Thursday, April 02, 2015

Observations from UConn's "Dog Pound" practice

The media got to see more than just the first 20 minutes of practice for the first time during spring drills as UConn hosted its "Dog Pound" practice when students are invited to watch the practice.

Rather than the normal positional drills we get to see, we did get to see plenty of 7 on 7 action and an entertaining 3 on 3 drill when the defensive players had to take on blockers and keep a running back from reaching a line of scrimmage designated as the goal line.

Let's start with the latter drill because it is the only one with real contact I have seen this spring.

Foley Fatukasi was absolutely unblockable, either shedding blockers or simply beating them off the ball to make three tackles in this drill. He blew up tailback Ron Johnson with enough force with one hit that Johnson needed his helmet readjusted by an equipment manager.

Sheriden Lawley also looked good in this drill while Jhavon Williams made a tackle as well. Offensively, it was a good drill for former Valley running backs as Ansonia's Arkeel Newsome broke free for a score as did Shelton's Jason Thompson. Max DeLorenzo gained some tough yards during the drill.

The offensive highlight on passing drills before the start of  the 7 on 7 portion of practice was a tremendous catch by Noel Thomas of a pass thrown behind him. The best way to describe the catch was that it was Geremy Davis like.

It hardly seems a coincidence that when Bob Diaco had players pick out numbers for prizes given out to students in attendance, the first two players chosen were Fatukasi and Thomas followed by tight end Sean McQuillan.

The first portion of the 7 on 7 I saw was between the 30 yard lines.

Bryant Shirreffs was the first quarterback out and completed 3 of 5 passes mostly of the screen and short possession pass variety. Tim Boyle was 1 for 4 but one of the incompletions almost certainly would have resulted in a pass interference call against Graham Stewart in an actual game. Tyler Davis was 2 for 4 with both completions going to Thompson and a dropped pass mixed in there.

The next part of 7 on 7 work was in the red zone and it began with four straight incompletions before Davis hit Newsome on the 5 with Newsome spinning and racing untouched into the end zone. There were plenty of overthrown balls. A highlight came when linebacker Vontae Diggs picked off Shirreffs. Jamar Summers and Matt Walsh had pass breakups.

There was no player access even though we were told that selected players would be available. Here are some thoughts from Diaco

"He's a talented player, aggressive player, fast, violent, heavy hands. He is working on his game."

"We are going to have some action on Friday. I could probably talk about some separation but I am not going to because it is pretty close. After Friday we will create separation."

"We added a two-minute drill. We were able to simulate the drill, the 1 (starting) offense methodically went down the field. They had some challenges, their backs were against the wall, I want to say on fourth down they converted. It wasn't contrived, it was legitimately executed. We went down the field and put the offense in field goal position and kicked a field goal. It was a nice drill, it was well done."

"Ron (Johnson) brings something that's completely different from Josh (Marriner). Josh is an every down back, he is a third-down back, he has soft hands, he can pass protect and he is fast. Arkeel  is a guy who has to get the ball in space. He has to get the ball often, a bunch during games from different spots doing different things. Ron and Max are our downhill runners, in between the tackles, tough yards, grind it out, knife into small windows guys."

"It is going to look like a game. It is going to be a game but we are not going to have live kickoffs and live kickoff returns."

"It seems like anytime I saw something the group comes out and has an average practice. I got to say the tight ends. Sean, Tommy, Alec and even Nick and the inside linebackers, I'd say those two groups have really come on and improved their work collectively this spring."

"Very good, he is in the right position. Walsh, he has a natural, instinctual eye for playing inside linebacker. He can see the plays, he is figuring the defense out and when he gets comfortable there he will be moving faster."

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Frank displays versatility at UConn pro day

Considering all the different position groups Reuben Frank was working with at yesterday's pro day at UConn, I was fully expecting Reuben Frank to be asked to attempt a 50-yard field goal or start taking five-step drops alongside Chandler Whitmer.

Frank, who started at 12 games as a senior at defensive end or outside linebacker as a senior, worked alongside fellow defensive linemen B.J. McBryde and Angelo Pruitt. However, a few NFL teams did their homework and realized that Frank began his career at UConn as a fullback, so they wanted to see him get some offensive work in. There was one problem, there were no running backs among the nine former Huskies working out for the pro scouts so Frank ended up doing drills along with receivers Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx. Seeing Frank race 50 yards downfield to snare a pass from Whitmer with ease, it might have surprised some onlookers to hear that this was a starting collegiate defensive end and not a receiver or tight end catching pass after pass.

