Tuesday, January 31, 2017

UConn lands another in-state prospect

This has been one hellacious recruiting cycle at UConn with the change of coaches and I mean every single coach from Bob Diaco's staff being replaced by Randy Edsall and his new staff.

Predictably there have been some recruits who have opted to go elsewhere, most doing so while still being on the Huskies recruiting radar but obviously that is not the case for all them.

There was a key addition of former South Carolina running back David Williams that at worst provides depth at tailback and at best gives the Huskies another running back to feature in what will be a different looking offense, I am sure. There was also depth concerns at quarterback and some of that has been rectified with word that junior college quarterback David Pindell (who was also being recruited by Temple) has committed to UConn (I believe Mike Anthony of the Hartford Courant was the first to report this).

Now comes news that All-State linebacker TJ Gardner, a former Boston College commit, will sign with the Huskies tomorrow.

I would like to officially announce that tomorrow I will be signing my NLI to play for the UCONN Huskies 🐺🐾 #BleedBlue

Gardner had 65 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries and an interception as a senior at Windsor High School as the Warriors recorded six shutouts. He also ran for 1,142 yards and 17 touchdowns while adding 31 catches for 438 yards and four more TDs for a team which advanced to the Class L title game.

There are five players who committed to UConn before the 2016 season who are expected to be part of the incoming recruiting class including early enrollee Omar Fortt. Four other players including three offensive linemen committed from the end of the season and the time that Diaco was fired and eight others (nine counting Williams) who committed after Edsall was hired.

Unfortunately, I won't be at tomorrow's press conference when the recruiting class becomes official. I am currently in Philadelphia as the UConn women's basketball team plays at Temple but my colleague David Borges is slated to be at the press conference and there will be plenty of signing day content coming from our top-notch high school staff as well.

There will be updates on the UConn football Twitter page as the letters start rolling in and the press conference can be seen live. Check out www.uconnhuskies.com for details.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Former UConn commit Ryan Dickens headed to Lafayette

There may not be a high school football player who attracting more attention during this recruiting cycle than former UConn commit Ryan Dickens, who according to those close to him had his scholarship pulled by the new staff.

National media weighed in on the subject and more than a few haymakers were thrown in Randy Edsall's direction for pulling the rug for under Dickens.

Well, the story has a happy ending as the linebacker out of Raritan High School in Hazlet, N.J. announced on his Twitter account that he has committed to Lafayette.

Lafayette is coached by former NFL assistant coach John Garrett, the brother of Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett.

As for UConn, the Huskies are hitting the home stretch with 16 known commitments (including transfer running back David Williams). If my math is correct, the Huskies could have as many as 24 players signing which includes Omar Fortt, who is already enrolled at UConn.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Former UConn star Melifonwu opening eyes at Senior Bowl practices

On weigh-in day at the Senior Bowl, former UConn safety Obi Melifonwu created quite the buzz when he was measured at 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds without an ounce of fat to be seen.

He backed that up with some strong efforts at practices for the North team.

NFL Network's draft analysts Mike Mayock and Daniel Jeremiah said after one play "is that Melifonwu again?"

There was a play when Melifonwu came flying in to hit former Michigan running back De'Veon Smith on a red-zone drill. Although Smith scored on the play, that didn't stop Mayock and Jeremiah from continuing to heap praise on UConn's leading tackler during the 2016 season.

"Let me tell you something, this fellow Melifonwu from UConn at 6-4, 219 has got some outstanding range," Mayock said.

"I don't care that he scored right there, I am just looking at a guy burst from the middle of the field."

It should be noted that around this time a couple years ago Byron Jones was being touted as a second-day pick in the NFL draft when some impressive workouts led to him soaring into the first round. With the way people are talking up Melifonwu, there's a decent chance to he makes a run at being a first rounder as well.

I did some number crunching and UConn has had six defensive backs taken in the NFL draft since 2008 which is tied for 17th. If you look at the list of teams ahead of the Huskies, most of them are getting the elite defensive backs to come to their school. According to www.rivals.com, Melifonwu didn't even make the national rankings even if he was one of nine three-star recruits in the class signed by UConn in 2012.

Here's the list
LSU 14
Alabama 11
Clemson 11
Ohio State 11
Florida State 9
Virginia Tech 9
Nebraska 8
Notre Dame 8
West Virginia 8
Florida 7
Georgia 7
Iowa 7
Oklahoma 7
Oregon 7
Oregon State 7
Boise State 6
Cal 6
Rutgers 6
South Carolina 6
South Florida 6
Syracuse 6
Texas 6
UConn 6
Utah 6
Arizona 5
Arizona State 5
Auburn 5
Louisville 5
Miami 5
North Carolina State 5
Oklahoma State 5
Wake Forest 5

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Former South Carolina RB transferring to UConn

Former South Carolina running back David Williams announced on social media that he was transferring to UConn.

