Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Former UConn LB Moore back at practice

Moments after the nasty collision Sio Moore, perpetually in motion, did not move. As he was taken off the field on a stretcher, there had to be some concerns whether his promising NFL career was in jeopardy before it really even was able to get underway.

Well, just a few days after the former UConn linebacker suffered the frightening injury, he was back out on the practice field for the Oakland Raiders.

Oakland coach Dennis Allen addressed Moore's return to practice with the media following practice.

"He moved around out there. He’s still not 100 percent, but we felt like he felt like the best thing for him to do was to get out there, move around a little bit, stayed out of contact, but at least go through some of the individual drills and stuff like that to begin to get some movement back "

Reports are that Moore's status is uncertain for Thursday's preseason finale against Seattle, I'd be shocked if they were ready to put him out there for a preseason game.


Former FSU QB dishes on UConn

Danny Kanell, one of the broadcasters doing Friday's UConn/BYU game for ESPN, was on a conference call with former Texas coach Mack Brown today. Kanell was asked about UConn and here's what he had to say

"I’m excited to see this weekend to see the turn around with Bob Diaco and see what he’s implemented. I think they’re going to have their hands full with a BYU team that’s extremely talented and has a quarterback who might be a dark horse contender in Taysom Hill for the Heisman Trophy. But I think it’s going to be a process. It’s going to take some time for Bob Diaco to get his guys in there to start recruiting the type of players that he wants.

I think it’s a pivotal time for UConn and for them as a program. You look at the way football is dividing and the Power Five are starting to separate themselves, and UConn’s trying to make a case to maybe even play into one of those conferences if there are any spots available, and one way they can make themselves attractive is to step up their football program.

"I think it’s going to be challenging for anybody outside of the Power Five to steal guys from within the Power Five. But UConn hasn’t been exactly going after those types of guys anyway. I think there is plenty of talent within this part of the country which it can draw from, and it’s just maximizing the talent around here and developing players once he gets them on campus."

The game will kickoff a few minutes after 7 p.m.

Former UConn WR cut by Steelers

Former UConn wide receiver Kashif Moore was caught up in the numbers' game as he was one of nine players cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers as NFL teams have to slice their rosters from 90 to 75 players.

Moore received plenty of praise during training camp for his work ethic and by the accounts I saw, had a pretty good camp. However, the writing was on the wall when the Steelers signed Lance Moore as a free agent and drafted Martavis Bryant in the fourth round of this year's draft.

Plenty of uncertainty heading into UConn/BYU game

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall watching Notre
Dame, Virginia, UConn tape to prepare.
Season openers can always be a bit of a dicey proposition. How many people out there were predicting Towson to beat UConn or BYU to fall to Virginia in the 2013 openers?

For BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, preparation is all the more challenging because other than some highlight clips from the UConn spring game he has almost nothing to go off of in trying to figure out not only who will line up for the Huskies but how they will line up as well.

Defensively he does have some idea of what makes new UConn football coach Bob Diaco tick since Diaco was the defensive coordinator of the Notre Dame teams that beat the Cougars 23-13 a season ago and 17-14 during the 2012 season. Also, defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter and co-defensive coordinator Vincent Brown were defensive assistants on the Virginia squad which knocked off BYU a season ago.

"That is a starting place," Mendenhall said. "I am sure he has assessed his own personnel, depth and how the matchups might look like, there might be a wrinkle or two as happens every year but when you look at the success that Notre Dame has had and that Coach Diaco has had over his career, that would be the place to start. We project similarly based on where his staff connections have come from and what those systems might look like."

So what does Mendenhall thinks is the key to Diaco's coaching success?

"Hard to know, I don't know Coach personally. Normally you can see some personality traits through how players play and I think players play exactly as they are prepared to play so his players played tough, they played physical and I thought they played sound. Having no met the head coach, my guess is he loves tough football players, is probably a stickler for detail and likes them to play physical. That is what I saw on tape and experienced playing Notre Dame."

While watching BYU tape against Notre Dame and Virginia might give Mendenhall and his coaches some sense of how the Huskies might line up and handle certain game-day situations when BYU has the ball, it is a little more challenging to figure out what UConn will look like on offense since he has little connection to Central Michigan where UConn offensive coordinator Mike Cummings came from or Buffalo where quarterbacks coach Don Patterson spent the last three seasons.

"We certainly have watched UConn tape and did pay particular attention to the games that they were winning to find out exactly what the difference are, if it was strength of schedule, if it was late in the season, if it was home or away, you try to figure out as much as possible but it had a lot to do with how the team played. I think the quarterback is very capable, he added some spark and added some consistency so I was impressed there," Mendenhall said. "I like UConn's receiving corps and I think they have some big play potential there and a nice blend of size, speed and athleticism so they are capable and it showed in the last three games."

On the other side of the ball the biggest question is who will suit up for BYU and not as much of what the formations will look like. Top tailback Jamaal Williams (who ran for 1,233 yards last season), receiver Devon Blackmon and offensive tackle Ryker Matthews are the players reported to have been suspended by the BYU media while receiver Nick Kurtz is injured. We'll see if others are left behind as well.

On the conference call the Connecticut media had with Mendenhall yesterday I asked him if he was expecting to have everybody else for Friday night's kickoff.

"At this institution we have very unique standards here that are extremely high so I have learned over the time to never say never but I hope everybody else will be in good standing and will be able to make it but until we show up and play there is always some room for someone's choice here or there that ends up costing them a game or two," Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall said that he views last year's nightmarish opener at Virginia has little bearing to the matchup with UConn but he is making one change in the preparation process.

