Saturday, March 26, 2016

UConn's McAllister adjusting to life as a safety

Brice McAllister's initial reaction when the UConn coaching staff informed him that they wanted to move to safety was a certain amount of excitement at the prospects of getting onto the field. It wasn't long thereafter, however, when the reality of the move began to sink in.

When McAllister was playing cornerback, there was plenty of film to watch but usually it centered around what he was doing right or wrong. With the move to safety, he not only began to watch more film but had to watch other players and positions since the safeties are responsible for making so many defensive calls.

"The hardesrt part is probably the whole communication aspect," McAllister said. "When you play corner, all you have to do is listen but at safety. I make all the calls. Almost every night after practice or after dinner I will go and watch film and see what I could have done better that day."

The move of McAllister and Aaron Garland from cornerback to safety did not come as huge surprises considering that of the six safeties who saw defensive snaps a season ago, only starter Obi Melifonwu and reserve Anthony Watkins return. With the return of starters Jamar Summers and Jhavon Williams in addition to key reserves like Javon Hadley and John Green.

"He (UConn coach Bob Diaco) just saw this opportunity for me to get on the field and we were a little short at the safety position," McAllister said. "It is definitely an exciting opportunity and I am going to make the most of it."

McAllister admits that he is relying heavily on Melifonwu, who is not only the most experienced safety on the team but one of the most game-tested players on the 2016 UConn squad.

"I have been looking up to Obi a lot in my workouts and Tony, another safety, he has been helping me out a lot with the calls," McAllister said.

McAllister has been working mostly with the second-team defense but did see some time with the starters at Thursday's spring practice. It is too early to tell whether McAllister, current starter Watkins or another player will line up next to Melifonwu when the season gets rolling.

"Brice is a smart kid and that is one of the reasons why we moved him, we knew we could handle it," UConn defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter said. "We are excited about his progress, he and Tony are doing a really good job right now so we will see how it pans out the rest of camp.

"Both of them will have to play, I'll have to get them ready to play as far who starts and who doesn't start, we'll just have to see but both of them will have to play."

Poindexter was an outstanding safety during his days at Virginia and had an impressive enough of a career to land on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot so he has a rather decent understanding of what it takes to play safety at the collegiate level.

"You are looking at the game from a different angle, now you are back in the center of the field while at corner you are on the edge, everything you are looking in at it," Poindexter said. "When you are a safety, you get more checks, you are running the defense, you are the quarterback of the defense and have a lot more stuff going on. There's a lot more communication, really at corner you don't have to say a word. They got it running and driving so it is new for them."

Another thing about McAllister I meant to get to last season was when he changed his number to 16. I thought it may be a way for him paying tribute to one of his mentors, Byron Jones who is now with the Dallas Cowboys but he said that is not the exactly the case.

"I wanted 26 when I got here but Josh (Marriner) wore it but Byron had a great season so I said 'I play DB, I'll put on 16.'"

McAllister admitted that the first couple of days of spring practice weren't the easiest but with each passing day he is getting more accustomed to his new position.

"I feel like I know what I am doing now.," McAllister said. "The first couple of days, I was a little iffy, I was unsure about things but now I know what I am doing and can run full speed."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Shirreffs excited to air it again at UConn practice

During the first spring practice the media was able to witness, starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs did take part but to say he was limited would be understating things just a bit. There were no such issues today as he was making throws down the field and even took off on a scamper resulting in a touchdown on 11 on 11 drills.

While the right wrist he injured in the St. Petersburg Bowl continues to be taped, he was able to make the deep throws in practice without having any issues.

"I think things are looking really good," Shirreffs said. "I am really happy where I am personally and where my body is. I am excited to keep making strides in spring, I am really excited to be working with a lot of the same guys as last year and we are getting to see our work in the offseason really pay off in the first couple practices of spring.

"The first time I threw was the first week of spring practice and ever since then I had found I have been making strides. I feel really good about it, my arm is fresh. Today was the first day I threw any balls over 30 yards and it feels good. I'll ice my arm up just to be sure but I feel great mentally and physically."