Proud to announce that I will be joining the Husky Family‼️🏈, Can't wait to get to work coach @RandyEdsall @richhuskybacks ‼️ #UConnNation

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Philadelphia native ran 56 times for 239 yards and three touchdowns during the 2016 season and had 794 rushing yards in three seasons at South Carolina. He also had 27 career receptions.

In a release when it was announced Williams was one of three players leaving the program, it was stated that Williams was on track to graduate in May which means that he will be able to play as a graduate transfer. I'll have to check to see if he is enrolling at UConn in the spring semester or staying at South Carolina to complete his undergraduate requirements.

UConn returns Arkeel Newsome, the leading rusher in each of the last two seasons as well as freshmen Ja'kevious Vickers and Nate Hopkins as well as former walk-on Jason Thompson. Former starting running back Ron Johnson recently announced his intention to play his final collegiate season elsewhere.

For those wondering if former Auburn assistant coaches Rhett Lashlee and J.B. Grimes coached against Williams in the last three seasons, Williams did not play in the only game between the two teams over the last three seasons when Auburn defeated South Carolina 42-35 on Oct. 25, 2014.

The Rivals database had Williams rated as the 21st best running back coming out of Imhotep Institute Charter School with UConn and Maryland (then coached by Randy Edsall) among the schools showing interest in Williams.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Good news for former UConn commit

It was good to see the Jake Byczko saga have a happy ending.

The situation of the Lawrence Academy linebacker/tight end didn't get anywhere near as much attention as what happened with fellow UConn commit Ryan Dickens even though they both posted on Twitter that they were reopening their recruiting on the same day after being committed to UConn for quite some time.

Today there was more news coming out of Byczko's Twitter account as he announced that he has committed to UMass.

There's things about the recruiting process, especially the college football recruiting process, than make my skin crawl but seeing that Byczko has a chance to realize his dream of playing Division I football was good news considering what the alternative could have been with Byczko being on the market as an uncommitted recruit so close to signing day.

I've only been covering UConn football for about five or six years now but this has been one of the most topsy turvy years for players coming and going.

Yesterday former UConn commits Dallas Hobbs and Rob Saulin announced via social media that they had committed to Washington State and Baylor respectively. Not long ago one-time UConn commit Max Cummings committed to Texas.

Many of the remaining UConn commitments including quarterback Jordan McAfee, defensive backs Bebe Olaniyan and Jordan Swann visited UConn. There was a post from commit Stanley Hubbard and another one from the football coaches for James Tunstall earlier today talking about positive interactions they've had with new/old UConn football coach Randy Edsall. Commit Ryan Van Demark posted photos of him with UConn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes a few days ago so it certainly sounds like the new staff is on board with the rest of the players who committed while the former staff called the shots.

Obviously there's only one more weekend before national signing day so it's going to be a pretty important one as the new staff attempts to finish off the recruiting class in strong fashion.

A couple of other things to report.

First, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl posted its box score. Noel Thomas did not record a catch although the play by play had him targeted at least four times. His only stat was a tackle after an interception. Andreas Knappe also played for the American squad, which lost to the National 27-7.

This is sort of a big week for Obi Melifonwu, who gets to show what he can do in front of the scouts attending Senior Bowl practices leading into Saturday's game which will be televised live on NFL Network beginning at 2:30 p.m. Melifonwu will play for the North squad and wear his familiar uniform No. 20.According to the Senior Bowl database, he will be the 13th former UConn player to take part in the Senior Bowl and first since Shamar Stephen in 2014.

Finally, I've seen reports that Vincent Brown has been hired as the defensive coordinator at Howard. Hopefully I didn't miss anybody but counting strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis being hired at Notre Dame, he is the fifth staff member from the 2016 football team to land elsewhere. Bob Diaco is the defensive coordinator at Nebraska, defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter has been hired at Purdue and quarterbacks coach Wayne Lineburg is now the tight ends coach and special teams coach at Wake Forest.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

UConn finalizes coaching staff, adds a couple of recruits

UConn announced that Dennis Dottin-Carter has been hired as the defensive line coach at UConn. He is the ninth and final assistant coach hired by new/old UConn coach Randy Edsall although it has yet to be announced who will be handling the duties of coaching the special teams.

Dottin-Carter completed the 2016 season as the interim head coach at Delaware as he posted a 2-3 record. He was also the co-defensive coordinator in the last three seasons that he was on the Delaware staff.

Dottin-Carter has a one-year contract that will pay him a base salary of $170,000.

The Delaware defense ranked in the top 25 nationally in run defense, total defense and scoring defense among FCS programs during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

There was more news to report as UConn received commitments from quarterback Garrison Burnett and defensive back Darrian Beavers while former UConn commits Dallas Hobbs and Rob Saulin committed to Washington State and Baylor respectively.