"We are coming a day early," Mendenhall said. "We are leaving on Wednesday and luckily for the opener we have a chance to do that without (missing school time) because school hasn't started for us yet.:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Having some fun with UConn's Geremy Davis

At media day every time I headed towards senior receiver Geremy Davis there was another reporter ready to pepper him with question. My kindergarten teacher would tell you, wherever she is, that I tend not to play well with others so whenever possible I try to do as many 1-on-1 interviews rather than get caught up in the horde mentality. As a result, I missed talking with Davis so I made sure to catch up with him today for a couple of topics that will make for good blog entries or stories down the road. However, it was not all serious business.

I was kicking myself for not playfully asking either Byron Jones or Marquise Vann about which of the three team captains gets the final say when it is time to pick a television program or order dinner since Jones, Vann and Davis are all rooming together.

Well, I got around to getting  Davis on the subject and he responded in the spirit that the question was asked.

"I think it is more of a group thing and we all compromise," Davis said with a laugh. "There isn't an alpha dog, 'I am a leader or I am the leader' but it is more of a compromise so I don't think one of us is going to try to big dog the other."

Before the press conference began UConn coach Bob Diaco debuted on the weekly American Athletic Conference call. UConn SID Mike Enright played the call so we could hear what Diaco had to say and the questions were nothing to write home about (not that the ones during our time with him set the world on fire either) but he did have a nice response when asked how he became such a detail-orientated person.

"I have always done better with a plan although in most cases it was frivolous, like grasping at the wind but I feel more comfortable when I have a plan. I can't stop my brain from thinking about the next moment and sometimes I get complaints from family and friends that it prevents me from enjoying the moment I am in but I feel better when things have a plan and there is detail in the plan."

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McBryde, Adeyemi could play huge roles in UConn season opener

B.J. McBryde and Kenton Adeyemi had as many combined tackles a season ago after offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett and punter Cole Wagner (five for those of you scoring at home). Yet,. as the Huskies prepare to face a multi-faceted Brigham Young offense, the two players expected to see the major of snaps at the right defensive end spot could play major roles in how well UConn is able to slow down the Cougars' offense.

McBryde enters the game as the listed starter but in the practices I was able to see, it was Adeyemi seeing a good chunk of the time with the first-team defense. It would not be a reach to say that this was one of the most competitive positional battles during preseason camp. The feeling is that both players are better off by having the other one to push them.

"They are friends and they compete well against each other, they make each other better and that is all good because that makes our team better," UConn defensive line coach Kevin Wolthausen said.

"One has more mass and the other one has a touch more, I don't want to say speed because B.J. runs pretty well too, but he has a little more explosiveness. I think they feed off of each other well and they are both going to play."

Both Adeyemi and McBryde believe the competition has made both of them better.

"I think everything is going well," Adeyemi said. "They have us working really hard. I think we are both great defensive linemen and both can do different things on the field, both can help the teams in different ways."

McBryde is one of the most engaging personalities on the team. I still remember in the pre-game warmups in the 2013 regular-season finale against Memphis, he went around and shook the hands of each and every senior.

He is thankful to Adeyemi for being their to challenge him on the field while developing a friendship away from the gridiron.

"It is really great with two guys are playing the same position can do battle every day," McBryde said. "Honestly, I have been in that position since my freshman year. Being a guy who didn't have a lot of football experience, I only played my senior year coming in here and being able to jump forward, being a part of this game ... Going against Kenton, I love it because I see him as my brother. We are close to the same age, I am a little bit older but going into work every day and battle against somebody like him is awesome. It kind of keeps you on edge too because I am here now, I am starting now but I have somebody behind me that wants this position just as bad as I do so the hunger never stops."

Look for more from McBryde in tomorrow's edition of the Register.

Knappe looking iffy for UConn opener; OL shakeup by BYU

At a press conference looking ahead to Friday's season opener against BYU, UConn coach Bob Diaco said that offensive tackle Andreas Knappe has not been ruled out but he made it clear that it wasn't looking good. The good thing is that his lower leg injury doesn't appear to be a long-term issue. He also said that everybody on the two-deep chart (Knappe was removed and Dalton Gifford listed as the starter on the depth chart posted four days ago) is good to go.

Diaco also mentioned Josh Marriner, Arkeel Newsome and Brian Lemelle as potential options alongside Deshon Foxx returning kickoffs and/or punts.

BYU released its depth chart earlier today and there was plenty of movement on the offensive line.

In the depth chart posted at the conclusion of spring camp, the only projected starter still listed as a No. 1 guy is De'Ondre Wesley and even he moved from left tackle to right tackle. BYU is going with true freshman Ului Lapuaho is the starter at left tackle. There are co-starters listed at every position except left tackle. The only other major change I saw was projected starting safety Skye Posey now listed as a second stringer.

Getting ready for UConn/BYU game

OK, game week is finally here. Later on today we will be talking to UConn football coach Bob Diaco, some players and BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall via a phone hookup to help start previewing Friday's UConn/BYU game.

If there is a theme for this game it will be uncertainty. Although Diaco has faced BYU before as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, the Cougars have no tape on how this UConn team is going to look. With the limited amount of practice time we were allowed to watch, we don't know much more about the Huskies. A year ago you knew the Huskies were going to come out with three receivers and Lyle McCombs would be the go-to running back. Now, I couldn't tell you if they were going to line up with three receivers, two tight ends, a tailback and fullback or two tailbacks and I would expect to see all those variation at some point Friday night.

