected in each of the last nine NFL drafts and safety Andrew Adams seems like the most likely player capable of extending that streak.

While no former Huskies are listed on the ESPN draft database, Adams is the No. 13 free safety according to NFL Draft database maintained by www.cbsspports.com which I have found to be pretty accurate (or as accurate as these things get) in rating the under the radar prospects. Adams is rated as the 291st best player in the draft and lists him as either a seventh rounder or a free agent. Last year's No. 13 rated free safety was Ladarius Gunter out of Miami who went undrafted but was signed by the Green Bay Packers as a free agent.

At UConn's pro day Adams seemed to do what he needed to remain on the radar of NFL teams and considering the amount of tape that NFL teams must have watched on Jones a season ago, you would have to think Adams might have caught the eye of the film watchers.

I would not be surprised if Adams continues the trend of UConn players being drafted.

The player out of UConn seemingly creating the most pre-draft buzz is fellow safety Junior Lee who absolutely put on a show at UConn's pro day. I've also seen reports that he was impressive at the New York Giants local pro day. Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle and National Football Post tweeted about a week and a half ago that Lee has worked out privately for the Giants, Jets and Colts.

One issue with Lee is that he was not a starter but consider that Jones was a first-round pick, Adams could very well get drafted and I would expect Obi Melifonwu and Jhavon Williams to be very much on the radar of NFL scouts next year with Jamar Summers most definitely being a draftable prospect in the next class so it is not like Lee was playing behind mediocre talents.

A lack of experience is not an issue for defensive lineman Julian Campenni or linebackers Marquise Vann or Graham Stewart. It will be interesting to see what happens with the trio but certainly would not be surprised to see them land in a training camp.

I received this question and answer blog with Campenni emailed to me. I think the key for Campenni could be how NFL teams view the Missouri tape since Campenni was normally lining up across from Evan Boehm, who is rated as the fourth best center in the draft according to cbssports.com. Other than getting invited to the major all-star games, which was an opportunity not afforded any of the UConn players, the best way to catch the eyes of scouts is to have strong tape in head to head matchups with fellow NFL prospects.

Stewart saw his work at UConn's pro day ended prematurely due to a hamstring issue but he had healed up well enough to take part in the Yale pro day held earlier this month. I was covering the women's Final Four at the time but talked to one person who was at the event and was told that Stewart did a nice job there. He is also the only other UConn player listed on the CBS Sports database. Stewart also started his collegiate career at Florida. The Gators have nine players listed in ESPN's draft database and 12 listed by CBS Sports so perhaps NFL scouts' familiarity with Florida players could aid Stewart in his quest to continue his collegiate career.

I haven't been hearing too much about Vann but he's played a ton of football for the Huskies and took part in the Tropic Bowl along with defensive end Kenton Adeyemi and guard Tyler Samra.

I really thought that Adeyemi's stock could take a similar jump to what happened a year ago with B.J. McBryde. While he did not have the eye-popping numbers at UConn's pro day that McBryde did, the 300 pounder showed more than enough to make me think that he could land in a camp.

Running back Max DeLorenzo is a player that David Schuman from NUC Sports believes NFL teams should be looking at.

Normally my late April/early May schedule includes watching the NFL draft waiting for UConn players to be drafted. However, my nephew is graduating from the University of Michigan this weekend so I will be out of the loop and my colleagues at the Register will be called upon to provide NFL draft coverage. Staying on that subject, I am not a pro scout but from what I am hearing the top prospects with Connecticut ties are former high school rivals Tyler Matakevich, a Stratford native who played at St. Joseph High in Trumbull, Milford Academy and Temple, and fellow linebacker Don Cherry, a former Trumbull High star who starred at Villanova. It will also be interesting to see if Yale quarterback Morgan Roberts, Branford's Kyle Nolan out of Georgetown and former Notre Dame of West Haven and University of New Hampshire star Sean Goldrich get signed by NFL teams.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

UConn football program records highest APR score

Not only did Bob Diaco get the UConn football program back into a bowl game for the first time since the 2010 season but the Huskies set a program mark with an Academic Progress Rate score of 990 for the 2014-15 academic year.

