Thursday, September 15, 2016

UConn grooming Donovan Williams as quarterback of the future

The words uttered by coaches on national signing day can often be little more than idle chatter. If the words are taken at face value, each recruit signed would be a three-year starter and All-American candidate.

However, when Bob Diaco said, "there are others who could quarterback our team but Donovan (Williams) is "the" quarterback, he was brought in for that purpose. It could be argued whether he was a national recruit but he was close. He was a 20-40 offer player, a spectacular young man, high achiever in all areas. He make all the throws, athletic, fast and every time I see him he gets bigger" this was not just typical signing day hype.

Fast forward to this week and during both Tuesday's and Wednesday's practice and there was Williams gets reps with either the first or second team offense. He wasn't in there a ton but he was getting the chance to go up against the No. 1 defense in 11 on 11 drills and not as the quarterback of the scout team which would be normal operating procedure.

When I spoke with offensive coordinator Frank Verducci after Wednesday's practice, the first question I had pertained to Williams' chance to work with the top offensive units.

"Any benefit we can give him as far being exposed to the varsity to bring him along, that is what we are trying to do right now," Verducci said. "Obviously if there is an apocalypse plan because you have plans for everything ... so you want to get him exposed as much as possible. If he never plays a down this year, he is going to start in spring ball at a level so much higher than he would have been if we just put him on the scout team the whole year. He is obviously a great physical talent."

Let's be honest here, UConn does not want to put Williams into a game this season. In a perfect world, he gets to redshirt this season, he moves into the role as No. 2 quarterback next season and then takes over as the Huskies' signal caller during the 2018 season.

Williams roomed with starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs during preseason camp which was another smart move since it allowed him to spend plenty of time with the team's starting quarterback and one of its four captains.

"Donovan's a great kid," Shirreffs said after Tuesday's practice. "A really good kid, he stays quiet but once you get to know him, you learn who he is. He is a really hard worker and a pleasure to be around."

Another youngster who earned praise from veteran players and coaches was sophomore receiver Aaron McLean. Both Shirreffs and senior receiver Noel Thomas raved about the block McLean threw on one play and he had a key 24-yard catch on the final drive of the game. What I didn't realize until talking to Verducci was that those were McLean's only two plays in the game.

"McLean is really the exceptional one because he played two plays," Verducci said. "One play he did a kickout block like a fullback and puts the guy on the ground. The other play, he catches a 24-yard pass so give credit to him for his preparation and staying in the game. He had every excuse to not be focused but when those guys got gassed on the two-minute drill, he goes in and makes a play. It is not a scripted play, it is a scramble, it is an adjustment and he makes an adjustment and makes a play."

Those are the types of plays that should get McLean more than two snaps of playing time in the future.

Verducci chose his words carefully about how junior running back Arkeel Newsome has been utilized in the first two games but it was noteworthy that Newsome's 10 touches in the Navy game were the fewest for the former Ansonia High star since the third game of last season when he had two carries and one catch in a loss at Missouri. Newsome averaged 22 touches per game for the rest of the season. Playing time is earned during practice and Newsome hasn't been flashing as much the practices this year as he did a season ago but it is clear he is still a key piece of the offensive game plan. I would expect him to get more than the 10 touches he had against Navy on Saturday as the UConn coaches hope that he can return to being one of the most explosive playmakers on the team.

"Ron has shown some growth and we are happy with that but for us to be as good as we can be, both of those guys have to have a contribution," Verducci said.

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