My focus will shift more onto position matchups as we move closer to the season opener. Over the past week, however, I tried to touch on different areas about the team and allow people to learn more about the players. It started with roommates Geremy Davis, Byron Jones and Marquise Vann joining Alex Mateas as team captains. Yuesterday I wrote about Chris DeBerry, Dom Manco and Justin Wain being given scholarships and today's piece was on the players reacting to the unorthodox manner in which Diaco went about his business in spring practice and preseason camp.

A couple of items worth mentioning. First, BYU is supposed to post its depth chart later on today and perhaps that will give us a better indication if there are any additional suspensions coming. For those interested in such things, the ESPN announcing crew will be Dave Flemming, Danny Kanell and Allison Williams.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Diaco's message seems to be reaching the UConn players

I could devote a week's worth of blogs trying to point out the rather unique way Bob Diaco has gone about his business since being hired as UConn's head coach.

During his introductory press conference it was clear that UConn football was entering a brave new world. Whether it is his use of "key starter" and "key backup" or saying "I am going to scratch where it itches" when asked what his base offensive formation would be. Tangible traits is another favorite of Diaco and he even used "a work in progress" which was a favorite phrase of his predecessor Paul Pasqualoni.

Plenty of people, media certainly included, have weighed in on Diaco and his unorthodox methods. There certainly has been plenty to talk about. Diaco spent much of his time between the end of spring practice and the start of fall camp getting in his car and speaking a meet and greets as he attempts to get the word out about the UConn program he was hired to turn around. During spring camp he invited students to come over knowing that they ultimately hold the key to developing a true home-field advantage. During preseason camp he brought in a steady flow of inspirational speakers and canceled practice one day so the entire team could spend a few hours at Six Flags New England in Agawam. He had walk-ons serve as captains during the spring game and rewarded some of those very walk-ons (Chris DeBerry, Dom Manco and Justin Wain) with scholarships. Who could forget the Women's Football 101 Clinic where the UConn players were having as much fun as the 200 women taking part in football drills. He will have a pep rally on campus Thursday night and has plans for engaging the fans, especially the student section, on game days.

Through all of us the opinions of those most important in Diaco's master plan were not often heard from when discussing the new era of UConn football. It matters little what the people outside the program - including media members like myself - think of the changes. Ultimately, he needs to have the players buy into what he is selling. Diaco predicted that there would be some attrition as some players simply did not fit into his way of doing business and others simply felt they would be better elsewhere. However, as I made the rounds at team media day on Thursday, it was clear to me that the players who remained are very much in tune with their head coach. That is the focus of a story that will be running in the Register tomorrow. Space limitations prevented from getting all the best quotes on the subject into my piece so I will use this space to accomplish that feat.

Let's start with junior linebacker Graham Stewart who knows a thing or two about big-time college football having spent his freshman season at Florida.

"I've played for a lot of great coaches, Stewart said. "Our relationship with Diaco is still new and young but what I can say so far is that he is the kind of guy who can really motivate you and he is an excellent teacher. Sometimes that is hard to find, a guy that can find how you can be taught best. Some guys are visual learners and some guys can learn different ways but Coach Diaco can really get to the core points and teach you things.

"I take great pride in having Coach Diaco as my coach. If I ever make a mistake or an error, I am more upset because I don't want to let him down because I want to show him that I am absorbing anything that he is trying to teach me and exemplifying the type of player that he would want me to be."

Junior linebacker Marquise Vann, one of the team's four captains, said, "at first it was like 'wow, I didn't know a coach like this existed.' Having a coach like this who has that fire, that energy and that level, I want to play for that guy. I am very excited to play under Coach Diaco.

"It is definitely something that is awesome, looking at it, It is better for the guys that are here, guys that don't have to go through those difficult rougher times. It was a little rough for some people but it is something I look at and I hope these guys go to great heights (under Diaco)."

Senior defensive end B.J. McBryde also spoke about Diaco as a players' coach and incredible communicator.

"Meeting Coach Diaco, knowing Coach Diaco and being able to shake his hand is a blessing," McBryde said. "The man is incredible. I went to meet him, I shook his hand and said 'man, you should run for office.' The man knows how to get to people, he knows how to make you feel that energy and how to pull out of you what you don't think you have. He is the ultimate players coach. The fans will be able to see it, everybody will be able to see it."

Let's be honest, in a setting like media day where there are reporters going from table to table and university employees within ear shot, you wouldn't expect to hear players bad mouthing their coach. I am sure if I did the same exercise a season ago that Pasqualoni, the UConn coach at the time, would get glowing reviews. However, my sense is that these players are responding in a more positive manner to Diaco's energetic brand of coaching than the somewhat more distant style employed by Pasqualoni.

Some of the loftiest praise came from Chandler Whitmer and Dalton Gifford, a couple of former starters who lost their starting spots (although an injury to Andreas Knappe means Gifford will likely be the starting right tackle on Friday night).

"I don't know if we have enough time to talk about Coach Diaco but he is a great guy and he is truly genuine which is hard to find in this business," Whitmer said. "A lot of coaches will just try to tell you what you want to hear and not really truly care about you. He keeps it real, he is honest and you can tell that he genuinely cares about his players and because of that we want to play for him. Not only has he increased the energy but he has done fun things that has made us enjoy football even more.  He understands that there is a lot to football but there are other things than football. He gives us some time off to reflect and not just grind, grind, grind all the time."

"I thought he was going to be that young, energetic spark that we needed to reboot the program and kind of get us back to where we should be," Gifford said.

"He is always fired up and getting everybody ready to go. It is great when we can come out here with a high energy practice and he has high energy. It helps with the tempo of practice and the energy of practice and we can translate that onto the game field."

Finally, here are the thoughts from offensive line coach Mike Foley, the only holdover from Pasqualoni's staff.