Two guys that jumped out at me in terms of catching the ball at today's practice were tight end Alec Bloom and receiver Tyriaq Beals who figure to be vital cogs in UConn's passing game this season.

"I've had a lot of a lot of classes with Bloom so I am around Bloom all the time and it is awesome to see him succeeding," Shirreffs said. "He is moving really well and his hands are working extremely well. Beals is as explosive as ever and all the guys are doing great, everybody is doing really well."

I will have a story on how redshirt freshman Matt Peart is handling his role as the starting left tackle in tomorrow's paper. The starting offensive line was the same with Peart and Andreas Knappe at tackles, Tommy Hopkins and Trey Rutherford at guards at Ryan Crozier at center.

I also caught up with Brice McAllister to discuss his adjustment going from cornerback to safety. I hope to have a blog about that posted tomorrow but with it being media access day for the women's basketball regionals in Bridgeport, we'll have to see how hectic it gets. McAllister did see a few first-team reps although it was mostly Anthony Watkins who continues to line up next to Obi Melifonwu. Omaine Stephens received snaps with the first-team defense at linebacker while the rest of the starters (Ormsby-Fatukasi-Myers-Carrezola-Joseph-Walsh-Summers-Williams-Meifonwu-Watkins) remained the same as they were during the first practice.

Third-string corner John Robinson had back to back impressive plays drawing a positive reaction from the veteran defensive backs on the team.

Starting tight end Tommy Myers continues to work his way back. He continues to do some long snapping and UConn coach Bob Diaco discussed the progress Myers has been making.

"I don't know what percentage (Myers is physically) but it is mostly feel and strength because structurally he is sound, he healed really well," Diaco said.

Pretty much all of the locally based incoming freshmen were at today's practice including Jay Rose, Keyion Dixon, Tyler Coyle and Nino Leone.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Departing UConn players excited about Huskies' future

The main objective for 10 seniors on the 2015 UConn football team was to open the eyes of the NFL scouts who headed to Storrs for UConn's pro day.

However, there was also a chance for a bit of reflection and belief that they left a program on the rise.

"It is awesome, this is where we started so the fact that we get to perform in front of NFL scouts, trying to live our dream too so it is a nice way to go out," defensive lineman Julian Campenni said.

"I am looking at the (St. Petersburg Bowl) banner up there, the picture and I think we set a good foundation and the team this year is going to carry from where we left off."

Other than Tyler Samra, the other players taking part in the pro day were fifth-year seniors so they had chance to spend all of their time preparing for the workouts in front of the pro scouts.
"We all kind of split up for two months and now we came back together trying to get a job," DeLorenzo said. "It is will be interesting to see where everybody lands but no matter what, we are still family."
Speaking of going their separate ways, UConn is currently on spring break so after holding two spring practices, there is a bit of a gap before the next practice.

The next practice the media will be allowed into is on Mar. 23. It will be interesting to see if the pecking order when the team takes the field. I will be especially interested in how the redshirt freshmen, especially on defense perform. Philippe Okounam and Kevin Murphy were working with the second-team defensive line along with redshirt sophomore Sheriden Lawley with Cam Stapleton and Omaine Steohens were playing the defensive end/outside linebacker positions.

How quickly Connor Freeborn and Nazir Williams emerge and if they can ultimately push Vontae Diggs for a starting spot at that hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position is worth monitoring while William Richardson is a player I am intrigued by at the inside linebacker position as is Marshe' Terry at safety. Defensive lineman David Ryslik was seeing some second-team work a season ago but was limited in the first spring practice. Once he is fully cleared, I expect him to figure prominently in the defensive line rotation.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Potential new role could be a snap for UConn's Walsh

One of the true constants of the 2015 UConn football season was that brilliant work by long snapper Dom Manco.

Looking back, I don't recall a snap that forced holder Tim Boyle to struggle to get the ball down on extra points or field goals. There were no issues with his snaps on punts either. However, Manco's graduation left a hole to fill. There was a thought that walk-on James Bedell, who was Manco's backup, would be the favorite to assume the role but he has also moved on.