"They wanted me to play some offense because a couple of coaches wanted to see me play fullback, how I moved at fullback, how I could catch, if I could run," Frank said. "I played three different positions here so I am willing to do anything, I am not going to say 'no I don't want to do this.'

"I was willing to go straight from the offensive drills straight to the defensive drills without complaining or 'Coach, I don't know I can do it anymore.' The coaches said 'don't gas yourself, don't hurt yourself' but I am willing to do anything. I will die out here before I would walk away from somebody who wants to talk to me. I just want an opportunity."

Frank had strong showings in the workouts as well. He had 24 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press. As a point of reference, of the 30 running backs who did the bench at the NFL combine, only five topped that number. His 33 1/2 vertical leap matches what Miami's Duke Johnson did at the combine and was equal or better than 13 of the 32 players at the combine even though he is 20, 30 and perhaps 40 pounds heavier than some of those players.

Frank's upbeat approach to pro day is hardly a surprise to anybody who knows him.

"He doesn't look at anything negatively," said McBryde, Frank's former roommate. "He might say something . I may walk into the room and say 'workouts were crazy.' But no. Pretty soon the closer we got to pro day, it is not when I run this, when I bench this, when I finish with this time. It is 'I ran this time. I benched this many. I jumped this. I sprinted this.' It wasn't that we got through the drills, we finished the drills. We worked hard, we pushed ourselves. Reuben helped me a lot."

Frank was just grateful for the opportunity to work out in front of scouts and coaches from 29 NFL teams.

"You only have one shot at it and doing your best is all you can really do," Frank said. "I have been here for five years and played a lot of different positions so I just showcased that. I am willing to do anything in order to get the chance.

"It felt good. I dropped two balls but once I got warmed up I was good. It felt good to be out here with the teammates supporting me, everybody watching me so I could showcase to everybody. It is a dream of a lifetime and I really appreciate the opportunity I got today."

Perhaps nothing made Frank happier than to see Anthony Sherman, the starting fullback of the Kansas City Chiefs in attendance. Sherman was UConn's starting fullback when Frank was redshirting back during the 2010 season. He learned so much about playing the position as well as the work ethic it takes to succeed from Sherman.

"It was good to see him and have his support," Frank said.

Sherman is going into his fifth season in the NFL. The Pro Football Focus site, which breaks down every play in every game to rate players, said Sherman was the best blocking fullback in the NFL last season so who better to give an opinion on how Frank looked during offensive drills than Sherman?
"I always watch (UConn games) when I can on TV and he did great," Sherman said. "He did both defense and offense. I joked with him that you could do (both). The more you can do in the NFL the better chance you can keep a job or get a job. You see him out here and doing his thing."


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

UConm's Jones, Davis impress at pro day

His audition in front of representatives from 29 NFL teams (Cincinnati, Houston and St. Louis were the only no shows) had come to an end and all that remained was to engage in a little small talk with many of the reporters who covered Byron Jones during his UConn playing days.

Jones admitted that he has become a bit obsessed with fishing and blames former teammate Blake Feagles (son of former NFL punter Jeff Feagles) for this hobby of it. The reality of it is that Jones was reeling in some big fish at UConn's pro day.

The two biggest names to show up in Storrs were NFL head coaches Mike Zimmer of Minnesota and Chip Kelly of Philadelphia.

Quarterback Chandler Whitmer joked that 'is what happens with Byron jumping out of Indianapolis."

Defensive lineman B.J. McBryde said "I have always said that there are human beings and there is Byron Jones."

Jones opened more than a few eyes when he set an NFL combine record of 12-3 in the broad jump. He didn't take long to start trending on Twitter or generating attention from the national media. Since he needed time to fully recover after undergoing shoulder surgery in October for a torn labrum which brought a premature end to his UConn playing days, Jones opted not to run the 40 or do the bench press at the NFL combine. So the pro scouts turned out by the dozens with some teams sending four or five representatives.

