Friday, April 24, 2015

Report: Eagles staff returns to UConn

The appearance of Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly at UConn's pro day created quite a bit of buzz.

Well, it appears as if Kelly (or at least his staff) isn't done evaluating UConn prospects.

NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline tweeted earlier today that Kelly and other members of the Eagles coaching/scouting staff are up at UConn today to evaluate cornerback Byron Jones, receiver Geremy Davis and defensive lineman B.J. McBryde. Although he is now backing off the report of Kelly being in attendance although he is reporting that offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, receivers coach Bob Bicknell and defensive backs coach Cory Undlin are up at UConn today.

Philadelphia Eagles brain trust, including Chip Kelly, at UConn this morning to workout Byron Jones as well as Geremy Davis & B.J. McBryde

Update:  Conflicting reports on Chip Kelly attendance at UConn today.  Shurmur, Azzinaro, Bicknell, Undlin there. Waiting for confirmation

There have been plenty of rumors about Jones being the Eagles' first-round choice. If he did go to the Eagles at No. 20, it would be the highest a UConn player has been drafted. Donald Brown is the only former Husky to be taken in the first round as he went 27th overall to Indianapolis in the 2009 draft.

Davis, who former Dallas Cowboys draft guru Gil Brandt reported was one of two receivers at the NFL Scouting Combine not to drop a catchable pass, and McBryde both helped their stocks during the UConn pro day. Davis ran sub 4.5 in the 40 which was the biggest question about him while McBryde went under 5.0 and his 10-3 broad jump certainly opened some eyes.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Report: UConn TE McQuillan arrested following on-campus fight

According to a report in the Daily Campus, UConn senior tight end Sean McQuillan was arrested earlier this month on charges of assault in the second degree and disorderly conduct.

Campus police responded the Celeron Square Apartments for a reported fight on campus. The story said that officers determined McQuillan assaulted another individual that the Daily Campus reports was his roommate.

McQuillan, a redshirt senior, started and had the only touchdown in the spring game on Apr. 11. McQuillan finished with a game-high 76 receiving yards, 41 coming on the touchdown pass from Bryant Shirreffs.

McQuillan had 16 catches, the second most among the returning Huskies, for 158 yards and a touchdown during the 2014 season. He has 41 catches and a pair of touchdowns in 24 career games at UConn.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

UConn's Women's Football 101 Clinic set for June 12

The inaugural Women's Football 101 Clinic was such a hit that the event will be returning.

UConn announced that the event, which features the current UConn football players and coaches working with women in a variety of football drills.

Moe details on how to sign up will be coming at a later date.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

UConn's Byron Jones headed to NFL Draft

Former UConn defensive back Byron Jones, who has been skyrocketing up the draft boards after his sensational showings at the NFL Scouting Combine and at UConn's pro day, is among 26 players who have accepted invitations to attend the NFL

The NFL announced the list of names today and Jones is one of three cornerbacks and four defensive backs heading to Chicago for the draft.

Jones had 24 tackles, two interceptions and six passed defended as a senior despite missing the last four games due to a torn labrum suffered in a loss to East Carolina. Jones, who spent his first two seasons as a starting safety, finished his career with 223 tackles and eight interceptions.

Recent mock drafts have Jones projected to be a first round pick. The only other UConn product to go in the first round was running back Donald Brown, who was taken with the 27th overall pick by Indianapolis in the 2009 draft.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Sophomores impress at UConn spring game

Bryant Shirreffs (4) and Brian Lemelle (18) both had solid showings
Finally wrapped up transcribing the quotes from Saturday's Blue-White game and time to wrap things up.

At first glance I thought the sophomore class made quite the impact and looking closer at the numbers and that is even more evident.

The top two tacklers were sophomores Junior Joseph and Vontae Diggs, who had nine and seven tackles respectively. Nearly half of the tackles were recorded by players who were freshmen a season ago (including those who redshirted). The class also combined for 18 receptions, 133 receiving yards and 114 rushing yards (that is going under the assumption that a 20-yard loss attributed to Josh Marriner was merely a mistake in the final stats because unless I was just zoning out at that point, I don't recall Marriner being hit 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage).

Unofficially four players led the way with five targets and all four are heading into their sophomore seasons (tailbacks Ron Johnson and Arkeel Newsome and tight ends Alec Bloom and Tommy Myers). Last but certainly not least, Bryant Shirreffs led UConn had a game-high 168 passing yards.

After the game I asked Diaco if he was impressed with the growth of last year's freshmen.