"I think they have responded very well. I think our guys have bought in, they are trying to do the things that Coach Diaco and his staff is asking them to do," Foley said.

"Obviously he is very knowledgeable about football but I think the energy that he brings in as positive attitude, it is really something that is rubbing off on this team and no matter what happens (Diaco's philosophy is) 'we'll keep moving forward and let's improve on it.'

"He has a knack for feeling people and where they are at and he is an excellent motivator. He is getting these guys to buy in to the things that he wants to do."

Good night in NFL for UConn products

Ryan Griffin and Nick Williams were teammates and classmates at UConn as well as underutilized offensive options with the Huskies. They have something else in common, they both had touchdown catches and led their teams in catches in yesterday's preseason games highlighting a day when 11 former UConn products were not only in action by many of them played starring roles.

Griffin had five catches (on five targets) for 71 yards and a 31-yard touchdown reception with 59 seconds remaining in the Houston Texans' 18-17 win over Denver. Griffin's TD pulled the Texans within a point and Tom Savage connected with Travis Laphart for the go-ahead two-point conversion.

Williams caught three passes (on four targets) for 17 yards highlighted by a 7-yard touchdown with 5:03 left to play in Washington's 23-17 loss to Baltimore. It was the second straight game with a TD catch for Williams who is making a late bid for a roster spot among a very crowded group of receivers in Washington.

On the other side of the ball, Danny Lansanah and Shamar Stephen earned starts to help Tampa Bay and Minnesota post victories.

Lansanah had five tackles, one shy of the team lead, and a tackle for a loss in the 27-14 win over Buffalo. I've been a Buccaneers fan since living in Florida in the mid-1980s and I cover UConn so perhaps I'm paying more attention to this than most people but I think Lansanah is one of the better stories to emerge out of the preseason as he has been bouncing around trying to land a spot in the NFL and it certainly looks like he will be there when the Buccaneers select their 53-man roster.

Stephen, a seventh-round pick by the Vikings, has been opening eyes in Minnesota's camp. He drew the start in place of an injured Linval Joseph and had three solo tackles in the 30-12 win over Kansas City.

Lawrence Wilson had three tackles in the St. Louis Rams' 33-14 win over Cleveland 

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

New Haven Gridiron Club to honor former UConn DL

Nate Cotton, a first-team All-Yankee Conference defensive lineman as a junior in 1986 and as a senior in 1987, is among eight former New Haven area standouts who will be inducted into the New Haven Gridiron Club Hall of Fame on Sept. 17.

Charles Bertero, an assistant coach at UConn from 1973-76, will also be among the inductees.

Headlining the list of honorees will be former Southern Connecticut State head coach Kevin Gilbride, who earned two Super Bowl rings as the offensive coordinator of the New York Giants.

The ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. in the Cascade Banquet Facility in Hamden. Tickets are $50 ($45 for club members) and must be ordered by Sept. 10 by sending checks to the New Haven Gridiron Club, Box 32, New Haven, 06501. No tickets will be sold at the door.

Abrams flying under the radar at UConn

It took three days to finish transcribing interviews from about 20 players, head coach Bob Diaco and a handful of assistant coaches at UConn football media day and I thought one of the more intriguing items which I have not seen reported elsewhere is how impressive junior receiver Kamal Abrams was during camp.

There's been plenty of discussion about seniors Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx as well as the group of impressive young receivers brought into the program last year led by Thomas Lucas, Brian Lemelle and Noel Thomas. However, both receivers coach Wayne Lineburg and senior quarterback Chandler Whitmer both raved about what they saw from Abrams even though I didn't specifically ask about Abrams in my interview with either one of them.

"Kamal Abrams who has really stepped his game up this summer" is what Whitmer had to say about Abrams. There will be plenty of people pulling for him considering what happened a season ago. Abrams was also opening eyes during the 2013 preseason camp and seemed ready to make an impact. However, he tweaked something in his knee during pre-game warmups in the season opener against Towson. He didn't get into a game until the Huskies played South Florida in the fifth game of the year.

Another player who I have been hearing more and more about is true freshman Luke Carrezola.

Linebackers coach Vincent Brown said that Carrezola and Vontae Diggs, who are among 10 or so true freshmen who could get into Friday's season opener against BYU "have shown that they have a tremendously bright future ahead of them."

Jefferson Ashiru, whose 58 tackles and eight tackle for losses are the most for any returning UConn linebacker, said "I really like Luke Carrezola, he's very energetic, he wants to get better and is working to get better,"

Speaking of true freshmen, it is very impressive that guards Ryan Crozier and Trey Rutherford were working with the second team offensive line midway through camp and ended camp on the two-deep chart.

"They are two guys who have come out, they have very good ability and they have very good tools," UConn offensive line coach Mike Foley said. "It is a matter of them picking up the offense and knowing what to do, they are both smart guys so they have done very well in camp so I am excited about them. They are going to be very good players when it is all said and done but they have to keep working, get them going and gain that experience."

UConn announced it will have a pep rally on Fairfield Way (across from the Husky statue) on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. where Diaco will address the crowd.

Also, for those wanting to get brought up to speed on BYU, the Deseret News has posted some video interviews from BYU players and coaches shot after today's practice.

Also, I was finally able to finish up with all the interviews I needed for a story on the three former walk-ons who were given scholarships towards the end of spring practice. Diaco believes it was one of more important team-bonding moments since he arrived and look for the story on the Register's site later today and in tomorrow's paper.

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Video look at UConn preseason camp

Bob Diaco's first preseason camp has been wrapped up and now the preparations for Friday's season opener against BYU are underway. I figured there would be no better way to wrap up camp than by a collection of videos that I posted during the practices I was able to attend.