Jones did not disappoint. He had an unofficial time of 4.36 in the 40 (since they were hand timed, it will go down as unofficial times) and set a personal best with 18 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press. He also got to go through a 1 on 1 drill with Zimmer towards the end of practice and also spend a little bit of time talking with Kelly.

"It is very rare that you have (head) coaches that come to your pro day and work you out," Jones said. "It was great to have those guys here."

Jones admitted that Zimmer had him drop his hips and have different arm placement than he is accustomed to in the drill and thinks it took a little time to adjust. Still, he had few regrets about his pro day even if he didn't do the rest of the agility drills because of his impressive work at the combine. Nothing was more impressive than the broad jump as he set a world record. Of course, the broad jump hasn't been part of track and field competitions since the early 1900s. Still, a world record is a world record.

"My main goal is not to be a world-record holder or run the fastest 40, my main goal is to be a great NFL player," Jones said. "This is a small step in my journey towards being a great NFL player."

Jones is as explosive an athlete as there is in the draft but he so much more than a guy who puts up great numbers on a track. He was a four-year starter, the first two as a safety and the last two seasons he played cornerback after Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson headed off to the NFL.

The two NFL cornerbacks were among the players who first put the idea into Jones' head that he could be a professional prospect.

"I had a lot of guys giving me the low down on 'hey, you are a good player, keep it up and you will be in the league.'" Jones said. "I didn't believe them at first but as I got older I was able to see.

"We are turning them out (NFL defensive backs). All the guys in the league, they are doing pretty well."

Jones said he recently spoke with Wreh-Wilson for about 40 minutes and Gratz for 30 minutes. Most of the time was spent catching up on things but there was also time to talk a little NFL.

Jones said it doesn't matter where he plays at the next level.

"I am a versatile player," Jones said. "I don't mind if they move me to safety, I actually enjoy that. At the end of the day you are a defensive back, a corner/safety."

In terms of the injury, he said he is fully recovered. Jones was told nobody would downgrade him if he failed to do the bench press since his collegiate career ended with a shoulder injury serious enough to require surgery but he wanted to prove to the scouts and himself that his shoulder was fine.

"It feels strong, I have full mobility," Jones said. "It was surprising with 18 (reps)."

Jones looked back on the frustration of his injury-shortened senior season.

"I was injured in camp and why is it now?" Jones said. "I had pretty much a clean injury report since I started playing football and it is the most important season going into the NFL but as it went on, it is fine I can come back from this no problem, get the surgery and get back to full health.

"It was hard to see those guys struggle. It was hard to do. There was nothing I could do at that point except give them encouragement, coach them up as hard as I can."

Since his remarkable work at the combine, the attention on Jones has just taken off. He is starting to show up as a late first rounder in some mock drafts. Jones was told by his agent to not put much stock into the stuff said and written about him -  both good and bad - in the days, weeks and months leading up to the draft. He isn't pounding his chest about setting a world record either.

"I didn't care then and don't care now and only care about the combine record and took care of that," Jones said. "I guess just more interest, anything that could get more people in your corner, they want to look at you and you physical ability and football ability."

Davis' day was limited to running the 40 and doing position drills.

Davis did 23 reps on the bench press at the combine and was among the top performers among the receivers in the 60-yard shuttle. Former Dallas Cowboys draft guru Gil Brandt tweeted that Davis was one of two receivers at the combine who didn't drop a catchable pass during the 2014 season so he had the hands and size (6-2, 216) to play at the next level. Did he have the speed? That was the major question. If he ran his 40 in the high 4.6 or 4.7 range, his stock might plummet. Instead, he broke 4.5 in both of his attempts. You could almost hear him moving up the draft boards as he finished running.

"You are anxious, a little worried but you have to be confident at the same time. I am a man of faith, I prayed about it and I said I know what happens, You are with me regardless," Davis said.

So how did Davis prepare for his run to glory?

"Speed work. I am a gym rat, I can't leave. I stay after and work on 10-yard starts. I was happy to improve my straight-line speed and prove my route-running ability. I worked hard and can't wait for that day to hear my name called."

A total of nine UConn players took part in the pro day. Offensive linemen Gus Cruz and Alex Mateas, defensive linemen Reuben Frank, Angelo Pruitt and B.J. McBryde, receivers Davis and Deshon Foxx, Whitmer and Jones.