UConn also has a multi-year APR of 969, the best number since 2005. Central Florida and Navy top the AAC teams with multi-year scores of 983 and 982 followed by Temple (971), Tulane (970), UConn, Memphis (968) and Cincinnati (967). Just using the 2014-15 numbers, Navy (997) leads the way followed by UCF (993), UConn, Memphis (984) and Temple (980).

Here are some other highlights courtesy of the release sent out by UConn

The UConn women’s basketball team, which has won four NCAA national championships in row, posted a 983 score multi-year APR.

The Husky men’s basketball team had an outstanding 978 multi-year APR score, which included the NCAA national championship season of 2013-14. 

The UConn field hockey team, which won a pair of NCAA Championships (2013 and ’14) during this four-year period, had a perfect 1000 score.
The field hockey, the men’s and women’s tennis and golf teams all had perfect 1000 multiyear APR scores while baseball, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, golf, men’s ice hockey, men’s swimming and diving, softball and women’s tennis had perfect scores during the 2014-15 academic year.
A 994 four-year score for the women's lacrosse team, which made its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament in 2013.
A multi-year score of 990 for men's ice hockey with a second-consecutive perfect 1000 in 2014-15 as the team made the transition to Hockey East.

A 974 four-year mark by men's soccer as the team made three-straight appearances in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals.
A 996 four-year mark by women’s soccer and 989 single-year mark during a time in which the team made an appearance in the NCAA Championship.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

North Carolina State announces home and home series with UConn

North Carolina State announced three home and home football series including one with UConn which kicks off with a NC State home game in 2022 with the return game at Rentschler Field in 2023.

The teams have met twice with the Wolfpack winning 31-24 on Oct. 11, 2003 and 10-7 on Sept. 8, 2012. UConn previously announced that it would be playing fellow ACC team Boston College as part of its non-conference schedules in the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

UConn announced that the third annual UConn Football 101 Clinic will be held on June 8 at the Burton Football Family Complex and Mark R. Shenkman Training Center in Storrs. on campus.

The event, open to women aged 21 and over, includes a cocktail hour at 5:30 p.m. featuring a silent auction. The clinic will run from 6:30-9 p.m. and will feature attendees going through football drills conducted by UConn's players and coaches.

The registration cost is $45 ($35 for early registration) and includes a jersey, food, souvenir item and two tickets to a home game this season.

Proceeds of the event will benefit programs for women's cancer prevention and research at UConn Health.

For more information, visit UConnHuskies.com/101clinic

Sunday, April 17, 2016

UConn's Levy finds a home at guard

The situation had the potential for disaster.

Rich Levy, the only returning offensive player to start every game in the last two seasons, was going to be replaced at left tackle by redshirt freshman Matt Peart. The decision was made before the team hit the field for the first spring practice and it is the kind of move that could cause an implosion.

Levy, however, was determined not to put his personal goals over the good of the team. Nobody has been more in Peart's corner than Levy but that still left a question about what was going to happen with Levy.

At one point in spring camp he saw some snaps at left guard both with the first and second teams before giving it the old college try to right guard. It wasn't going to be easy as Trey Rutherford began spring ball as the starting right guard and former starting center Brendan Vechery, whose natural position is guard, was also in the mix. Yet, in Saturday's Blue-White Game it was Levy who got the call as the starting right guard.

"It has been an ongoing battle between left and right for me, I finally transitioned to right and I am getting it down," Levy said.

The 6-foot-6, 319-pound Levy is now lining up next to the 6-foot-8, 319-pound Andreas Knappe to form an imposing right side of the offensive line. Peart (6-7, 291 pounds) and Tommy Hopkins (6-6, 316 pounds) seem entrenched on the left side with the return of Ryan Crozier at center giving UConn the potential of having its best line in recent memory.

Levy is not only attempting to make an impact at guard but he is also trying to be a sounding board for Peart.

"In reality, I feel like Matt has a good grip on that position so me moving to what I feel like is my natural position at right guard, it wasn't that much of a big deal, we all just do what we had to do to win," Levy said.

