Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Former UConn DB John Green signed by Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys are hoping to strike gold with another former UConn defensive back.

Byron Jones, drafted by the Cowboys in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft, recorded 88 tackles in his second NFL season. Now he will be joined in training camp by former teammate John Green.

Green was signed by the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent in April but placed him on injured reserve before cutting in late July.

Green was brought in on a tryout and was signed by the Cowboys, a team lacking depth in the secondary. The Cowboys haven't posted the move on its official site but those who cover the team reported that he was one of two defensive backs signed by the Cowboys and Green also posted the news on his Twitter account.

Officially a Cowboy! God works in mysterious ways, trust in the plan #DallasCowboys

Green came to UConn as a receiver and had five catches for 40 yards as a freshman in 2013. He moved over the defense before the start of his sophomore season. He finished with 50 tackles and 13 passes defended. He had a career high seven tackles with a PBU in a win over Cincinnati on Oct. 8, 2016. That game was Green's start of his senior season as Jamar Summers was moved to safety for about half the season. Green might have helped himself the most during UConn's pro day as he was reported to have run a 4.34 40-yard dash. He also had a 36 1/2 inch vertical and a broad jump of 10-3. His 40 time would have been second among defensive backs had it come at the NFL scouting combine and would have been in the top 15 among DBs at the combine in vertical and broad jumps.

The Cowboys host Indianapolis on Saturday so Green will need to get up to speed pretty quickly in his bid to make the team. There's a chance three former UConn defensive backs could see time in the Aug. 26 preseason game when Dallas hosts Oakland since the Raiders' second-round pick is Obi Melifonwu.

It's the first good news on the NFL transaction front in a few days as Richard Levy and Deshon Foxx were recently cut by the 49ers and Jets respectively.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

David Pindell is UConn's starting quarterback

While this won't go down as a surprising revelation, UConn coach Randy Edsall announced that junior-college transfer David Pindell has been named UConn's starting quarterback. Pindell certainly looked like the guy at the first practice I attended so expected this but wasn't thinking Edsall would make it official this quickly.

Also, he said redshirt freshman Cam DeGeorge has earned a starting spot as at offensive guard. With DeGeorge with the first team, redshirt freshman Nino Leone and true freshman Ryan Van Demark with the second team at left guard and left tackle, three of the top 10 offensive linemen are freshmen.

I appreciate the understate manner with which Edsall went out making this announcement. It was in stark contrast to the bizarre way that Bob Diaco brought in four quarterbacks even one (Bryant Shirreffs) who had to sit out following his transfer) to announce that Casey Cochran earned the starting job. I remember expressing my thoughts on how silly that over the top presentation was which certainly did not endear me to Diaco. My only wish was that Pindell was made available to the media but hopefully that will happen a week from today.

Here's what Edsall had to say

"David Pindell is going to our quarterback, he is the starter. Cam DeGeorge is going to be starting at right guard. Those might be the two things that you see on offense. Defensively not a whole lot different than what you would expect."

 Matt Peart and Tommy Hopkins are the starting tackles, Trey Rutherford is the other guard and Ryan Crozier the center on the starting offensive line making up the first team offensive line.The second team consists of tackles Brendan Vechery and Van Demark, guards Steve Hashemi and Leone and center Dan Oak.

Some other news, defensive lineman Philippe Okounam is out with a knee injury. I don't have a time frame of when he will be back. Also true freshman Marvin Washington due to what was referred to "obligations" that he needs to tend to.

Vontae Diggs said his knee surgery went well and he is still hoping to return in time for the season opener against Holy Cross although he admitted that shooting for the AAC opener vs. South Florida might be more reasonable.

"Everything is fine, I am starting physical therapy so I am moving pretty fast right now," Diggs said.T"hey are going to refrain from giving me target dates because whatever they say, I am going to give them a week earlier. I want to back for the opener but the biggest thing I told the training staff is USF, I won't miss that game for anything.I am going to do everything in my power to make sure I am back for that game. Obviously I want back for Holy Cross but that might be pushing my luck."

Some players seeing first team reps that I feel are worthy of mention include defensive lineman Kevin Murphy and defensive back Tyler Coyle. Also,tight end Tommy Myers was the third kicker up after Will Rishell and Michael Tarbutt and he promptly booted a 40-yard FG followed by Tarbutt hitting from 50. Also of note was that the top two holders were Brett Graham and Brandon Bisack and not Tyler Davis, who was named to the national watch lists for holders. Nick Zecchino is the top long snapper followed by Brain Keating.