So notes from the day:

Foxx said he ran in the 4.4s, he tied McBryde with the best broad jump of the day at 10-3 and had a vertical of 32 1/2 inches. A Tennessee scout chatted with him after his positional drills.

"I was hoping to run faster but I am pleased with my performance today," Foxx said. "I thought I did well in the route running, I felt like I was able to catch everything, my routes were pretty crisp and I was using my hands so I was feeling comfortable.

"Growing up you dream of playing in the NFL so coming out here and performing in front of all the scouts, it is a great oppurtunity for me. Being able to talk to a few of them afterwards, it really helps my confidence and makes me believe I performed well."

Frank did both offensive and defensive drills since he was a fullback earlier in his career. He looked really good catching the ball and said teams wanted to see if he could handle things as a fullback. He had 25 reps in the bench press, went 9-7 in the broad jump and 33 1/2 in the vertical. I will be writing more on his busy day probably at some point tomorrow.

Whitmer threw passes to receivers at the Georgia and Georgia Tech pro days. He said he drew quite a bit of interest from teams after those events. He is planning to work out for Cleveland and Tampa Bay. I heard one scout said "that's quite a throw" on one of his deep balls today.

"I am making the trips and trying to get in front of as many people as possible," Whitmer said, "I had some great opportunities. I was happy to be back here."

McBryde might have had the most impressive showing when he went 10-3 in the broad jump. This is a guy pushing 300 pounds. Maybe it was just some extra love for a Pennsylvania boy but McBryde got plenty of time with the Eagles' reps there including Kelly, who recently called McBryde's father.

"He was happy to talk to a hometown guy," McBryde said. "I was talking to Coach Kelly a little bit, he was saying that he called my dad and trying to get in touch with him. My dad called me Saturday and he set me up a little bit. He talked on the phone really somber 'I got a phone call today.' I thought 'what happened?.' He said that one of coaches from the Eagles called. I jumped off the table, I am outside screaming."

There were two CFL scouts there to see Mateas, who is the No. 2 rated prospect in the CFL draft. They chatted with him for quite some time (more on Mateas will be coming later).

Pruitt had the best showing in the bench press with 26 reps. I caught up with him about what a crazy ride it has been after an ankle injury forced him to stop playing for UConn after just one game as a senior and will be posting stuff about that at some point.

Finally, former UConn star Anthony Sherman was in attendance. He was rated as the No. 1 blocking fullback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus and I spoke with him about his NFL career as he prepares for his third season with the Kansas City Chiefs and fifth season overall. I'll get around to providing an update on him as well.

Current UConn players turned out to watch former teammates in action at Tuesday's pro day

Byron Jones, Angelo Pruitt and Geremy Davis check out action in bench press at UConn's pro day

Angelo Pruitt gets measured before vertical jump

Plenty of reasons of smile for former UConn stars

Pretty good day at office for former UConn stars

With Byron Jones, who stole the show at the NFL combine, set to run his 40-yard dash, UConn's pro day figured to be well attended. That was certainly the case as 29 NFL teams and two from the CFL were here today.

Jones certainly did his part, running an unofficial time of 4.36 seconds. Despite having his senior season ended prematurely due to a torn labrum, Jones decided to do the bench press. He was figuring 14-16 reps at 225 would be a good number. He ended up doing 18.

Jones' day ended with Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer doing some 1 on 1 drills focusing on his technique. Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly was also in attendance as was former UConn fullback Anthony Sherman of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Geremy Davis also had a strong effort at the combine and the only question was whether he could run fast enough to move up the boards. Well, he certainly did that. There was those who thought a 40 time in the mid 4.5s would be enough to send him up the draft boards. He broke 4.5 in both of his runs which certainly should make him some money.

Angelo Pruitt led the way in the bench press at 26, with Jones standing on his sensational broad and vertical jump numbers from the combine, Reuben Frank led the way in the vertical (33 1/2 inches) with both Deshon Foxx and B.J. McBryde having broad jumps of 10-3. McBryde's effort was especially impressive since he is pushing 300 pounds and he did not break the 10-0 mark in practice jumps leading into the combine.