"We felt like he could make plays, he is a great tackle and if I am at guard, if that is going to help us win, let's do it."

Left tackle is the only offensive line position Levy played in high school and college before the start of spring practice. He admits that things tend to happen much quicker at guard and there are more times when he needs to engage defensive players in space which is something that wasn't the case at left tackle.

"You should be a lot more versatile and be able to play more offensive line (positions) in general," Levy said. "I am coaching them as much as I can, coach myself as much as I can, take coaching as much as I can and keep going."

Earlier in spring practice Peart spoke about his ascension to being the No. 1 left tackle and how much Levy has aided in his learning curve.

"Rich, he has been probably my biggest mentor because he has played the position before and has a ton of experience," Peart said. "Every single time I go 'hey, was my foot work good? Was my second step faster? How about my kick step? Was my base too wide?' I am always asking him tiny little minor details because I am trying to get better because he knows so I always go to him for help."

So what advice does Levy give to UConn's new starting left tackle? 

"I told him to just keep calm, you are going to get it, don't get stressed, don't crack just keep level headed," Levy said. "Whenever he has a question, I help him out."

The way Levy has dealt with losing his starting left tackle spot has not been lost on his teammates.

"It is a testament to him," UConn starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs said. "I think this is his third position this spring so it just shows  he is as an overall linemen to be able to play three different positions and how everybody can accept playing different positions. Our linemen as so diverse that they aren't just stuck to one (position)."

The biggest offensive play in the spring game was a 63-yard touchdown run by Ron Johnson and the play began with Johnson running right, turning the corner, breaking a tackle and breaking free. The video below shows Levy making a block to help spring Johnson.

"He is willing to help the team in any way he can and he is such an amazing leader, vocally and leading by example and to see him to be able to take on different positions and different obstacles throughout his life is amazing," Johnson said. "He is an amazing guy on and off the field.

"Rich being an older guy, he takes guys under his wing, he understands the playbook and makes sure he (shares) that knowledge. He is passing it down, just to listen to him, understand where he is coming from, makes you (realize) everything he is doing is amazing."


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Some thoughts from UConn's spring game

There will be more to write about today's Blue-White Game as well as the interviews after the 28-3 win by the Blue but figured I would pass on some of my observations.

I'll start with the position battles I highlighted in my preview capsule.

What I wrote is in bold with my impressions underneath

The battle for backup quarterback between Garrett Anderson and Tyler Davis
Anderson seems to be the guy here, He did throw a couple of early interceptions while Davis had one of his own but as the game wore on Anderson seemed to get more comfortable. Three of the four touchdown-scoring drives were engineered by Anderson.

The push for the starting safety spot alongside Obi Melifonwu continues to be too close to call with Anthony Watkins, Brice McAllister and Marshe' Terry among the top candidates.
Watkins got the start but with so much underneath stuff utilized in the passing game, there wasn't much of a chance for the safeties to shine. Watkins had one tackle, McAllister had four and Terry three. Third-string safeties led the way as Aaron Garland and Chris Jean-Pierre finished with six tackles each

It will also be a chance to see transfers E.J. Levenberry, a former Florida State linebacker, and Billy Williams, a tight end who played for offensive coordinator Frank Verducci at Northern Iowa on action.
Levenberry had three tackles while Williams finished with three catches for 63 yards

The right offensive guard position also bears watching. Trey Rutherford was the starter at the beginning of spring practice but more recently, Brendan Vechery and Richard Levy have seen time at right guard with the first-team offensive line.
Levy got the start and I will have more on his move to guard likely at some point tomorrow. Levy has seen time at both guard positions during spring practice and seems to have found a home at right guard.

Starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs and top receiver Noel Thomas didn't play long since they were dealing with the flu. Center Ryan Crozier was also not in there as much as the starting offensive linemen.

I mentioned on Wednesday how much quicker tailback Ron Johnson looked in the final spring practice I watched before the spring game. He followed that up with an impressive performance highlighted by a 63-yard run. Johnson finished with 91 yards on nine carries and added four catches for 24 yards. It would aid the offense if both Johnson and Arkeel Newsome are featured in the offensive game plan.