Scary moment for former UConn LB

It sounds as if former UConn linebacker Sio Moore avoided serious injury after he was taken off the field in a stretcher in the Oakland Raiders loss to Green Bay in the third preseason game of the season.

Moore, a second-year linebacker in line to be a starter, was motionless on the ground after a collision with Packers fullback John Kuhn. His neck was mobilized and he gave the thumbs up signal as he was taken off the field.

Here's what Raiders coach Dennis Allen said after the game (courtesy of the interview transcript on the team's official site)

"X-rays came back negative, so that’s obviously positive sign," Allen said. "The initial word is really mostly a neck strain. I don’t know what kind of timeline that means, but obviously, the most encouraging thing is that Sio is fine."

After the game the Raiders said it was a neck strain but there was no timetable for Moore's return to the field. He was seem waling through the locker room after the game with a neck brace on but he was not made available to the media.

Moore had two tackles including a tackle for loss in the game while former Husky Tyvon Branch finished with five tackles in the 31-21 loss.

There were three more UConn products on the field in the preseason game between Detroit and Jacksonville. Dan Orlovsky was 9 of 11 passing for 74 yards for Detroit in the 13-12 win while Dwayne Gratz had two tackles and Jordan Todman caught three passes for 32 yards for the Jaguars.

In the CFL, Larry Taylor was activated from the injured list in time to return three kickoffs for 55 yards and six punts for 17 yards in Montreal's 24-16 loss to Winnipeg.


Friday, August 22, 2014

No lack of home-grown talent at UConn

Former St. Luke's star Noel Thomas is one of 11 Connecticut natives
on UConn football team's two-deep chart which was released on Thursday
A quick look at UConn's two-deep chart and there are no lack of local boy makes good stories out there.

The emergence of Casey Cochran as the No. 1 quarterback, Max DeLorenzo as potentially being the top running option, Sean McQuillan the top guy at tight end, Graham Stewart primed for a big season at linebacker and Byron Jones being named as a team captain and emerging as an NFL prospect at cornerback have been reported on in the past and they will continue to dominate the headlines. However, there are some other state natives flying a bit under the radar.

Defensively, Windsor's Cole Ormsby is pushing for quality playing time at the hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end position. Ormsby learned his lessons well a season ago when he knew he was going to be redshirted.

"I worked as hard as I could and tried to be ready," Ormsby said. "I am ready for anything and whatever the team needs me to do.

"I am excited because I want to prove to everybody that I can do it. I am way more prepared with the new coaching staff,"

Well, he is ready to go now. While UConn coach Bob Diaco said Ormsby has the flexibility to be an asset either on the outside or inside, Ormsby said he has worked almost exclusively on the outside.

Moving over to the offense, tight end Tommy Myers has been a fixture at UConn sporting events as long as he can remember since his father Norman played for the UConn football team in the early 1980s and his mother Peggy was one of the stars of Hall of Fame Geno Auriemma's first women's basketball teams at UConn.

Like Ormsby, Myers was redshirted a season ago but is now No. 2 at tight end.

If there is such a thing as a player born to play football at UConn, Myers could certainly fit the bill.

"I remember coming to these games when they were at Memorial Stadium and just always wanted to play UConn football and it feels natural," Myers said. "I kind of fell into the position of tight end because growing up I always wanted to play quarterback or receiver like everybody does but I think I fell into the tight end spot just by size and ability."

He displayed some of that ability in the spring game when he one of four players to catch at least four passes. Noel Thomas was also on the list of prolific pass catches in the game. As a freshman he was best known as a gunner on the punt coverage teams as he displayed a knack for downing Cole Wagner punts inside the 5.

Diaco said Thomas has made tremendous growth as a player and a person in the last several months and he has put himself into the rotation at receiver.

"I just want to help the team win and anything I can do in a positive way," Thomas said.

So what has Thomas been doing to get ready for his sophomore season?

"I've been running a lot, working out with Coach (Matt) Balis (UConn's strength and conditioning coach, he is an amazing guy, and I just want to make sure I catch everything that is thrown to me."

There are 11 state natives on UConn's two deep chart while others like Tim Boyle, Arkeel Newsome, Steve Hashemi aren't on the two-deep but could see action this season. Here is the list of Nutmeg State natives on the depth chart

Kenton Adeyemi (Wethersfield), No. 2 defensive tackle
Chase Briley (Hartford), No. 2 kicker and No. 2 punter
Casey Cochran (Monroe), starting quarterback
Max DeLorenzo (Berlin), starting tailback
Byron Jones (New Britain), starting cornerback
Cole Ormsby (Windsor), No. 2 defensive end
Sean McQuillan (Glastonbury), starting tight end
Tommy Myers (Coventry), No. 2 tight end
Graham Stewart (Durham), starting linebacker
Noel Thomas (Norwalk), Co-No. 2 receiver
Matt Walsh (Madison), No. 2 fullback

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

UConn QB coach dishes on Cochran, Whitmer

There's been plenty written about the quarterback position at UConn since Casey Cochran was named the Huskies' starter in a Monday press conference.

UConn coach Bob Diaco, Cochran, No. 2 quarterback Chandler Whitmer (who is expected to see time in games as well), Tim Boyle and Bryant Shirreffs answered questions from the media and obviously the state of the UConn QBs was the story line in every article the following day. One perspective that was missing was that of quarterbacks coach Don Patterson. Well, that changed on Thursday as the UConn assistant coaches were made available to the media. There's some good souls on this UConn coaching staff but Patterson is easily my favorite to chat with. I could have easily spent all the allotted time we had with the assistants talking to him but I did manage to make it around to a few of the other assistants as well.