Burnett passed for 1,370 yards and 19 touchdowns, ran for 2,218 yards and 27 TDs and had three touchdown receptions as a senior at the Maret School in Washington, D.C.

I want to announce that I have verbally committed to take my talents to UConn!! #GloryBeToGod #GoHuskies #HuskyUp

Beavers, a safety in the 6-foot-4/6-foot-5 200-pound range, had two interceptions as a senior at the Colerian School in Cincinnati to an 11-0 start before suffering an overtime loss to eventual Ohio Division I champion St. Xavier in the regional semifinals.

Blessed and appreciative to say I have committed to UCONN 🔵⚪️🔴

Friday, January 20, 2017

No UConn players among early entrants into 2017 NFL draft

The NFL announced that 103 players with remaining eligibility have declared for the NFL draft.

None of those hail from UConn which is good news for the Huskies are multiple members of the junior class have been touted as pro prospects including cornerback Jamar Summers, linebacker Junior Joseph and defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi.

Tulsa receiver Keevan Lucas, South Florida running back Marlon Mack and Houston defensive back Howard Wilson are the American Athletic Conference products on the list.

Here's a link to the list of early entrants

The NFL draft database run by www.cbssports.com (which I have found to be pretty effective at projecting later round draft picks) lists 20 UConn underclassmen in its 2018 listing of players but that includes running back Ron Johnson (who has said via social media that he will be transferring) and linebacker Jalen Stevens (who took part in Senior Day festivities).

Summers is rated as the No. 10 free safety, Fatukasi is the No. 12 defensive tackle, Tommy Myers and Alec Bloom come in at No. 22 and 33 on the list of tight ends, Luke Carrezola is 23rd among defensive ends while E.J. Levenberry is the 24th outside linebacker and Joseph is rated as the 29th inside linebacker.

As for this year's draft prospects, Obi Melifonwu is the No. 7 rated strong safety, Knappe is 24th among offensive tackles, Thomas is the 43rd rated receiver (seems a bit low to me), Richard Levy is 45th among offensive tackles and Jhavon Williams is 62nd among cornerbacks.

Speaking of UConn players pursuing the dream of playing in the NFL, offensive tackle Andreas Knappe and receiver Noel Thomas will be teammates on the American squad in tomorrow's NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

Knappe will wear No. 76 and Thomas' uniform number is 85. The American team is being coached by former NFL quarterback Jim Zorn and will air live on FS1 beginning at 4 p.m.

Former UConn quarterback D.J. Hernandez has been named the head coach at Ledyard High School according to a report in The Day of New London.

Hernandez had coaching stops as an assistant at Brown, Iowa and Miami (Fla.) and spent a season as the head coach at Southington High School.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

RB Johnson to transfer from UConn

Ron Johnson, who would have been a senior on the 2017 football team, announced on his Facebook page that he intended to transfer.

Johnson was one of the players who committed to UConn not long after Bob Diaco was named the Huskies' head coach. He led UConn in rushing as a true freshman with 429 yards with 168 coming in the final two games of the season. The 67 yards against Memphis and 101 against SMU ended up being his two top rushing games as a Husky. He had 65 rushing yards in each of the 2015 and 2016 season openers but both seasons he lost carries to classmate and roommate Arkeel Newsome as the season went along.

Johnson finished with 895 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns in 36 career games.

Newsome returns for his senior season after leading the Huskies in rushing in each of the last two seasons, former walk-on Jason Thompson, who had three carries for 20 yards last season, and freshmen Nate Hopkins and Ja'kevious Vickers are the only other scholarship running backs for UConn.

Not exactly great PR for new UConn staff

With my duties covering the UConn women's basketball team and their NCAA basketball record winning streak, I've been running a little behind schedule addressing some issues on this blog that are on my radar including the challenge of putting together a recruiting class with a change in coaching staffs.

I will get around to that but I do need to give my take on what has taken place over the last couple of days with UConn's recruiting class.

First, former UConn commits Ryan Dickens and Jake Byczko posted on their Twitter accounts yesterday that they were reopening their recruiting process and former UConn assistant coach Vincent Brown tweeted his disappointment at scholarship offers being pulled this close to national signing day following a coaching change. If the dots couldn't already get connected, this story on Dickens having his scholarship pulled by UConn would certainly do the trick.

This is not a good look for UConn. First of all, since Dickens is not signed, there's nothing UConn can say on the record to refute this report. I know this happens in recruiting. I just saw a tweet that said there were 189 football decommits last January. Still, it's a part of the recruiting process that is hard to deal with and harder to defend regardless of how often it happens. My hope is that Dickens (who tweeted that he was offered by URI) and Byczko land on their feet and have a great four or five years of college both on and off the field.