I believe that Cam Stapleton was vastly underutilized a season ago and he was an absolute monster today. His three tackles for loss and two sacks don't even begin to illustrate how dominant he was. If this is a sign of how Stapleton has to be, he needs to get on the field more.

Alec Bloom was the long snapper, Tyler Davis the holder and McAllister joined Newsome on kickoff returns. Brian Lemelle handled the punt returns but had kind of a tough day.

There were some drops by the receivers but it seemed to be a good day for the young wide receivers and tight ends.

Cornerback Javon Hadley had a strong afternoon with nine tackles and an interception while Vanderbilt transfer Tre Bell (who will need to sit out this season due to transfer regulations) and Jalen Stevens also had interceptions.

The crowd was announced at 5,500 which is 2,000 more than last year but considering what a gorgeous day it was, I thought there might be more there today.

It was an interesting mix with former players and some recruits also in attendance.

Not long after the game, UConn received its second commitment in the Class of 2017 when defensive end Rob Saulin committed. Saulin had 10 sacks as a junior at Pennsville (N.J.) Memorial.

Very excited to announce my commitment to play football at the University of Connecticut🏈 @UConnFootball pic.twitter.com/SRDO1clXIF
Media preview

Video look at UConn's spring football game

There will be more content coming later on today and in the coming days after the Blue team defeated the White 28-3 in the annual spring game.

Ron Johnson was the leading rusher with 91 yards on nine carries including 63-yard touchdown and added 24 yards on four receptions while Jason Thompson finished with 40 yards on 11 carries and added 27 yards on a pair of catches.

The workload for starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs (9 of 12 for 95 yards passing, three carries for 38 yards) and top receiver Noel Thomas was a bit limited because they both are dealing with the flu.

Tyraiq Beals had a team-high six catches, Billy Williams had a team-high 63 receiving yards while Hergy Mayala's 48-yard catch was the longest of the day.

Garrett Anderson had a couple of early interceptions but finished 12 of 21 for 191 yards and had a 6-yard scoring run.

Jalen Stevens and Vanderbilt transfer Tre Bell had interceptions as did Javon Hadley to go with his game-high nine tackles while Cam Stapleton and Dallas Parker had two sacks each. The special teams highlight was Bobby Puyol's 47-yard field goal into the wind.

Here are the videos I shot from the event.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

UConn's Myers no stranger to pain

The season-ending ankle injury and subsequent rehabilitation process has not been the best of times for UConn tight end Tommy Myers. However, it is not the first time he has dealt with serious injury or incredible pain.

After Wednesday's spring practice Myers took a trip down memory lane to that time when he broke his jaw and caused plenty of damage to his teeth and mouth during an AAU game in between his sophomore and junior high school seasons.

"Two days after I got my braces off, I went to block a shot and a guy's elbow came down on my face and popped it out,' Myers said. "This one (tooth) right here is dead but it is not fake. It was dangling on my tongue and my dad told me to just push it back up. It actually turned out to be a good thing and they said 'you are going to need stitches too.' I said 'thank you.'

:You play sports and you have to expect injuries to happen, you have to be able to put it behind you."

Myers actually found a silver lining when he suffered the jaw injury.

"That was a process," Myers said. "Thankfully I didn't have to get my jaw wired shut because it was my top jaw."

Myers is back practicing without restriction. In Wednesday's practice his most memorable moment might have come when he teamed with redshirt freshman left tackle Matt Peart to seal the edge so tailback Ron Johnson could scamper untouched down the sideline.

Myers' true value to the UConn offense might have been best illustrated by the number of players pressed into duty to try to replace him following his injury. The UConn coaches used tailbacks (Max DeLorenzo and Josh Marriner), a quarterback (Garrett Anderson), offensive linemen (Steve Hashemi and Trey Rutherford) to try to make up for Myers' loss.

The toughest time for Myers might have come during preparations for the St. Petersburg Bowl. While he was thrilled that the Huskies were able to not only make it to a bowl game but have the additional practices but there was also times when his inability to play made for some frustrating moments.