When we met the coaches shortly after the staff was announced, most of my time was spent documenting Patterson's incredible story.

Patterson did not let me down in the 10 or so minutes I spoke with him on Thursday.

Here we go.

"The players will tell you that they have great confidence in both of those guys," Patterson said. "I think Chandler and Casey,  it has been a very good competition, it has been a very smooth competition. I think they understand, because we talk about it, but we as a group of quarterbacks we are a team within a team and our job to make sure that this team has great quarterback play regardless of injury which means they all have to be able to play and all have to fulfill their role. If you happen to be third team then your mentality has to be that you are two plays away and stranger things have happened. You have to get ready for the game, that is the hard thing to do if you are a second or third team quarterback, because there is a lot of preparation and yet you may not get on the field.

"I think it is not secret because I know Bob mentioned that Chandler is going to play against BYU so thee is no doubt about it. How much, we don't know, it depends on game situations. We obviously had a lot of confidence in him and even more important than what we think, I think the players have a lot of confidence in him. I know there are fans who wonder if he deserves (to play) but he has to be able to take snaps to be able to play better than he played for us in the past and I am confident in saying 'yes, I am confident that he will play better than he played in the past.'"

With the decision to use both Cochran and Whitmer in games I was curious what Patterson felt were the biggest differences between the two.

"They are similar in a lot of ways," Patterson said. "To be able to play effectively in our offense you have to be a really smart guy and they both have really high football intelligence. They understand the game really well. Their decision making is right on most of the time, their goal is to be right on most of the time. It is impossible to play a perfect game at quarterback but that is what they are trying to do and if they approach that they will be playing as well or better than anybody in the country because it is such a difficult job. They are both really into football, they are the basketball equivalent of a gym rat, they really like the game, they like the strategy of the game, they are both in so many ways extroverted. They are good leaders, they are decisive decision makers, they embrace the expectations that they can handle all the stuff at once It is like being an air traffic controller, you have all these things at one time and you have to make snap decisions."

Diaco has made it clear that last year's UConn season is not something he or his staff is focusing on as they wanted to make their own evaluations. As a result Patterson wasn't fully aware of just how bad things got a season ago. He was a little stunned when I informed him that UConn opponents scored 39 offensive touchdowns in 12 games and 13 of those drives started in UConn territory and absolutely incredulous that the Huskies gave up five defensive touchdowns.

"You have to make them play on a long field," Patterson said. "Statistically it has been proven that the closer you are to the goal line when you take the field the better your chances are to score. Opponents scored five defensive touchdowns last year? That is something I didn't want to know about. They shot themselves in the foot too many times. The first thing you have to do is prevent losing and that all starts with not beating yourselves, having a high football IQ, not having unforced errors.

"The first thing you have to do is not beat yourself. It sounds simple but the University of Alabama always has a quarterback that doesn't get Alabama beat and that is the first thing we have to do is not beat ourselves. Every ball we ever throw in practice is charted, they can tell you but they have thrown 15 picks out of 852 passes here in camp, that is pretty good. One interception every 60 snaps."

Speaking of stats, Patterson posed a trivia question to a couple of us and that was how many wins did the top 11 teams at the FBS level in turnover margin average. The answer was 11. 

"If you protect the ball and you have an edge in turnovers when the game is winding down, you have a chance to win. If you are plus 2 or plus 3, you have a significantly better chance to win but it all starts with not beating yourself. We have room for improvement, we are not quite ready to tee it up and that is OK because the game doesn't start until on the 29th."

Most of the recent news regarding the roster has involved players leaving the program but today UConn announced that current students at the school can attempt to make the team as walk-ons. The deadline to apply is Aug. 28 with the tryout set for Sept. 1.

The unfortunate situation when Linval Joseph was shot in the leg while standing inside a Minneapolis night club has forced the defensive tackle to the sidelines during training camp. In his place former UConn star Shamar Stephen has received plenty of work with the first and second team defense. Stephen is tied for second on the Vikings with eight total tackles in the first two preseason games. Minnesota defensive coordinator George Edwards was asked about Stephen's work in training camp in a question and answer session posted on the team's official site.

Q: How valuable has the time Linval Joseph has missed for Shamar Stephen?

A: Again, we want competition at every position for that reason. That when somebody is down, the next guy is up and he’s got to come in, we don’t want a drop off in performance. From that aspect of it, there’s a young guy, a prime example, that has come in here and worked his butt off all through the offseason, all through training camp and now it’s starting to show in his play. Each week we go out and perform, from that aspect of it, that’s what we’re trying to create at each position.

Q: Do you see Shamar Stephen as a guy that will definitely make the roster?

A: We still have got two more weeks of evaluations, so, everybody is still competing, from that aspect of it. We haven’t said, “Okay, here is our 53-man roster.” We still want that competition going all of the way throughout training camp and now that we’re done with training camp, through these preseason games. It’s a continuous evaluation as we keep going through it.

UConn captains have plenty in common

When it came time to select roommates Byron Jones had no thoughts about sharing his living quarters with fellow leaders of the 2014 UConn football team. He did, however, share a bond both emotionally and spiritually with Geremy Davis and Marquise Vann so it seemed only natural that they would choose to be roomies.

"They are stand-up guys, two big guys on offense, two big guys on defense," Jones said. "I can't say enough good things about every single individual.

"It worked out, we always push each other. They set their alarm and if I am sleeping late, they will come wake my up or I will wake them up so we have each other's backs. We all have the same maturity, it is very clear what our goals are and we not afraid to (show) it."