I also get the other side of the story. Randy Edsall is trying to salvage this recruiting class and improve the talent level of a program coming off a 3-9 season. There was already a perception that Bob Diaco's staff weren't the best at identifying talent (although one UConn decommit started as a redshirt freshman at South Florida and another one recently was offered by Baylor). Edsall and his staff do have the right to look at the players who committed to UConn when Diaco was running things and determine that those players either don't fit the scheme or don't have the talent or aren't as good of a fit as other players the Huskies are recruiting. There's not a painless way to navigate through this process especially when a coaching hire is made in late December and the staff is being finalized as the open recruiting period gets underway. Certainly this is not exactly the kind of press the UConn program is looking for especially with some national media types posting about it on social media. Ten years ago something like this would generate a little initial attention that would quickly subside. In this age of social media and blogs, the heat on UConn figures to be more sustained and more intense.

I'm sure people will think that this will impact Edsall's recruiting efforts. The reality is something different although getting players out of the schools where the decommitted players are coming from might take some doing. You may remember the story of former UConn receiver Frank Battle, who had his offer pulled from Syracuse. Or the situation under Diaco's watch when UConn commit Logan Marchi had to reopen his recruitment when it was determined that he wasn't going to be accepted into school even though I was told by a source that was far from the whole story. Syracuse has continued to recruit in Florida, the Huskies have continued to recruit in Connecticut. The fact is that players will head to the school and university that best fits their needs and the thought that other schools will use this news against UConn, I'd be willing to bet that those same schools have some recruiting skeletons in their closets so good luck with that.

Currently UConn is at 10 commitments for the current recruiting class including early enrollee Omar Fortt. Because of my women's basketball coverage responsibilities, I wasn't able to attend Walter Camp festivities over the weekend. I wanted to catch up with UConn commit Ryan Fitton who I noticed has been following plenty of staff members from Rutgers on Twitter. My colleague Sean Patrick Bowley caught up with Staples coach Marce Petroccio who confirmed that Fitton has been offered by Rutgers so it is a situation we will be monitoring. Also, UConn commit Dallas Hobbs recently was offered by Washington State so we'll see if there are changes to the number of committed players.

If my math is correct (and with the way Diaco gave out scholarships to walk-ons I could have missed a player or two now on scholarship) UConn should have 23 scholarships available. With 21 players on scholarship in the junior class, there shouldn't be a need to hold back scholarships to balance out the classes. Obviously these next couple of weeks are going to be interesting to say the least as an brand new staff is out pursuing prospects.

Now to what I have been meaning to write about, back in 2014 seven players remained committed to UConn who had committed when Paul Pasqualoni was the head coach while eight pledged to the Huskies after Bob Diaco was hired.

The pre-Diaco group was highlighted by Arkeel Newsome, UConn's leading rusher in each of the last two seasons, Jamar Summers, Luke Carrezola and Alec Bloom. Trey Rutherford and Brice McAllister have also earned time as starters out of that group. The only one who did not was Tom Rodrick, who left UConn due to medical reasons and landed at UMass. Vontae Diggs, UConn's second-leading tackler in 2016, Ron Johnson and Ryan Crozier are the players who were recruited by Diaco in 2014 who have had the biggest impact. Johnson announced via Facebook that he would be transferring. Tony Watkins, Steve Hashemi and Sheriden Lawley (named UConn's most improved player last season) have also earned playing time while it is too early to tell what sort of impact Dan Oak and James Atkins will have with the Huskies.

The point of all of this is I would say that the last time the Huskies were in the situation they are currently in, UConn secured commitment from key players both before and after the coaching change. It will be interesting to see how things shake out in the next few seasons regarding this year's recruiting class.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Grimes, Smith, Klein latest additions to UConn staff

It could be argued that there may not be more crucial hires for Randy Edsall to make than the offensive line and strength/conditioning coaches.

Well, UConn announced that veteran offensive line coach J.B. Grimes and former Minnesota strength coach Eric Klein have been hired to fill those spots. Also, Aaron Smith has been hired to coach the receivers.

News of Grimes' hiring broke yesterday as the former Auburn offensive line coach who spent the 2016 season on the staff at Cincinnati will be reunited with Rhett Lashlee, who left Auburn to become UConn's offensive coordinator.

The 62-year-old Grimes has worked at 12 different schools and been on the staff of 19 bowl teams. He was signed to a one-year contract with a base salary of $250,000. He'll have his work cut out for him as UConn is the only FBS program to rank 100th or lower in total offense in each of the last six seasons with many of the offensive struggles being traced to issues with the offensive line.

Smith, a former receiver at UConn and 2006 UConn graduate, comes back to his alma mater after spending the last four seasons as the receivers coach and recruiting coordinator at Albany.
Smith signed a one-year deal for a base salary of $145,000. He is the second UConn graduate and former player hired by Edsall joining linebackers coach Jon Wholley.