Nick Zecchino was recruited to be a long snapper but he won't be on the practice field until August so I was rather curious how the position was going to be addressed during spring camp.

My answer came late during the first spring practice on Wednesday when linebacker Matt Walsh and tight ends Alec Bloom and Tommy Myers were taken off to the side and worked on long snapping. Myers is still working his way back from injury so we'll see if he is in the mix when he is fully cleared. Bloom was the first guy out there when UConn worked on punting during the practice followed by Walsh.

I asked Walsh, a former Hand High School star, is he had ever been a long snapper.

"Never," Walsh said. "It was the first time I tried it. Obviously we are setting up (for a good season), our standards are higher every year so if I can help long snapping, I will do that too."

Walsh, who came to UConn as a fullback, moved to linebacker last year and it wasn't long before he was pushing team captain Marquise Vann for playing time and a starting spot. Following Vann's graduation, Walsh entered spring camp as a starting linebacker. Walsh and Junior Joseph combined to make 140 tackles last season and they looked right at home working with the starting defense.

:Coming in for the second year and I really understand the defense from a bigger picture instead of memorizing it assignment wise," Walsh said. "Now the next step for me and everybody else on the defense is understanding everything from a higher level and knowing what all the guys are doing around us and trust what our personal job is.

"You develop a chemistry, a trust that you know your brother is going to be next to you when you need them. All the other guys proved it in the game and it kind of shows in practice. All we can do now is fly around and kind of have fun with it."

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Transfers fitting in nicely at UConn

A year ago the duo of E.J. Levenberry and Billy Williams were little more than a curious tandem of talented prospects without a chance to show what they were capable on game days.

Levenberry and Williams were mainstays of UConn's scout team throughout the 2015 season as they were forced to sit out the year after transferring from Florida State and Northern Iowa.

Well, the waiting is finally over.

Williams, who played current UConn offensive coordinator when both were at Northern Iowa during the 2014 season, saw plenty of work with the first team offense and made some impressive catches during the first spring practice.

"Billy is just a football player," UConn coach Bob Diaco said. "I would say that when I first met him he hated working out now he just dislikes it but he loves to play football, he is a football playing dude. He likes to block, he is animated, he runs good routes, he has soft hands, he is aggressive, competitive, he is a good teammate, he is helpful."

The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Williams is one of two players on the current roster listed to play the "F" position which is a fullback/tight end/h-back hybrid. The only other "F' on the roster is redshirt freshman Zordan Holman, who was among the injured players who did not take part in the first practice so that only increased Williams' snap count.

The native of Knoxville, Tennessee is thrilled to be out on the field as much as possible.

"I just really want to make plays so I have to do whatever I can to go out and (contribute)," Williams said.

So what will Williams bring to the UConn offense?

"My versatility, I can go down field, I have been working on my blocking in the offseason so that is where I am trying to get better," Williams said.

Williams caught two passes at Northern Iowa during the 2014 campaign. One of them went for 58 yards and the other one for 36 so he knows something about making plays in a vertical passing game. It doesn't hurt that Verducci was his position coach at UNI and he is not only calling the plays for UConn but also works with the tight ends.

"It is the exact same thing so it wasn't a big change for me," Williams said. "Where I line up is where I usually lined up at UNI so basically it is the same kind of offense.

"It helps me out a lot because some of the terminology changed but the plays didn't change. I know what to do and I know how to do my job. I still make mistakes but it is easier to correct them."

I didn't catch up with any of the the assistant coaches today but I spoke to Verducci about Williams back in August.

Williams actually reached out to Verducci to see if he could place to call to Memphis since that was school he was interested in. Verducci suggested that if he was going to transfer to a team in the American Athletic Conference, why not join him at UConn.

"I know the type of young man Billy is," Verducci said. "I know his skill set and he is going to be a nice addition to the team,.I think he is the type of young man we want in the program."

As much as Verducci likes Williams personally, the feeling going back the other way might be even stronger.

"He is father figure so every day he is telling me that either I did something good or I am doing something bad," Williams said. "He is always on me which is a good thing."