Vann, the only non-senior among the team captains, finds it incredibly ironic that of all the people he could be rooming with this season, it just so happened that it ended up being two fellow captains.

"You look at it and you have us three people who are in the same (apartment) are captains and that is something that you can't make that up," Vann said.

"I believe our personalities kind of mold together, we have three personalities who come together well so we are good teammates and we are good friends so it is awesome."

UConn QB's mullet a big hit on social media

The press conference announcing Casey Cochran as UConn's starting quarterback had not even wrapped up yet when the tweets started pouring in at a fast and furious pace. No, it wasn't Cochran's impressive finish to the 2013 season that generated all the buzz but his mullet. Deadspin got into the act as did many other online entities and that left Cochran practically speechless.

"I didn't even know what to say, it is unbelievable and I never in a million years would have imagined that," Cochran said. "That's a little tough. I guess is the (world) I live in."

Junior linebacker Graham Stewart, was much more receptive to discussing Cochran's hairstyle, however.

"Me and Casey are pretty close and during the offseason we hang out," Stewart said. "He has been working hard on that mullet and for everything to come to fruition with it, that is great. At first a lot of people are like 'what are you doing?' but he had a vision and a path for his mullet and I think the mullet is a great statement. I think people will be rocking the mullet after seeing how he does. I think it is awesome, I am pro mullet 100 percent and I might grow one myself if that is what it takes."

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A look at UConn's depth chart

We were given UConn's two-deep chart although UConn coach Bob Diaco was quick to refer to it as the post-camp depth chart and not the pre-BYU on.

First thing of note is that Andreas Knappe, still dealing with a lower leg injury, is not listed so Dalton Gifford is the starting right tackle and he is backed up by Thomas Hopkins. Also, Max DeLorenzo is the No. 1 guy at tailback.

Here is the depth chart
LT: Rich Levy; Paul Nwokeji
LG: Gus Cruz; Trey Rutherford
C: Alex Mateas; Kyle Bockeloh
RG: Tyler Samra; Ryan Crozier
RT: Dalton Gifford; Thomas Hopkins
TE: Sean McQuillan; Tommy Myers
FB: Jazzmar Clax; Matt Walsh
TB: Max DeLorenzo; Josh Marriner
WR: Geremy Davis; Noel Thomas/Thomas Lucas
WR: Deshon Foxx; Kamal Abrams/Dhameer Bradley
QB: Casey Cochran; Chandler Whtimer

DE: Angelo Pruitt; Foley Fatukasi
DT: B.J. McBryde; Kenton Adeyemi
NG: Julian Campenni; Mikal Myers
DE: Reuben Frank; Cole Ormsby
LB: Marquise Vann; Jon Hicks
LB: Jefferson Ashiru; Junior Joseph
LB: Graham Stewart; Cam Stapleton
CB: Byron Jones; John Green
CB: Jhavon Williams; Jamar Summers
S: Andrew Adams; Jordan Floyd
S: Obi Melifonwu; Wilbert Lee/Ellis Marder

K: Bobby Puyol; Chase Briley
P: Justin Wain; Chase Briley
H: Blake Feagles; Casey Cochran
LS: Dom Manco; Adam Mueller
KR: Deshon Foxx and Josh Marriner
PR: Deshon Foxx; Brian Lemelle

UConn roster attrition continues

DB David Stevenson, who had 13 tackles in back
to back games against SMU and Louisville, is no
longer a member of the UConn football team
Add former nickel corner David Stevenson to the list of players no longer on UConn's roster.

Things had calmed down significantly since news broke that fellow former reserve defensive back Tyree Clark left the team. However, a quick check of the current roster shows that Stevenson, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Michael Boland and true freshman linebacker Tom Rodrick are no longer listed on the roster. None of the three appeared to be in line for significant duty this season although the depth at defensive back continues to shrink which led to a pair of receivers being shifted over to play in the secondary.

Heading into last season Stevenson was thought to have a chance to compete with Taylor Mack for one of the vacant starting cornerback positions following the graduation of Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. However, Stevenson did have some disciplinary and injury issues and he ended up playing just four games a season ago (finishing with 16 tackles).

Boland was originally headed to prep school last season but when a couple of UConn freshmen left the program, he was given a scholarship. He quickly moved from defensive line and tight end and say regular practice reps as a true freshman. He was moved back to defense during preseason camp.

Rodrick is the first departure among this current group of scholarship freshmen. Walk-on receiver Bobby Cole is also gone from the roster.

In a couple of other changes, former Hand High star Nick Vitale has been moved from receiver to cornerback. He also switched from wearing No. 89 to No. 27 while freshman Sheriden Lawley is now wearing No. 88 after being moved to tight end also John Green is now listed as a cornerback. At the last practice there was a player wearing a beaten-up No. 7 jersey who was working with the second team at cornerback. At the time I assumed it was just a case of not being able to see both numbers on the jersey but I guess that is not the case.

By my count there are 19 players who were on UConn's 2013 season-ending roster with remaining eligibility who are no longer listed on the roster although this does include some walk-ons.

Here is the list along with their current school
DE Brandon Battles-Santos
DE Michael Boland
DB Ty-Meer Brown Boston College
DB Tyree Clark
QB Michael Ecke
K   Rick Harrison
OT Xavier Hemingway
DB Carlos Martinez
RB Lyle McCombs Rhode Island
QB Scott McCummings
TE E.J. Norris
WR Shakim Phillips Boston College
TE Liam Sallquist Miami (Ohio)
LB Donald Slater
DB David Stevenson
QB Kivon Taylor Foothill (CA) College
LB Zach Taylor
TE Quinn Thompson Baldwin Wallace
RB Joe Williams ASA (NY) College

Former UConn QB now at Foothill College

Little by little the landing spots of players who left the UConn program since Bob Diaco's hiring are starting to be announced.