UConn has a young group of receivers following the departure of record-breaking Noel Thomas as well as four-year contributor Brian Lemelle. Hergy Mayala had 23 receptions as a sophomore, the second most among receivers while fellow sophomore Tyraiq Beals and Aaron McLean have 31 and 6 career receptions respectively. Quayvon Skanes and Keyion Dixon are a pair of freshmen who were held in high regard by the previous coaching staff.

Klein, 45, served as the Director of Football Strength and Conditioning at the University of Minnesota and also worked in the same role at South Illinois and Northern Illinois.

Klein has a two-year contract and will be paid a base salary of $220,000.

There should be some familiarity with all three hires. Grimes not only worked with Lashlee but when UConn AD David Benedict was at Auburn when both Grimes and Lashlee were on the football story. Edsall coached Smith at UConn while UConn's sport administrator for football Beth Goetz was at Minnesota when Klein was working there.

There's still a position left to fill. I would think it is as the special teams coach since Crocker could certainly coach the defensive line but obviously more will be known when the final coach is officially announced.

Here's a look at UConn's coaching staff

Position                                       Coach                    Last Stop
Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks: Rhett Lashlee Auburn   
Running backs: Terry Richardson                            Maryland (2015)
Receivers: Aaron Smith                                           Albany
Tight ends: Corey Edsall                                         Colorado
Offensive line: J.B. Grimes                                     Cincinnati

Defensive coordinator: Billy Crocker                       Villanova
Linebackers: Jon Wholley                                       Fordham
Defensive backs: Curome Cox                               Coastal Carolina

Former UConn quarterback Garrett Anderson completed 5 of 11 passes for 78 yards including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jason Croom to help the National team beat the American squad 28-14 in the Tropical Bowl on Sunday in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Jhavon Williams also played for the winning National team. The cornerback had one tackle and while he wasn't credited with a pass breakup, I did hear that he helped create an interception with his play on the ball.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Taking a look at UConn's returning offense

OK, so UConn now has an offensive coordinator and for the first time in a few years it is somebody with experience calling plays.

Based on what I've seen posted on social media, Husky fans are pretty fired up about 33-year-old Rhett Lashlee leaving Auburn to try to get one of the nation's worst offenses going. What will we see from UConn's newly-hired offensive coordinator? It's too early to tell. It would be easy to look at Auburn game film and saw he's going to run a certain style of offense but the reality is it would be hard to know where head coach Gus Malzahn's influence ends and where Lashlee's input begins.
Randy Edsall is known for having a run-dominated offense in his first stint at UConn except when record-breaking quarterback Dan Orlovsky suited up for the Huskies so it will be interesting to see what the parameters that Lashlee will be working under.

What I can speculate a little more is what Lashlee will have to work with although I've been doing this long enough to know that attrition and position changes are rather inevitable when a new coach comes in and especially when he brings in a new staff with him.

Obviously many of you saw Arkeel Newsome become UConn's leading rusher for the second season in a row, Hergy Mayala emerge as the second receiving option after Noel Thomas and Matthew Peart work his way through his first season as the Huskies' starting left tackle. The reality is that the short-term success of UConn's offense could ride on some players who have seen limited snaps or redshirted a season ago.

Quayvon Skanes came to UConn with plenty of buzz and UConn coach Bob Diaco declared that he would play as a true freshman either as a returners on special teams or as a receiver. Like much of what Diaco promised, that never happened and that is not a bad thing. Considering that Diaco pretty much made the concept of returning punts obsolete in his final two seasons, it would have been a shame to waste Skanes' freshman season as the No. 4 or 5 receiving option and to go back for fair catches. He should have a chance to show what he can do during this upcoming season. Glastonbury's Keyion Dixon is another receiver worthy of mention. Dixon was named the team' Look Team Player of the Year which is an indication of how well he practiced during his true freshman season. He is a rangy and dynamic athlete who could also work his way into the rotation at receiver along with returnees Mayala, Tyraiq Beals, Aaron McLean and Bryan Coney.

Of course no mention of UConn's offense would be complete without mentioning the team's most troublesome spot in the five seasons I've been covering the team - the offensive line.
What I noticed is that as the season wore on is that tackle Cam DeGeorge and guard Nino Leone worked their way onto the second-team offensive line. Neither of them were going to play but with the graduation of three-year starters Andreas Knappe and Richard Levy, I would not be the least bit surprised to see them push hard for those starting spots. Peart, center Ryan Crozier (who had to play a new position and do so while coming off a serious knee injury) and guard Tommy Hopkins (who was missed desperately when he went down early in the season) should be centerpieces of the line. Trey Rutherford and Brendan Vechery had their struggles a season ago but have some moments of solid play in each of the last two seasons while Shelton's Steve Hashemi is another lineman to keep an eye on.