There will be much more from today either later today or in the coming days but it might take a little while because I didn't get home from covering the women's Division I regional in Albany until about 3 a.m. and was up at 7 so I'm a little bit tired.

Here are the videos I shot (except the one with reaction from Jones because of a malfunction with the Tout app on my phone).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Some under the radar position battles at UConn

Unless UConn moves tomorrow's spring practice to Albany (where I will be for the NCAA women's basketball regional) I won't be at the third practice that the media is allowed to watch the first 20-30 minutes.

That doesn't mean I don't have some thoughts on what has been transpiring during spring camp.

As always, there are some interesting positional battles. No, it is not all about quarterback, quarterback and more on the quarterback competition.

A couple things I noticed from the two practices I was able to watch is that Ryan Crozier seems like the guy at center and that after redshirting last season, Sheriden Lawley and James Atkins are getting long looks to get into the defensive end rotation.

Let's start with the center position. Coming into spring practice the feeling was that Daniel Oak, who redshirted a season ago, and Kyle Bockeloh would fight it out for the starting center spot.

During the opening practice, Crozier (who the last three games of the season at left guard as a true freshman) was the center on the starting offensive line with classmate Trey Rutherford moving into to the starting role at left guard. At practice No. 5, the lineup was the same. Crozier playing center and Rutherford at left guard was a subject I brought up in the press conference with Diaco.

'We are seeing if he can snap and block to the right, snap and block to the left with power," Diaco said on Crozier's work at center. "It looks like he can. We look at the gun snap and it looks like he can. What we've like to do is we'd like to have the best player play and most physically gifted play, to take those five guys and start there. Which guy can snap of those five? The other guys are doing a great job. We will be able to function with all three. The Crozier experience is going to continue to move forward.

"That (Rutherford's experience as a true freshman) is a big help. All of those guys have reps. Crozier was a starter, Rutherford played a ton, Samra was a starter, Andreas was a starter, Richard was a starter so you have five guys who either started or played a bunch of football and they are all back not that you are looking at '16 but this is a young group."

At defensive end Kenton Adeyemi, Folorunso Fatukasi and Cole Ormsby proved last season that they belong as rotational guys at defensive end. Diaco would like to have a fourth player in place before the start of preseason camp in August. When UConn did some 11 on 11 drills, Lawley was out there with the second-team defense.

"He is (competing) for the next guy in spot at defensive end," Diaco said. "You have James (Atkins), you have Sheriden, you have some guys coming in and somebody needs to take over that otherwise we will be 3 (players) for 2 (positions) at that end position where we will take Kenton, Foley, Cole and go 3 for 2. We'd like not to have to have to do that if we develop the next man in so we will see."

UConn announced some details of the March 31 pro day and April 11 spring game.

The pro day (which will not be open to the public) will be on campus beginning at 8:45 a.m. While most of the attention will be focused on NFL combine star Byron Jones and Geremy Davis, normally all the UConn seniors take part in the event.

As far as the spring game, parking lots open at noon (three hours before the spring game) with the gates at Rentschler Field opening at 1 p.m. The fan fest will also open at 1

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

UConn seniors setting the tone

The frustration was rather obvious when Graham Stewart took a peek into his crystal ball.

Stewart and the rest of the seniors felt incredible pain to seeing a respected group of seniors leave the UConn program with a 2-10 record as well as a string of four straight losing seasons. Stewart doesn't know what the record will be in his final season but he is very clear that Stewart and the fellow seniors are taking the steps they feel are necessary to be more successful.

"I am a guy from Connecticut so it is kind of like taking ownership," Stewart said. "I take a tremendous amount of pride in that I definitely don't want to finish my senior year the way last season finished, I think that would stick with me forever and I can't let that happen."

Just like last season, there is a small group of seniors on the UConn roster. Last year other than receivers Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx, center Alex Mateas and cornerback Byron Jones, most of the remaining seniors were either players splitting playing time or those who rarely see the field. That is certainly not the case this time around.

Stewart, fellow linebacker and returning captain Marquise Vann, safety Andrew Adams, defensive linemen Kenton Adeyemi and Julian Campenni are defensive players accustomed to playing key roles, tight end Sean McQuillan, guard Tyler Samra and running back Max DeLorenzo are players with at least two years of being regular contributors while Junior Lee and Dom Manco are among UConn's best special teams players.