First it was Lyle McCombs landing at Rhode Island then fellow running back Joe Williams emerged at ASA College in New York and now quarterback Kivon Taylor is at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California.

There's some quotes from Taylor in the story I linked above including Taylor stating "at UConn, the coaches that recruited me got fired, so I decided that I was going to leave."

There will be plenty of former UConn players going the junior college route in an effort to return to playing for a FBS school. In addition to Williams and Taylor, receiver Ricky Gutierrez is at Dodge City CC. Former fullback Wyatt Vinci showed up on the Diablo Valley roster a year ago but I didn't see reports of him showing up in a game. It is interesting that Diablo Valley and Foothill will play on Oct 25.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

UConn's Davis, Jones named to Senior Bowl watch list

The Senior Bowl released its watch list of players under consideration to play in the 2015 game and the UConn duo of Geremy Davis and Byron Jones are among the 350 or so players on the list.

Davis is coming off one of the best seasons by a receiver in UConn history as he caught 71 passes for 1,085 yards while Jones, in his first season at cormerback after moving over from safety, finished tied for the team lead with three interceptions and his 42 solo tackles was second only to Yawin Smallwood.

As for UConn opponents, Central Florida and Cincinnati lead the way with five players on the list.

BYU (4): CB Robertson Daniel, DT Marques Johnson, OG Solomone Kafu, TE Devin Mahina
Stony Brook (1): RB Marcus Coker
Boise (3): S Jeremy Ioane, DE Beau Martin, WR Matt Miller
South Florida (2): WR Andre Davis, OG Quinterrius Eatmon
East Carolina (2): QB Shane Carden, WR Justin Hardy
Central Florida (5): S Clayton Geathers, WR Rannell Hall, LB Terrance Plummer, OG Torrian Wilson, WR J.J. Worton
Army (0)
Cincinnati (5): RB Ralph David Abernathy IV, OT Eric Lefeld, LB Jeff Luc, LB Nick Temple, CB Harold Wilder
Memphis (1): DE Martin Ifedi
SMU (1:): LB Stephon Sanders

The game will be played on January 24 at Ladd-Peeples Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.

Now time to focus on other UConn positional battles

Now that the drama surrounding the naming of a starting quarterback is out of the way, it is a perfect time to focus on some other hotly-contested battles for starting positions at UConn.

TAILBACK: Max DeLorenzo is the returnee with the most experience but I will go on the record as saying that I expect Josh Marriner to be UConn's leading rusher this season. I am very interested to see how true freshmen Arkeel Newsome and Ron Johnson are utilized. Springing a game-breaking player like Newsome on teams for 6-10 snaps a game could add some much-needed juice to the offense.

Brian Lemelle (84) and Dhameer Bradley (1) are in the mix
to be the No. 3 wide receiver for UConn during 2014 season
NO. 3 WIDE RECEIVER: I do not expect UConn to use the three-receiver sets as much this year as a season ago simply because UConn coach Bob Diaco is going to use more multiple tight end formations. Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx are unquestionably the top two receivers. Thomas Lucas has been getting plenty of love in the preseason. Brian Lemelle, Dhameer Bradley and Noel Thomas, who had 16, 13 and five catches respectively as true freshmen, will be in the mix. I haven't heard much about Kamal Abrams but wouldn't be surprised to see him in the rotation.
DEFENSIVE END: There's been plenty of buzz surrounding Reuben Frank, whether he lines up as a defensive end or outside linebacker on the right side, but no position appears to be more competitive than the defensive end on the other side of the ball as B.J. McBryde and Kenton Adeyemi appear to be running neck and neck. Adeyemi has run out with the first unit in the last two practices the media was able to attend but Diaco raved about McBryde when I asked about the competition between the two of them after a recent practice.

Both Adeyemi and McBride had sacks during the spring game and figure prominently in UConn's defensive line rotation regardless of which one ends up drawing the starting position.
NO. 2 CORNERBACK: Byron Jones is unquestionably UConn's top corner. Jhavon Williams received plenty of work as a nickel corner a season ago and he figured to be a starting CB this year. However, true freshman Jamar Summers has been opening eyes since he arrived on campus in January. He finished tied for third on the team with five tackles in the spring game and with Williams less than 100 percent early in camp, Summers was seeing plenty of first-team work. Javon Hadley is another talented youngster with the capability to push for playing time.

KICK RETURNER: Diaco said that Foxx will be the primary punt returner and will be handling kickoffs as well. Now the question is who will go back with Foxx on kickoff returns. Diaco said that Bradley, Lemelle and all the tailbacks are in the mix for that position. Unfortunately, I did not see UConn work on shagging kickoffs during the media access portion of practice so can't offer too much insight into who has been getting most of the work back there.

The Arena Football League will hand out its individual awards tomorrow in Cleveland and among the candidates for the Rookie of the Year has to be former UConn star Teddy Jennings.

Jennings led all rookies with 11 sacks during his rookie season with the Philadelphia Soul as he was a first team AFL pick at defensive end. I can't say I follow the Arena Football League enough to come up with a complete list of the top candidates but the only other player to earn first team honors was Portland defensive back Varmah Sonie, who had nine interceptions and led all first-year players with 86 tackles. Orlando receiver Greg Carr was a second team selection and he finished sixth in the league with 113 catches and 1,435 yards. Another player to consider is A.J. Cruz as the former Brown star led the league in kickoff return average, was sixth in punt returns and also returned a missed field goal 58 yards for a score.

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