UConn has plenty of experience returning at tight end as Tommy Myers and Alec Bloom will be seniors, Tyler Davis made the most of his move from quarterback to the tight end/h-back position and Chris Lee also saw some time while we'll have to see if Zordan Holman works his way into the rotation. One thing I noticed is that Auburn ignored the tight ends in the passing game even more than UConn did with two catches by tight ends in the 2016 season and none during 2015. Even with future NFL tight end C.J. Uzomah on the roster, Auburn only had 13 catches out of the tight end position during the 2014 season. Obviously since Randy Edsall's son has been hired as the tight ends coach, it is not a position that is going to be ignored but I am rather curious to see how the fullback or fullback as Teddy Allmendinger saw time there as a true freshman walk-on, h-back and tight end positions are worked into the offense.

It wasn't always easy to pick out the true freshmen at practices because they would be on the look team and would wear the uniform numbers of the team that UConn was facing that week. However, it wasn't hard to figure out when true freshman running backs Ja'Kevious Vickers and Nate Hopkins had the ball. I've gone on the record as mentioning both of them and after pretty much being limited to just using Newsome and Ron Johnson at tailback (with former walk-on Jason Thompson getting a few carries), there will be more options. Vickers is the smaller of the two but was listed at 193 pounds so he's not exactly a scat back and I would say he did something at every practice I attended that caught my attention. Hopkins came inn weighing 225 pounds and he was among the finalists for the Look Team Player of the Year.

In a perfect world, I would be discussing Donovan Williams as a quarterback prospect coming off a redshirt season but obviously that is not the case as they threw Williams into the fire for the final three games in a lost season. Williams, playing behind a porous offensive line, struggled in the games. In practices he had his moments. He has the ability to make plays with his feet and throws a pretty good deep ball. If Diaco had returned he made it clear that Williams was going to be UConn's No. 1 quarterback but now we'll have to see if former starter Bryant Shirreffs can win the job back assuming that he returns for his final season.

With the defense returning experienced players at every position but safety, there's definitely an expectation of that being a pretty solid unit during Billy Crocker's first season so once again we are left wondering if the offense can make enough plays to win games. After watching UConn's ultra conservative offensive play calling under Diaco's watch, there is some reason for optimism with new blood pushing for roles and the coaching staff being overhauled.

Stay tuned

Waterford's Crocker named defensive coordinator at UConn

Waterford native Billy Crocker has been named UConn's defensive coordinator.

 Crocker, who agreed to a three-year contract with a base salary of $300,000. has spent the last five seasons as Villanova's defensive coordinator.

When Crocker took over the Villanova defense in 2012, the Wildcats were coming off a season in which they had allowed 30.6 points per game, 90th nationally. In 2012, Crocker cut that number to 20.9 points allowed and by 2016, he was coaching the nation’s top-ranked defensive unit at the FCS level.

One of the most impressive performances of Crocker's final season at Villanova was holding eventual FCS national champion James Madison to a season low 126 rushing yards and the 277 yards of total offense was the second-lowest total of the season. Villanova finished the season ranking fourth in FCS in rushing defense. During the 2015 season, the Wildcats ranked fourth in FCS in red-zone defense.

UConn's defense is slated to return 10 players who had at least 10 tackles a season ago led by linebackers Vontae Diggs and Junior Joseph, who had 84 and 81 tackles. Cornerback Jamar Summers, defensive linemen Foley Fatukasi and Cole Ormsby, linebackers Luke Carrezola, E.J. Levenberry and Cam Stapleton as well as safeties Anthony Watkins and Brice McAllister are among the key defensive players expected to return for UConn.

Crocker is the second Connecticut native to be hired as an assistant coach by Randy Edsall joining linebackers coach Jonathan Wholley.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Cox named UConn's defensive backs coach

Former NFL defensive back Curome Cox has been named the defensive backs coach at UConn.

Cox spent the last four seasons coaching cornerbacks and the kickoff unit at Coastal Carolina. He had a three-year stint as a graduate assistant at Maryland where he worked for UConn coach Randy Edsall.

Cox played for the Denver Broncos from 2004-07 and Houston Texans from 2007-09. In 2006 he was a finalist for AFC Special Teams Player of the Year. Cox was an All-ACC defensive back at Maryland as he finished with 10 career interceptions.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

New UConn OC Lashlee addresses his surprising move

Newly-hired UConn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee certainly got people talking about UConn football especially in SEC country.

Lashlee, the 33-year-old former offensive coordinator at Auburn, took a pay cut to lead the SEC and take over the offensive play calling duties for the teams which ranked last among 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in scoring offense during the 2016 season and is the only FBS teams to rank 100th or lower in total offense in each of the last six seasons.

If Lashlee was looking for a challenge, he is certainly getting one. Here are some of UConn's offensive rankings a season ago when the Huskies returned 10 offensive players who had started at least seven games on a team that played in the St. Petersburg Bowl.