The seniors are determined to not only walk the walk but talk the talk as well.

"We got together in the beginning and kind of talked about what we wanted to do and the bigger goals," McQuillan said. "We want to be one of the senior groups that everybody feels like you can come up to, you can approach, you can talk to and we just want to be a close-knit group and make sure everybody is comfortable with each other. This senior group has a goal in mind and we are not going to stop until we get there."

UConn coach Bob Diaco has liked what he has seen from his seniors during the early stages of spring practice.

"Even now we are all in so 'what do we do? How does that look like, sound like, smell like, taste like so what do I do?" Diaco said. "We are ready so that is the kind of phase we are in right now, that group helping them have a voice, helping them have an appropriate voice and collectively all of them from John Bogue all the way to Max to Graham to Kenton to Andrew and that whole group, they are really doing a nice job with the team."

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Walsh making an impact at linebacker for UConn

It certainly hasn't taken former Hand High star Matt Walsh to make his presence felt at linebacker.

Walsh was an All-State linebacker at Hand but when he came to UConn, he was moved to fullback. A team-first player like Walsh gave everything he had to become the best fullback possible but anybody who watched his search and destroy missions when he covered kicks for the Huskies must have figured he was playing out of position.

The UConn coaches certainly picked up on that because they moved him from fullback to linebacker during the offseason. Today was the fifth spring practice and during the 11 on 11 portion of practice that the media was able to see, Walsh was already firmly in place at inside linebacker with the second team.

Today also happened to be the first day we had access to the players and Walsh was among the players I requested to speak to. However, due to a tight scheduling window since today was the first day of classes after spring break. he had only six minutes with the players and tight end Sean McQuillan, tackle Andreas Knappe, safety Andrew Adams and linebacker Graham Stewart were the only players brought in for interviews.

Although I could not speak to Walsh about the transition, others were more than happy to talk about his move to linebacker.

"He is a linebacker more than he was a fullback," Stewart said. "He looks really fluid. he is all here and he is open to absorbing all the information and learning it fast.

"You can't teach the physical part of it, you can teach all the mental parts and nuances so he should be good."

Diaco, who takes an active role in coaching the linebackers, first referred to Walsh's move to linebacker as an experiment meaning that he could move back to offense if it didn't work out. Well, I don't think you have to worry about that happening.

"I'm really pleased," Diaco said. "You hear the rumblings, you follow his high school career, you come here and he is at fullback. You look at that for a year and it is like 'you know what, let's just take a look at this.' It really does look like his natural position (is linebacker) so without knowing too much about the defense, he did some things each day that gives you hope and makes you believe he is at the right spot."

Speaking of former Hand High stars, Diaco also raved about walk-on defensive back Nick Vitale.

"Nick Vitale, I could go on forever about these guys. Nick's got a medical issue, he plays the whole season, never takes himself out, quietly goes about his business," Diaco said. "It wasn't a little thing, it was a big thing and then the season ended, quietly two weeks later he went and addressed it over break. He hasn't missed a meeting or practice, hasn't talked about it. doesn't want us to talk about it or tell the team about it. You see a guy like that who loves Connecticut, he loves the state of Connecticut, he loves the University of Connecticut. We are putting those guys out front. JJ Bivona (a walk-on safety who played at Bunnell) addressed the group today, same thing how much he loves Connecticut, how honored he is to serve UConn, that is what these guys bring to the team. They bring the extra heartbeat that is necessary."

Another walk-on drawing praise from Diaco was former Xavier High star Sean Marinan.

"He (Marinan) is a great teammate, son of a coach so he is a great teammate, he has the right answers, he knows what to do in the locker room," Diaco said. "There are a lot of things that he adds before we even get on the field. On the field, he is a battler. He is a fighter, a scrapper, demonstrative. He plays one of our greatest roles, he is the middle shield on the punt team which as the middle shield, you run the punt team, you are the quarterback of the punt team. He is a field general doing
that job, he embraces that, he loves it."

Health wise UConn looks to be in good shape. As he did in the opening spring practice, safety Obi Melifonwu was wearing a yellow (injury) jersey since he is coming off shoulder surgery. Melifonwu is still out there doing most of the drills.