Williams' work a year ago was so impressive that he was named UConn's Scout Team Player of the Year. The scout team offense would try to emulate the first-team offense of the upcoming opponent to give the starting defense a sneak peek at what was coming up. It is a role that Williams took to heart.

"I just tried to make the defense better every day because Coach Diaco told us that we are just as important as the starters," Williams said. "I went out there every day trying to get better."

Last year UConn was forced to use players not naturally suited for the "F" position especially after Tommy Myers was lost for the season. Running backs Max DeLorenzo and Josh Marriner, offensive lineman Trey Rutherford and Steve Hashemi as well as quarterback Garrett Anderson saw time there. Diaco is excited to have a player like Williams, who is perfectly suited to that position, to have on the field.

"It is incredibly helpful," Diaco said. "Imagine trying to do this job without your recorder or I took your pen and your recorder, you'd be trying to figure out how to remember everything I just said so anytime you lose a tool for the trade, you have a job to do and anytime you lose that opportunity, you have a whole other set of problems and less production."

Levenberry could be one of the more high-profile transfers the Huskies have received in recent memory since he was the ninth leading tackler on the 2013 Florida State team which won the national championship. Levenberry had 39 tackles that season and 21 during the 2014 campaign.

He was working with the second team during today's practice and when he was on the sidelines, he would be in the ear of players like Cam Stapleton, Junior Joseph and Matt Walsh since they are more familiar with the defensive system than he is.

While there might be some who think he would immediately be plugged into the starting linebacker position which is open following the graduation of Graham Stewart, Levenberry knows he will have to earn his playing time.

"It is the thing I live by, it was instilled by my parents as a kid," Levenberry said. "You don't get anything (handed to you), you have to work to earn everything and that is what my teammates are here to do, we are all out here to work and bring our part to the team."

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UConn's first spring practice in the books

Practice No. 1 of the spring wrapped a little more than 30 minutes ago.

Here are some of my thoughts

First, Ryan Crozier is back, healthy and was UConn's starting center. He will be the focus of the story I am writing for tomorrow's paper because there might not be a more important piece on this UConn team than Crozier.

Bryant Shirreffs did work with the first team offense but UConn is going to limit his reps to allow him to get healthy.

Redshirt freshman Matt Peart was the starting left tackle over two-year starter Richard Levy and to say the coaches are excited about what he brings to the team would an understatement of incredible proportions. Trey Rutherford and Tommy Hopkins were the guards while Andreas Knappe started at right tackle. It is dangerous to read too much into who is working with the first team on the first day of spring but I did notice walk-on Tom Tabur at guard with the second team.

Tight end Billy Williams, a transfer out of Northern Iowa, will make an impact on the offense this season. He made a few catches down the field and I also caught up with him and fellow transfer E.J. Levenberry.

Defensively, Vontae Diggs at linebacker and Anthony Watkins at safety were with the first team along with the usual suspects (Cole Ormsby, Foley Fatukasi, Mikal Myers, Luke Carrezola, Matt Walsh, Junior Joseph, Obi Melifonwu, Jamar Summers and Jhavon Williams). Diggs brings plenty of speed to the UConn defense and he flashed that at times today. Summers also got in some work at punt returner.

The safety position intrigues me. Melifonwu is going to continue to make plays but I am curious who will line up next to him. Redshirt freshman Marshe' Terry and former cornerback Brice McAllister were the second-team safeties.

With no long snappers in camp following the graduation of Dom Manco and the departure of walk-on James Bedell, Walsh and Alec Bloom are being schooled in how to handle that role. Tommy Myers, when he is fully cleared, could be in the mix as well. It will give UConn options rather than just expecting incoming freshman Nick Zecchino to come in and be the long snapper.

"It was the first time I tried it," Walsh said. "Obviously we are setting up (for a good season), our standards are higher every year so if I can help long snapping, I will do that too."
The practice ended with 11 on 11 work and the highlight was Connor Freeborn's interception of Tyler Davis which was brought back for a TD.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Mixed results for state products at UConn pro day

The three in-state products couldn't have had more diverse experiences during today's pro day at UConn.