Scoring offense: 128th (14.8 points per game)
Touchdowns scored: 128th (20)
Red-zone touchdown percentage: 127th (36.7)
Passing touchdowns: 127th (8)
Red-zone conversions: 124th (73.3 percent)
Total offense: 122nd (320.0 yards per game)
First downs: 122nd (17.1 per game)
Offensive plays: 119th (798)
Passing efficiency: 116th (110.97)
Third-down conversions: 113th (33.7)
Sacks allowed: 113th (37)
Tackles for loss allowed: 110th (94)
Yards per pass attempt: 104th (6.4)

Lashlee went on the air with Arkansas radio personality Bo Mattingly today to discuss his decision (thanks to James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser for posting the quotes from the show).

"We all have our career aspirations and goals and places we want to be," Lashlee said. "Sometimes you got to make tough decision to maybe put yourself in a position to take the next step. The opportunity coach (Randy) Edsall's given me, someone who's had a lot of success as a head coach, particularly at UConn, the opportunity he's going to give me to run the offense how I'd like to and kind of stretch myself and grow as a coach and kind of get out of my comfort zone a little bit. It's just a chance to maybe go up there and help him do something not a lot of people expect. Doesn't make sense to a lot of people but I don't worry about that.

"I think it'll be good for me to be exposed to a different place and have a chance to run the offense and do it for Coach Edsall. Just try to further my development and see where it takes me. It doesn't have to make sense for a lot of people if it makes sense for me."

Lashlee, while having the title of offensive coordinator at Auburn, worked for a coach in Gus Malzahn with a rather hands' on approach to the offense. Malzahn could be considered the offensive coordinator in the same way that former UConn coach Bob Diaco could have added the title of defensive coordinator considering how involved he was on that side of the ball.

Lashlee was handed the play-calling duties after Auburn got off to a 1-2 start and the Tigers promptly won six games in a row and in the month of October they ranked second nationally in total offense and rushing offense.

"Here's the thing, Coach Malzahn is one of the best offensive coaches over the last 10 years in college football," Lashlee said. "So he's always going to have heavy involvement in his offense and he should. That's his strength and that's what head coaches do. He's always been great to me. He and I have a great relationship.

"It was kind of one of those things that when he and I talked, some last year and even this year, just the opportunity for me to go and completely have a chance to learn and develop as a coach and run my own offense was something I wanted to do."

Obviously the fact that Lashlee is taking a $250,000 pay cut to move from Auburn to UConn opened a few eyes.

"(For) a lot of people money can be the end-all, be-all and if that's why you do anything, especially this business, you probably doing it for the wrong reasons," Lashlee said. "It's about impacting kids in the end. At the end of the day I don't make all my decision based on money and honestly I don't make all my decisions based on what most people think makes sense.

"You pray about and you talk about it with the people that matter in your family and you try to say 'does this move make the most sense for us long-term?' You can't just think about now. Hey, sometimes you sacrifice a little bit now for what could be more later, but it's just not about money."
Speaking of Diaco, I have seen reports that he is a candidate for the defensive coordinator spots at Arkansas and Nebraska.

UConn confirms 2017 game being played at Fenway Park

Before UConn agreed to play Army at Yankee Stadium during the 2014 season, there were rumblings that a game played at Fenway Park could materialize.

On Thursday the university confirmed that the game against Boston College on Nov. 18, which is UConn's home game, will be played at Fenway.

"We are thrilled to take part in the continuation of what we hope will be a long-time partnership with the Fenway Group and the Boston Red Sox," said UConn Director of Athletics David Benedict in a statement. "This game will present our players an unforgettable experience playing in one of the most-renowned venues in American sport and provide UConn fans with a front row seat. We could not be happier to take part."

For the contest, UConn will receive 22,000 of the expected 39,000 tickets to be made available for sale. Boston College will receive 7,000 to sell to its fan base and the Fenway Group will distribute the final 10,000. UConn will also receive a guaranteed payment of $1.125 million for its participation in the contest, the largest game guarantee in Husky football history. BC will not be paid any guarantee.

"I think this is a great opportunity for our team, to play a quality opponent, New England rival and in such a unique and famous setting," UConn coach Randy Edsall said in a release. "When David said that this was a possibility, I immediately thought about it being a once in a lifetime game day experience for our team, staff and fans."

Ticket sales for this event will be handled by the Fenway group, but UConn football season ticket holders, as well as UConn students, will have first priority on purchase of the school allotment of tickets, with information to be made available in the very near future.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lashlee named offensive coordinator at UConn

UConn announced that Rhett Lashlee has been named the offensive coordinator.

Lashlee comes to UConn after being the offensive coordinator for the last four seasons at Auburn where he worked with current UConn AD David Benedict.

“I am thrilled to have Rhett join our staff as the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach,” UConn coach Randy Edsall said in a statement. “He is one of the brightest offensive minds in college football and I know that his experience around some of the highest-powered offenses and top players in the country is going to be an incredible benefit to our program.”