"It is nice to watch but it sucks to be watching because you just want to be in there and it is how it was," Myers said. "I just wanted to play."

I also spoke to fellow tight end Alec Bloom and will have more on the tight ends leading into Saturday's spring game.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Hamden Hall's Kyle Williams headed to UConn

The UConn coaches did their due diligence during the recruiting process is securing commitments from top in-state prospects Tyler Coyle, Keyion Dixon, Tahj Herring and Jay Rose. However, the number of Connecticut prospects in UConn's incoming freshman is not limited to those four.

Since Bob Diaco's arrival he has been able to get Connecticut players to come into the program as preferred walk-ons and followed up by awarding scholarships to former walk-ons from Connecticut including Sean Marinan, Will Rishell, Jason Thompson and Nick Vitale.

Naugatuck's Bryan Coney and former Valley Regional star Chris Jean-Pierre are walk-ons from Connecticut pushing hard to make UConn's two-deep chart while Diaco couldn'r speak more highly of the progress of another walk-on, quarterback Brandon Bisack, after today's practice.

It is the time to add the name of Hamden Hall's Kyle Williams to the players from Connecticut planning to go the preferred walk-on route.

Williams caught 32 passes for 542 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior but he is expected to be a cornerback according to Hamden Hall coach Joe Linta. Williams had 53 tackles and five interceptions (four in one game against Wilbraham & Monson) during his senior season helping the Hornets to an 8-2 record.

My colleagues at the Register have alerted me to the intentions of Derby running back Rick Bartone (1,665 rushing yards as a senior) and Valley Regional lineman Jack Giaconia plan to take the same path. while Avon's Teddy Allmendinger is also planning to arrive on campus this summer as a preferred walk-on.

We probably won't have the official list of incoming freshman walk-ons until the fall roster is posted.

Impressive show by offense at UConn's practice

Running back Ron Johnson was among the offensive playmakers
who had impressive showings at Wednesday's spring practice
Whether it is during the spring or fall practices I have grown accustomed to seeing the defense dominate the proceedings when the first team units square off or even when the second-team offense meets up against the second-team defense.

That was not always the case today.

Defensive players certainly had their moments including Matt Walsh flying through to stuff Arkeel Newsome for a loss or pass breakups by reserve cornerbacks John Green and Javon Hadley in a span of three plays in a 7 on 7 drill. However, there were more instances of offensive players making their presence known. There was a play when tight end Tommy Myers and left tackle Matt Peart sealed the edge allowing Ron Johnson to race untouched down the sidelines, a couple of tough catches over the middle by tight end Alec Bloom and then a series of impressive catches in the end zone by redshirt freshman Frank Battle. The young receivers each had moments to shine while Johnson continues to catch the ball better than I have ever seen him and today especially he looked to be a step quicker.

"We as an offense wanted to set the tone," tight end Tommy Myers said.."Just because you are a year older doesn't mean you are going to be better. Me especially, I just focused on the little things, working on your craft and it really shows out on the field, the excitement to play football so it is nice."
It should be noted that the last time I was at practice (which was a while back due to my women's basketball coverage) that Trey Rutherford was starting at right guard but today former starting center Brendan Vechery and starting tackle Richard Levy split time with the first team while Rutherford worked with the second team.

"It is looking pretty good, we are doing a lot of great stuff in the spring," Bloom said. "They are getting a lot better in the spring which is the goal of the whole offense.

"We have a lot of guys back so we are older, we are more mature and we are trying to lead the team be the real driving (force) of the team."

UConn coach Bob Diaco said that linebacker Chris Britton has been the team's most improved player.

"He was not functional, could not function and now he can," Diaco said. "He looks like a guy who can go into the game, play plays and be a liability. He keeps growing the way he is growing, he is definitely going to play this year."

Diaco tends to accentuate the positive in his dealings with the media so it is normal to anticipate that he is going to say how much he likes the progress he has seen. That is exactly what was said and here are some of his thoughts.

"There really is not a guy who hasn't gotten better which has manifested itself into a collection of positive plays," Diaco said. "It has been more crisp moving team in all three phases and there is more clarity."