Coming in I felt like Wethersfield's Kenton Adeyemi could blaze a path into an NFL training camp much like fellow former UConn defensive lineman B.J. McBryde did a year ago.

Adeyemi certainly seemed to be enough to remain on the radar of the NFL teams. He was especially pleased with his 31-inch vertical jump. He also had a solid time of 4.9 in the 40-yard dash and his 29 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press was second only to Julian Campenni's 31.

"I came in feeling like I have to get 30 (in the vertical) and I surprised myself," Adeyemi said.."B.J. and I always competed when he was here and he is one of my very good friends so him coming in and doing what he did, I knew we are similar in athleticism. They liked what he did so much so I thought I could come out here and blow up as well."

It's been a productive couple of months for Adeyemi. He draw some rave reviews for his play in the Tropic Bowl in January and then got to work out alongside top NFL draft prospects at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

"I went down to the Tropic Bowl and said 'I am this kid from UConn and I can play,'" Adeyemi said. "I think I did well for myself down there. It is a real nice place, a lot of alumni came through there. I really appreciate everything they did for me so I tried to come out here and make them proud."

Adeyemi would have loved to join some of his workout partners at the NFL scouting combine but not being invited has only made him work even harder.

"Pretty much you go into it with a chip on your shoulder," Adeyemi said. "I didn't get a combine invite, I wasn't regarded in that world so come out here and show them that they should have invited me and I can play too."

So what's next for Adeyemi?

"Get yourself into a camp. Once you get yourself into a camp, that is all you need, take advantage of that opportunity because it may never come again."

Durham's Graham Stewart was set to make the necessary steps to impress the scouts from the 18 NFL teams in attendance. He was off to a good start with a 35-inch vertical, 19 reps in the bench press but as he was clocking a 4.68 in the 40-yard dash, he tweaked something in his left hamstring. With the short and long shuttles, 3-cone drill and positional work yet to come, Stewart's job interview was abruptly cut short.

"It is tough to really grasp how I feel about it right now," Stewart said. "I am devastated but at the same time I am cheering on these other guys.

"This is kind of your last chance to show what you've got, do your thing. I am sure it means a lot to these other guys, they are doing awesome.

Berlin's Max DeLorenzo was one of the last players on the playing surface inside the UConn practice facility. He made a beautiful catch of a pass of about 40 yards and had strong showings in the agility drills. His times in the 3-cone drill (6.96), 20-yard shuttle (4.23) and 60-yard shuttle (11.65) would have placed him third, sixth and eighth among running backs at the NFL combine.

"I've been training two months for this so once I we got out here, it was a lot different and we were doing what we love to do," DeLorenzo said. "It was great. We all kind of split up for two months and now we came back together trying to get a job. It is will be interesting to see where everybody lands but no matter what, we are still family."

DeLorenzo's day ended with a discussion with a pro scout. However, it wasn't one of them from the NFL but from the Kansas City Royals who use football pro days to try to find prospects.

DeLorenzo admitted that he gave up playing baseball before he enrolled at Berlin High School.

Job interview day for 2015 UConn seniors

Just wrapped up nearly three hours of watching, interviewing and shooting video of UConn's pro day.

While there weren't as many scouts as last year when Byron Jones brought out representatives from nearly every team as well as a pair of head coaches, more than 20 NFL teams and the Major League Baseball's Kansas City Royals (who certainly deserve credit for thinking outside the box) made their way to Storrs..

The star of the day was clearly safety Junior Lee. I was standing next to a pair of scouts as Lee walked up for his first of two vertical jumps. "Watch this, this will be a 36" one of them said. Two jumps later and Lee had the best leap of the day at 37 inches and the scout basically delivered a "I told you so" line.

Lee also a 10-6 in the broad jump and 4.50 in the 40. His numbers would have tied him for third in the 40, fourth in the broad jump and fifth in the vertical among safeties had he gone to the NFL scouting combine.

"I came out and performed, exactly what I was striving for," Lee said. "It is amazing, when you are in position and adrenaline starts to rush through your boy, you do better than you thought you could do."