Lashlee agreed to a three-year contract at a base salary of $350,000 and he will also coach the quarterbacks.

“I'm excited to be joining Coach Edsall's staff and help him get our program to where we, our fans and student-athletes want it to be,” said Lashlee in a release. “Randy is a proven winner and has done it here at UConn before and I'm thrilled to be a part of his staff."

Lashlee also served as the offensive coordinator at Samford in 2011 and Arkansas State in 2012.

Auburn averaged 441 yards of total offense during the 2016 season and in 2014 the number was 485 yards per game highlighted by a season-high 630 yards against Alabama.

UConn finished the 2016 season ranked 122nd among 128 FBS teams in total offense averaging 320 yards per game.

When news broke of Bob Diaco's firing, I wondered if Lashlee would emerge as a candidate for the head coaching gig with the Huskies due to his ties with Benedict. Have to say it's rather surprising to see an offensive coordinator in the SEC take the same job at UConn but the Huskies should benefit from this move.

Lashlee was given the offensive play calling duties leading up to a key 26-10 win over Texas A&M during the 2015 season and in September of 2016,Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said he was handing over the play calling duties to Lashlee after a 1-2 start. The results were mixed as the Tigers did have more than 500 yards of total offense in wins over Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama A&M but managed less than 200 yards in losses to Georgia and Alabama.

In his first full month calling the plays Auburn ranked second in the FBS in total offense averaging 576.5 yards per game and was also second averaging 372 rushing yards per game in October. He helped with the offensive game plans against national champion Clemson and the Alabama team that the Tigers beat in the national title game. While he won't be working with the same caliber of player at UConn he had at Auburn, I doubt there will be too many teams on UConn's schedule with defensive talent like what Clemson and Alabama possessed.

“Rhett has been a valuable asset to our program, helping Auburn to a national championship as a graduate assistant and another national championship appearance in 2013,” said Malzahn in a statement. “Our offenses have achieved great success and he has been a big part of that. This is a great opportunity for Rhett to implement and run his own offense. I've known Rhett for two decades and he's a man of great character and integrity and this is another step towards his goal to become a head coach. I want to thank Rhett for all of his contributions and his friendship. I want to wish he and his wife Lauren all the best in this new endeavor.”

Certainly going from Auburn to UConn and for less money is going to open some eyes but it could be a case of getting a new lease on life and there is no doubt that he will be the one calling the plays. It sounded like his situation at Auburn was similar to the Bob Diaco/Anthony Poindexter deal at UConn where Poindexter was called the defensive coordinator but Diaco was so involved with the coaching on that side of the ball that the reality is he was more of a defensive coordinator than he was a head coach. I'm sure there's some behind the scenes stuff leading to the move but the reality is on paper that UConn seems to have made a major step in the right direction when it comes to the hiring of Lashlee as an offensive coordinator. It should also be noted that the offensive coordinator on the last UConn team coached by Edsall is Joe Moorhead who is now the offensive coordinator at Penn State.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Keeping up with UConn's all-star participants

These next few weeks could be valuable ones for seniors on the 2016 UConn football team.

Beginning with the College Gridiron Showcase, which ends today in Texas and wrapping up with the Jan. 28 Senior Bowl, six UConn products will get the chance to work out in front of pro scouts.

Offensive tackle Andreas Knappe and kicker Bobby Puyol are taking part in the College Gridiron Showcase which isn't really an all-star game as much it is a series of scrimmages. You can check out streams of the practices on the event's official site.

Quarterback Garrett Anderson and cornerback Jhavon Williams will play in the Tropical Bowl on Jan. 15 in Daytona Beach, Florida. On Jan. 21, Knappe and receiver Noel Thomas will take part in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at the StubHub Center and safety Obi Melifonwu is playing in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 28. (I hope I caught all of the games because new ones tend to pop up every now and then).

Monday, January 09, 2017

Familiar names returning to work with Edsall at UConn

UConn released the names of the first wave of staff members who will be working with Randy Edsall and former Husky assistants Terry Richardson and Jon Wholley join Edsall's son Corey as well as Ryan Steinberg lead the list.

Richardson was named the assistant head coach and running backs coach for the Huskies. He previously coached the running backs when Donald Brown, Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman were piling up rushing yards for the Huskies. He also had stints coaching running backs at the University of Miami, Maryland and with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.

Wholley played for Edsall with the Huskies and was an assistant coach at UConn from 2011-13 when he coached future NFL draft picks Sio Moore and Yawin Smallwood. He most recently was the defensive coordinator at Fordham.

Corey Edsall, who will coach tight ends, spent last season as a graduate assistant at Colorado. After playing for a season at Syracuse in 2011, he spent three years as a student assistant at Maryland where his father was the head coach.

Steinberg was also on Edsall's staff at Maryland serving as the assistant director of football operations and prior to that was the assistant recruiting coordinator during his eight years at the school. He will serve as the Director of Operations.