Edsall announced that offensive linemen Crozier and Peart, linebackers Diggs and Junior Joseph, cornerback Tre Bell, receiver Hergy Mayala, defensive end Luke Carrezola, tight ends Alec Bloom and Myers as well as running back Jason Thompson were named to the team's leadership council. All of the players have started multiple games at UConn except Bell, a transfer from Vanderbilt and Thompson.

Thompson came to UConn as a walk-on out of Shelton High School and it was an incredible honor for him.

"It means the most to me especially growing up as a Connecticut kid, coming in here as a walk-on means so much to me," Thompson said. "I am grateful that I am able to be here, proud that my teammates selected me and will try to do the job to be best of my ability.

"I try to come in and be the same person every day, give it my all. I am trying to be more and more vocal every day. Some days are harder than others but in these last two years I have been  blessed to play this game, I love it. It makes it easy when you have the teammates that I have."

Thompson was already on scholarship when Edsall arrived so that is how he looks at Thompson. Few players have practiced as consistently hard as Thompson since Edsall took over the program.

"There is a guy that just goes out and does his job," Edsall said. "He works and does his job as good as anybody, he has earned it. His teammates see that so it is a credit to him and sends a message to people that it doesn't matter how you came into this program, if you do things the way they are supposed to be done, there can be rewards for you. Don't worry about your status, just work hard each and every day and if you do that good things will happen. Since I have been here, he has been impressive to me in terms of his attitude, his work ethic and just how he has gone about his business."

I'll end with this nugget from Myers when I asked him if he was losing the battle of the beards to Crozier.

"He has four months on me," Myers said with a laugh. "He also doesn't have a girlfriend I don't think so I've had to shave a couple (of times). I am going to try to compete with him in that aspect."

Monday, August 07, 2017

Top tackler injured, QB changing positions and other notes from UConn's practice

Suddenly there's not such a logjam at quarterback.

When preseason camp started, there were seven quarterbacks on the roster not including Will Rishell who is focusing on kicking. But during the 11 on 11 portion of today's practice that I witnessed (and I missed the first hour of practice finishing up my story UConn women's basketball story), David Pindell, Bryant Shirreffs and Marvin Washington were the only quarterbacks to get reps. Pindell was the first one out and looked very comfortable running the offense. I wouldn't want to make any grand proclamations after seeing one hour of one practice but Pindell certainly looked like the guy. He was confidently firing the ball around the field and when he decides where he is going with the ball, it doesn't take long for the ball to get out of his hands.

One person who won't be pushing for playing time at quarterback is Donovan Williams, who started the last three games of the 2016 season as a true freshman.

Williams and UConn coach Randy Edsall had a conversation early in camp about Williams being used on special teams if he isn't either the first or second-string quarterback. Williams took it a step further by meeting with Edsall on Monday and asked to move to receiver.

"I wasn't pushing, this morning he came in, he still likes to be a quarterback but he wants to get on the field so he asked about moving to wide receiver and being involved with the special teams so that is when he made the move."

Edsall felt like it would have been too much, too soon to use Williams at receiver in the 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 portion of Monday's practice but he will begin working in with the receivers on Tuesday.
Williams, who was not among the players made available to the media after Monday's practice, does have some experience catching passes. When he was a sophomore at Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, he had 11 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown while playing for former NFL defensive back Tony Lilly.

"I think he is smart, he is athletic, he is big," Edsall said. "Watching today on some of the special teams stuff, I saw him run in there and be physical. He's a great kid and he wants to play. He sees this as his best opportunity to get on the field, contribute and play which is a great credit to him."

True freshman Jordan McAfee is currently in concussion protocol while Brandon Bisack went from seeing first-team reps at time in spring drills to not even being among the top three quarterbacks a week into camp.

The other big news is that Vontae Diggs, whose 84 tackles a season ago is tops among the returning players, could be out for the next few weeks due to what he termed a Grade 2 MCL tear. Surgery is set for Thursday and he is hopeful to be back for the season opener against Holy Cross.

Center Ryan Crozier was dealing with a stomach ailment but Edsall is hoping he'll be back at practice tomorrow.

Dan Oak was the starting center with Crozier out with Kyle Schafenacker seeing second-team reps. The rest of the first team offensive line featured some familiar names (Matthew Peart, Tommy Hopkins, Steve Hashemi, Trey Rutherford) but plenty of newcomers were getting work with the first or second teams including redshirt freshmen Cam DeGeorge, Nino Leone and Harrison Newman as well as true freshman Ryan Van Demark.