"He is doing everything except cutting it loose from a live situation," Diaco said. "Controlled drills where he could attack the ball in the air and defend the ball in the air, all of those drills. It is when we start to articulate 11 on 11 is why he has that jersey on and it is so he can participate full speed and not worry if he is going to have contact. He's 100 percent."

Bob Diaco on two latest additions to UConn team

The paperwork has been filed and UConn football coach Bob Diaco was able to talk on the record about Florida State transfer EJ Levenberry and quarterback Garrett Anderson, who is transferring in from Laney College, a two-year school in Oakland.

"He is a national recruit at his position," said Diaco, who recruited Levenberry when he was at Notre Dame. "He was probably ranked in the top 3-5 in the country (at inside linebacker). We wanted him bad, I think it came down at the end of the day to Oklahoma and Florida State. He is big, he is the quintessential inside linebacker in our defense.

"He has good to great speed. He is fast for a big guy. He has an intangible nose for the ball, he is a great young man. He loves to train, he loves to win, he is all about winning so he is going to add to the culture. He has a championship ring."

Because Levenberry enrolled at a junior college after leaving Florida State, there is a chance he could play immediately at UConn rather than sit out the normal one year as a Division I transfer.

"That is a process for his family and the institution he is at," Diaco said. "What waivers, obviously we will do everything we can do to help facilitate the process for sure. If that happens, to me that is icing on the cake, it is gravy, it is not an entree. We are just glad to have him on the team and be able to participate."

Levenberry played two seasons at Florida State and was a member of a national-championship team. If he has to sit out the upcoming season, he can redshirt and have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Levenberry and Anderson will both arrive in June, enroll in summer session and will be able to take part in preseason drills.

"Same stuff, big, physical, when he was participating, he was really down on interceptions," Diaco said of Anderson. "He is smart with the football, throws a very good ball. He is very mature, kind of taking the next step. My understanding is in the next few months he will be married, family is important. He is a grown man ready to take the next step in his life, finish up his degree work and play some football. There aren't a whole lot of other things that distract him in his life which is nice and he has the tools."

Diaco said "quarterbacks" when discussing the desire to add to the current crop of QBs. There are three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster heading into spring drills. North Carolina State transfer Bryant Shirreffs, who sat out last season after transferring, saw the first-team reps when UConn had 11 on 11 drills at today's spring practice. Tim Boyle is the only quarterback on the roster who has taken a snap with the Huskies and true freshman Tyler Davis graduated early from Mepham High School, is currently enrolled at school and eligible to take part in spring practice. We'll see if another player is added to the quarterback competition or if the extra person is walk-on Brandon Bisack out of Fairfield Warde or another scholarship quarterback joins the team. Obviously Diaco is limited by what he can say about players who have yet to sign with the Huskies.

"That group is going to be able to grow and the group is going to get bigger over the summer," Diaco said. "There will be a couple of guys added to that group of three and Will (Rishell) but the competition happening between those three has been good."

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QB Shirreffs taking first-team reps at UConn spring practice

There was a little extra treat for the media today as the post-stretching portion of practice began with 11 on 11 drills with the first team offense playing the first team defense before going into positional drills. Normally we only get to see stretching followed by positional drills before the time we are allowed to watch practice expires.

We were requested to shoot very tight videos on the 11 on 11, focusing on individual players instead of wide shots of formations so we don't give away information and trends to opposing teams. Unfortunately, since I use my iPhone to do the videos, I have no zoom capabilities so I held off on shooting video until the positions drills started. I did, however, take some notes on who was working with the first and second teams.

First up, Bryant Shirreffs took the snaps with the first team offense with Tim Boyle coming out with the second team. We only saw a series with each of them and not much to report. Shirreffs certainly looks comfortable throwing on the run but he also missed some pretty easy throws. There were a couple of drops as well while Shirreffs and Boyle took their reps.

Shirreffs looks extremely comfortable throwing on the run but when I asked Diaco about that, he chose his words carefully. He did not want to talk up any of the quarterbacks over the others just yet.

"He does look like that," Diaco said. "He is definitely a threat with the ball in his hands, that is for sure because he is big and fast."