Safety Andrew Adams and defensive lineman Kenton Adeyemi were the two players I thought were at the top of the list of UConn prospects at today's pro day and I think they both did well enough to keep the interest from the pro scouts.

Adams ran 4.54 and 4.53 in the 40, did 24 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press, had a 9-10 broad jump and 32 inches in the vertical (not 37 as I previously posted on Twitter).

Adeyemi had a 31-inch effort in the vertical, 9-5 in the broad jump and a 4.90 40-yard time.

There was a strong showing in the bench press led by Julian Campenni's 31 reps. Adeyemu had 29, Tyler Samra 27, Paul Nwokeji and Marquise Vann 25 each and Adams checked in a 4.

The news wasn't all good. Graham Stewart, who had a 35-inch vertical, tweaked his left hamstring running a 4.68 in the 40 so he didn't do any of the other running events or the position drills. He was obviously devastated to have his day cut short.

"It is tough to really grasp how I feel about it right now," Stewart said. "I am devastated but at the same time I am cheering on these other guys.

"This is kind of your last chance to show what you've got, do your thing. I am sure it means a lot to these other guys, they are doing awesome."
Here are the videos I shot

Monday, March 07, 2016

Look ahead to start of UConn's spring practice

Spring practice kicks off on Wednesday morning and I thought it was the perfect time to throw out there some of the storylines that I am most interested in

Replacing Adams: UConn played six safeties a season ago and four of them are gone including former captain Andrew Adams and his top backup Junior Lee. Obi Melifonwu should be one of the best safeties in the American Athletic Conference but who will be playing beside him? Anthony Watkins is the only returning player other than Melifonwu to see snaps at safety, Brice McAllister was moved from cornerback to safety as has redshirt freshman Aaron Garland while Marshe' Terry also figures to compete for time. It also bears watching to see if former Valley Regional star Chris Jean-Pierre can work his way into the equation.

Transfers become eligible: Last year linebacker E.J. Levenberry and tight end Billy Williams were limited to playing on UConn's "look" team after transferring in from Florida State and Northern Iowa respectively. Levenberry played 26 games at Florida State and recorded 60 tackles, two tackles for loss and returned an interception 78 yards for a touchdown. He certainly looks the part and with the graduation of starting linebackers Graham Stewart and Marquise Vann, there is an opportunity for him to step in and make an impact. Williams was named the team's Look Team Player of the Year and he was coached by UConn offensive coordinator Frank Verducci at Northern Iowa so there is already a sense of familiarity there.

Return of Crozier: It is not a reach to suggest that in the final few games of the 2014 season that true freshman Ryan Crozier was the Huskies' most effective offensive lineman. An injury caused Crozier to miss the entire 2015 season but he is back and should add some punch to the interior of the offensive line. It will be interesting to see where Crozier fits in. He had moved from guard to center but in his place Brendan Vechery played pretty well and Tommy Hopkins had a solid year as a first-year starter at guard. With Trey Rutherford coming hard and Crozier returning, there will be some decisions to be made.

Redshirts ready to roll: Other than the one drill when the players not on UConn's two-deep chart had a spirited scrimmage during one of the final practices before the Huskies left to play in the St. Petersburg Bowl, it was hard to get a read on how good the players who were redshirting were going to be. That will no longer be the case. Terry and Garland have already been mentioned as a potential starting safety candidates. I am also anxious to see how offensive lineman Matt Peart and defensive lineman David Ryslik fare. It was hard not to notice how quickly the two true freshmen moved up as both spent a good part of fall camp working with the second team. Ryslik is not the only redshirt freshman with a chance to become a part of the two-deep chart on the defensive line as Philippe Okounam, Kevin Murphy and Trey Blackwell are weight at least 285 pounds and will have the chance to show what they can do. Linebackers William Richardson, Nazir Williams and Connor Freeborn came into UConn with a certain amount of hype and after spending a year getting used to the speed of the college game as well as bulking up in UConn's sports performance program, I'd say at least one of them will end up in the two-deep chart for the season opener. Tyler Davis can use spring practice to make a push for the No. 2 quarterback spot, cornerback John Robinson, receivers Frank Battle and Bryan Coney and offensive linemen Bryan Cespedes and Ian Campbell as well as h-back/tight end Zordan Holman are players keeping an eye on although Holman was a bit hobbled the last time I saw him so we'll see if he is limited during spring drills.