Players were being moved in and out with the first and second teams so quickly that I won't read too much into the player rotations from today's practice although I did see true freshmen Brayden Brown and Ian Swenson getting first team reps in the secondary with redshirt freshman Ryan Gilmartin also getting out there quite a bit.

Luke Magliozzi, a freshman punter from Australia, is not here yet as he continues to fill out some paper work and is currently in Canada. There's a chance he could arrive later this week.

Tre Bell and Marshe Terry had interceptions today while receiver Quayvon Skanes (more on him in the next day or two) had a strong practice.

Edsall feels like this could have been the best practice to date in preseason camp.

Just a reminder that there is an open practice scheduled for Sunday at 3:15 p.m, at Rentschler Field although there is a 60 percent chance of rain that day so stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

3 UConn returning starters among those recognized for earning degree

Starting defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi, tight end Tommy Myers and quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, reserve offensive lineman Kyle Schafenacker and Will Rishell, who is competing to become UConn's starting kicker, are among 952 players honored by the National Football Foundation for having already earned their degrees before their final college football season.

Fatukasi, who has started 23 career games and enters his senior season with 125 tackles and 10 sacks, was named to the preseason watch lists for the Outland Trophy, Nagurski Trophy and Wuerffel Trophy.

Myers has 27 career receptions and has been used mostly as a blocker especially during the 2016 season.

Shirreffs ranks in the top 10 in UConn history in career passing attempts, completions and yards as well as being 83 yards shy of becoming the fifth Husky with at least 5,000 yards of total offense.

Schafenacker appeared in nine games during the 2016 season while Rishell is a former walk-on who is competing with Michael Tarbutt to be the No. 1 kicker following the graduation of Bobby Puyol.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

It's (mostly) all hands on deck as Edsall returns to UConn

When Randy Edsall was hired for his second stint as UConn's football coach the thing I was most curious about is what the roster is going to look like when the Huskies take the field later this month.

When he arrived at Maryland after his impressive run at UConn, the attrition rate in Edsall's first couple of seasons was downright staggering. If my math is correct, 28 players on the 2010 Maryland roster with remaining eligibility were not on the team in 2011, Edsall's first season at Maryland, including 11 players who took snaps in '10. Taking it one step further, there were 65 freshmen or sophomores on the Maryland roster in 2010 but only 39 stuck around through 2012.

Looking at the roster in the games notes for the 2016 finale, I count 13 players with remaining eligibility who are no longer here including just four (Teddy Allmendinger, Ron Johnson, Chris Lee, Jalen Stevens) who saw playing time in Bob Diaco's final season. Stevens went through Senior Day festivities so that decision was made before Edsall arrived. Legal problems played a role in the departures of Felton Blackwell and Nazir Williams while seven of those aforementioned 13 players were walk-ons when they arrived at UConn so when taking all factors into consideration, there wasn't an outrageous amount of attrition.

That could bode well for the upcoming season since there are seniors in key positions on both offense and defense. Edsall has been challenging his veterans to take on leadership roles.

"I am trying to provoke some thought and also trying to get them to understand what they really need to do," Edsall said. "I am not so much worried about the talent level, I am more worried about them taking ownership. The other thing I told them is this, I know we can be a good team because I know as coaches we are going to hold you accountable but if we are going to be a great team, they are going to have to hold themselves accountable. I am not worried about the talent, what I am worried about is getting guys to play as a team. If we can play as 11 every time we are out there and guys are going to hold everybody accountable, all the other things will take care of themselves.

"There is enough talent here to win but are we going to do these other things were we aren't going to be individuals, we are going to be unselfish, we are going to hold each other accountable. If we do that, we will win. If we don't do that and I don't care how much talent we have on the team, you are not gong to win anyhow. Yes, there is enough talent to win here but are we going to do these other things to allow us to put ourselves to be the best that we can be not just be good but to be the best we can be, to be great. That is the challenge that we have ahead of us as a group. If we as coaches have to do it all, we will be OK at a certain point but we will never get to the top of the mountain."

Speaking of departures, Bristol's Ben Pryor, a redshirt freshman defensive back who was announced as one of the late additions to the program by Edsall on media day, is no longer on the roster. I've been able to confirm that he is no longer a part of the program.

Fans who don't want to wait until the Aug. 31 season opener against Holy Cross to see the Huskies in action will have that opportunity as the Aug. 13 practice at Rentschler Field will be open to the public with a BBQ for season-ticket holders. Practice is set to start at 3:15 p.m.