"Alec Bloom, Vontae Diggs, Jamar Summers, you watch Jamar Summers out there and it is easy to forget that he was a freshman," UConn coach Bob Diaco said.

If the season were to open today, nine sophomores would be starters on either offense or defense. On offense, it would be Shirreffs, Johnson, Myers, center Ryan Crozier and guard Tommy Hopkins while defensive lineman Foley Fatukasi, linebackers Luke Carrezola and Joseph and cornerback Summers.

Here are Diaco's thoughts on some of these talented youngsters

"Early you could see that he hadn't had the feel of a stadium in a few years. He was kind of gripping it and even some of the checkdowns he hit were coming in hot but after five/six minutes in, he settled into some form. Decisions, ball handling driving it, mechanic of running offense was there, pretty clean that way. He has a nice touch on his shallow passing game. It was nice to see him settle in and throw those nice touch passes. he throws great on the move and he can really move.

"(Myers) absolutely has been a weapon at the point of attack and we have been pleased with how he is finishing the blocking."

"There is a significant role for Josh. You are just looking at one situation. Josh would really be our third down back right now so the combination of pass protection, hands , speed, he does a lot of things well. Arkeel, we've got to get the ball in space, we just have to, kicking game, offense, all kinds of ways. (Senior) Max (DeLorenzo) is another guy who is a jobs guy, ran well today, soft hands, he has a real knack and he runs particular plays well. Ron's going to be a battering ram, a lot red zone, third down, critical down, black zone coming out kind of guy."

"He looks inside like you are supposed to look. He runs down, he has a sense of where the ball is going to enter, he is a heavy hitter, heavy hands, he can really strike and shed. I'd like to see him tackle (better) but he is running to the ball and we are very pleased with Junior Joseph."

"the young guys played well, Atkins, Lawley, Cole played on the white and blue, he has a motor that doesn't quit. We are getting good play out of our boundary outside linebacker position, both Carrezola and Cam Stapleton and Omaine Stephens, (there was) good play there, wasn't a lot of action happening over there. You can see a lot less moments of voids in the defense, busted coverages, ball outside the defense where we lost force hallmarks of how to play good to great defense, you have to play the force. If you don't play the force well, you are not going to play good defense. It was nice to see that there weren't many force issues."

The talk wasn't limited to the sophomores.

Diaco also had tremendous praise for senior defensive linemen Julian Campenni and Kenton Adeyemi.

"There is not a team who graded their center (well) after Jul played them last year so he is continuing his development. He is fighting through some nagging stuff. He played his guts out today. kenton played hard, he is moving his game forward.

"Think about Kenton, now is almost 290 pounds. He was 260 pounds when we met him and now he is 290 pounds, now he can push, he is just as fast as he was long speed and short so now he has another 30 pounds to knock people back."

He continues to rave about the play of converted fullback Matt Walsh, who has found a home at inside linebacker.

"Inside linebackers are hard for me because I have to watch them but I will be shocked if I am not very excited because for 14 practices (he was) great. He was a hard decision about most improved. We gave the nod to Javon Hadley but Matt Walsh was right in the conversation, almost a coin flip. He has been awesome, he is at the right position, it is his natural position. He honestly does not require a lot of coaching to see where the plays are going to happen, he's got a natural feel for
finding the ball. He has been an incredible, not a pleasant surprise, that to me less than it actually is. He is an absolute add, a big plus from the spring. Like Crozier, so is Matt, awesome."

Finally, it was good to see junior receiver Brian Lemelle involved in the game plan. He showed tremendous promise as a freshman. Lemelle was targeted four times and caught all four balls including an impressive catch of a pass near his ankles that he snared with both hands and then turned up field.

"He is a different guy from when I met him," Diaco said. "Purposeful, professional, every day he is a worker. He is not a rah rah guy but he is a guy that you can look to and say 'look at Brian.' Do it like Brian. Brian, get to the front of line and show them how to do this drill. He is one of those guys."


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Youth is being served on UConn's offensive line

As Ryan Crozier and Tommy Hopkins walked off the field in early December following the completion of rather eventful freshmen season, the two promising offensive linemen had no idea what the future had in store for them.

It is a safe assumption that Crozier, who had never played a snap at center, did not envision himself as the starting center throughout spring camp. Perhaps almost as surprising was that Hopkins, who saw time mostly as a reserve offensive tackle during his redshirt freshman season, would end the final week of spring camp as the starting left guard.

When the final statistics were handed out in the Blue team's 13-3 win over the White in the annual spring fame, there were no grades listed for the offensive linemen but the progress reports for the two youngest members of the starting offensive line have been pretty good.