F position set to make the grade: A year ago the Huskies seemed to be a bit handicapped offensively because of the lack of the player they were looking for to play the hybrid h-back/fullback position. They tried tailbacks, offensive linemen and even quarterback Garrett Anderson there. However, with Williams and Holman listed as "F" position players and listed at 245 and 250 pounds, they have a chance to play the position the way it was designed by the offensive staff. My hunch is that Williams will be good enough to enable Tommy Myers (another player who could be slowed physically at the beginning of spring camp) to focus more on his tight end position rather than be asked to fill multiple roles. More options at the F position will be arriving in the summer and fall so spring practice is a perfect time for Williams and Holman to showcase their talents.

Friday, March 04, 2016

10 players slated to take part in UConn pro day

Former UConn captains Andrew Adams, Julian Campenni and Marquise Vann are among 10 players expected to take part in UConn's pro day on Tuesday.

Kenton Adeyemi, Max DeLorenzo, Junior Lee, Dom Manco, Paul Nwokeji, Tyler Samra and Graham Stewart are also expected to work out in front of pro scouts.

Adams could be the player who draws the most attention from the pro scouts although Adeyemi could be an under the radar prospect similar to B.J. McBryde last year. While openings for long snappers are hard to come by, the performance of Manco last season when I can't recall an errant snap might create some interest as well.

The NFL Draft Scout site, which I have found to be a decent gauge of lower round and free agent prospects list Adams as the 18th best free safety and Stewart as No. 41 among inside linebackers with Adams checking in at No. 391 and Stewart at No. 851 in the overall rankings.

The pro day is open to the media but not to the general public although anybody with a Twitter account should be able to get plenty of updates as the event rolls on.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Benedict ready to embrace challenges as UConn's athletic director

On the surface, who wouldn't want to take over a program which has won 16 national championships since 1999 and 20 overall.

However, newly-hired David Benedict is aware that these are trying times. During the question and answer portion of the Tuesday morning press conference announcing his hiring, every inquiry he faced centered around getting the Huskies into a Power 5 Conference.

"This is a Power 5 or if you want to refer to it as an Autonomy 5 program all day every day," Benedict said. "We have success in winning national championships. We have a supportive president and leader and we have donors who that are willing to support these unbelievable facilities we are currently sitting in. I think from a conference affiliation standpoint, our job is to make sure we are competing and dominating whatever conference that we are currently competing in."

Benedict, who comes to UConn after spend two years as the Chief Operating Officer for the athletic department at Auburn, knew what he was getting into. He walked the line between putting UConn in position to be a part of the next stage conference realignment and not disrespecting the American Athletic Conference.

"I think it is important for us to be good partners with our current conference," Benedict said. "I think the American has done a great job putting together a very strong conference in a very short period of time and we are going to be great members to that conference. At the same time, we are going to make sure we position ourselves so we can remain competitive nationally in all of our sports.

"We are going to compete at everything. I just want to repeat that, we are going to compete at everything. We are going to win on the field and in courts of play and we are going to win in the classroom. Academic excellence has to be a top priority and we are going to do it the right way."

Benedict has held down prominent position at Power 5 programs including Arizona State, Minnesota and Auburn but has also worked at Virginia Commonwealth and Long Beach. It was the wide ranging amount of experienced and programs he has been a part of that helped to make him such an enticing candidate to replace Warde Manuel, who is headed to Michigan.

"He brings a national network, no question about it," UConn President Susan Herbst said. "He knows amazing people. He knows people at that level and it is very important to us.

Benedict said he has been involved in the process resulting in his hiring for about four weeks.

"The last few days have certainly been a whirlwind," Benedict said. "It has been great. I am really trying to slow it down a little bit, enjoy it. This is going to be a once in a lifetime thing for me. I will never be a first-time athletic director again. It is very important to me, it is something I have been working towards for 20 years so I felt like I won the national championship today."