Diaco was quick to add that he thought Boyle also threw the ball well while on the run. In my opinion, Boyle is at his best when he drops back to pass.

"It has looked very, very good," Diaco said. "We are pleased with the position, we are pleased with the battle. That group is going to be able to grow and the group is going to get bigger over the summer. There will be a couple of guys added to that group of three and Will (Rishell) but the competition happening between those three has been good. There has been some separation. I am reluctant at this point to say anything specific about it and I don't mean to be coy but there are more situations that need to happen. Right now it has been even situation downs, we got into a little bit of critical down work, we got into a little bit of red zone critical situation work. Guys will flourish as this string of situations unfold that all requite a different style of quarterbacking. It will happen soon I think, hopefully by the end of this week, hopefully there will be some separation."

Ryan Crozier is the No. 1 center as he was during the opening practice. This is what I had for the starters on both sides of the ball. Richard Levy and Andreas Knappe were the starting tackles, Trey Rutherford and Tyler Samra worked with the first team at guard. Ron Johnson was the tailback with the first unit. I did not get the numbers of all the receivers and tight ends but did see receiver Dhameer Bradley and tight ends Sean McQuillan and Tommy Myers out there during the first series.

On the defensive side of the ball, Kenton Adeyemi, Foley Fatukasi, Julian Campenni and Luke Carrezola were up front, Junior Joseph, Graham Stewart and Marquise Vann were at linebacker with the normal starting secondary of Jhavon Williams, Jamar Summers, Obi Melifonwu and Andrew Adams.

When the second team defense came out, converted fullback Matt Walsh was at middle linebacker.Cameron Stapleton, Mikal Myers, Vontae Diggs, Cole Ormsby, Sheriden Lawley, Jon Hicks, Javon Hadley, Brice McAllister and Junior Lee. My contacts may have been playing tricks on me since it is kind of early but I wrote down No. 25 as the other player with the second-string secondary and since that it backup receiver James Sullivan, my eyes might be playing tricks on me.

The second team offensive line consisted of Brendan Vechery, Tommy Hopkins, Zach Rugg, Steve Hashemi and Dan Oak.

Among the visitors at the practice were incoming freshman Aaron McLean and former defensive linebacker B.J. McBryde. McBryde, who was an absolute delight to cover, said he is getting fired up for the Mar. 31 pro day.

Diaco said he wanted to go right into the 11 on 11 drill just to make sure everybody was mentally engaged since it was the first day back after spring break.

"Monday mornings are always a little bit of a challenge," Diaco said. "Today is always a concern and they did a fantastic job today. I knew right away, I said in the team meeting that there is a different look, a different identity with them sitting there bright eyed, bushy tailed, they are ready to work and excited to be back together and I know we all feel like that.

"It is just in case the lights weren't on full blast, I wanted to hook battery charges up to their chest, give them a little shot of energy. It is hard to put your toe in the water when the first thing in practice after you warm up is to articulate good on good on an 11 on 11 situation. It is a drill we do, it is a speed drill more than it is a contact drill. It is mostly about the speed that they move and the speed of the communication and the challenge of the communication so it is running at an unrealistic pace. The ball is predetermined in the spots that it moves so it is easy to move it at a very fast rate."
There will be much more later today and in the coming days. Unfortunately with today being the first day of the resumption of classes, we were limited to a total of six minutes with a selected group of players. The good news is that two of the four were McQuillan and Stewart who are both quote machines so I should have some pretty good stuff from them to share.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Former Florida State LB transferring to UConn

Former Florida State linebacker EJ Levenberry is transferring to UConn according to a report by The report of the transfer was confirmed by a post via the UConn football official Twitter account.

Levenberry is expected to enroll at UConn in June, had 60 tackles in two seasons at FSU. He was recruited out of Hylton High School by UConn head coach Bob Diaco and defensive assistants Anthony Poindexter and Vincent Brown.

The report said Levenberry will file a waiver in an attempt to be able to play in the upcoming season but if that is denied, he will redshirt and have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

He had a career-high eight tackles in a 2013 game against North Carolina State and had two tackles in the 2013 ACC championship game. Levenberry returned an interception 78 yards for a touchdown in an 80-14 win over Idaho on Nov. 23, 2013 and also had six tackles against Syracuse as a freshman.