"The offensive line is doing well," junior quarterback Tim Boyle said. "They have come a long way in a year. Crozier moving from guard to center, he is doing a great job. both of our tackles (Richard Levy and Andreas Knappe) are juniors right now and they are going to add a lot of experience and then Tommy Hopkins, first year starter and Tommy is one of those kids who is quiet, he wont say a word to you but once he gets on the field he will get after it and he does everything the right way."

Crozier started the final three games at left guard. The feeling was that redshirt freshman Daniel Oak and junior Kyle Bockeloh would fight it out for the job of replacing graduated three-year starter Alex Mateas at center. However, when the team headed into winter workouts Crozier was given an additional assignment.

"All the practice I put in during winter workouts I got ready to (play center) and I just kept working during the spring and I gradually progressed," Crozier said. "I just studied the playbook, learned all the plays quicker than the other guys so I knew all the calls."

So what was the greatest challenge in moving from guard to center?

"Just the snaps, knowing that I have to get the ball back and they rely on that so just take care of that first and get to your blocking assignment," Crozier said. "Secondly, the calls knowing who the Mike (middle linebacker) is, what the front is."

While Crozier's first time at center came during spring camp, Hopkins spent time working at both guard and tackle in previous spring and preseason camps.

"Last year I played some guard for a couple of weeks and as a true freshman I actually played some guard at camp so I kind o of knew what to expect," Hopkins said. "Obviously I have to make some adjustments and have to work on my craft to keep getting better and it wasn't that bad of a switch over.

"I just focused on improving and watching film and said I was going to be better day by day, I tried to fix some things I need to fix. I was focused on myself and when they moved me over there, I knew I had an opportunity so I focused on doing the best I could."

Sophomore Trey Rutherford began spring camp as the starting left guard but late in camp Hopkins moved into a starting role.

"I will play wherever the team needs me but obviously guard/tackle are a little different," Hopkins said. "I have to pull more and there is not as much space but wherever you play, you just have to play tough and do the best you can."

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Some observations from UConn's spring game

Bob Diaco's second spring practice came to an end with today's Blue-White Game.

Here are some thoughts from the game won by the Blue (featuring the starters on both offense and defense) 13-3 over the White. Early on starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs looked pretty nervous in the early stages and like a player who is still shaking the rust off after sitting out last season following his transfer from North Carolina State. Five of his six passing attempts went to the running backs as the play calling was conservative to say the least. As the game went on, UConn got its tight ends more involved especially with passes down the seams which is something we have no seen since Ryan Griffin was suiting up for UConn. The only touchdown was a 41-yard pass from Shirreffs to Sean McQuillan. Alec Bloom had a 29-yard catch and Tommy Myers had a 23-yard catch. The trio combined for 12 catches in the game.

The run game was pedestrian and that is being kind. The four scholarship tailbacks averaged 2.6 yards per carry and there were too many drops in the game.

A season ago I thought receiver Brian Lemelle and cornerback Javon Hadley looked like two of the freshmen who showed the most promise in the 2013 season but both had relatively quiet sophomore seasons. I was impressed with what I saw from both of them. Hadley joined offensive lineman Brendan Vechery as the White team captains which was picked by the coaches based on the players who improved the most during spring practice. Joseph and center Ryan Crozier (much more on him tomorrow) were the Blue team captains.

The focus was predictably about the quarterbacks and in particular Shirreffs (13 of 24 for 168 yards) and Tim Boyle (14 of 24 for 118 yards) which overshadowed a solid effort by the defense.

The way the game was set up the first team offense went against the No. 2 defense, yet other than letting McQuillan get free, the game was dominated by the defense. The top three tacklers for the White team was Vontae Diggs, redshirt freshman DB Anthony Watkins and converted fullback Matt Walsh. John Green had a breakup in the end zone on a pass intended for Noel Thomas and Mikal Myers batted down two passes at the line of scrimmage. With Myers joining Julian Campenni, Foley Fatukasi and Kenton Adeyemi, UConn is going to be a hard time to run on especially with a vastly improved linebacker Junior Joseph in the middle.

Health wise, Diaco said the team came away rather clean. Tailback Ron Johnson did come out of the game but came back while reserve defensive lineman James Atkins had to be helped to the sidelines.

Walk-on running back Jason Thompson, a former Shelton High star, had a 40-yard run, the longest of the day, and also had a 28-yard catch. Ansonia's Arkeel Newsome led the White with four catches while Diaco continues to rave about Madison's Walsh who he said was in contention to be named game captain right down to the very end of the discussion.

There will be plenty more on the game once I transcribe the quotes from Diaco and the players.