March 20, 2012
STORRS, Conn. -- The University of Connecticut football team opens its 2012 spring practice on Tuesday afternoon. The team will have 15 practices and finish with the playing of the annual Blue vs. White Game on Saturday, April 21 at Rentschler Field. Kickoff is 1:00 p.m. for that game and admission and parking are both free.
There is plenty of experience for the Huskies this spring as there are six starters back on offense and eight on defense. At the same time, there are several newcomers and current underclassmen that will push those starters for playing time.
As Paul Pasqualoni begins his second year in charge of the Husky program, the goal of spring practice is to develop individual skills and also work on various overall schemes on both offense and defense. Connecticut fell just short of bowl eligibility last year as it went 5-7 and the hope is that spring practice will serve as a catalyst to return the Huskies to postseason play in 2012.
Pasqualoni's coaching staff from last year remained intact with the exception of one position. Former quarterbacks coach Joe Moorhead was named the head coach at Fordham, his alma mater. Joining the Husky staff at that same position is Shane Day, who spent the past two years as the QB coach with the Chicago Bears.
The biggest losses for Connecticut on offense come on the offensive line and the wide receiver spot. UConn loses center Moe Petrus, who started 51 games over his career and was a two-time All-BIG EAST pick, and Mike Ryan at tackle, a three-year starter who also earned All-BIG EAST honors twice.
The competition at quarterback will be wide open between five players. Redshirt senior Johnny McEntee started all 12 games last season while redshirt sophomore Scott McCummings also saw considerable playing time, especially in Wildcat situations. Sophomore Michael Nebrich returns looking for more playing time in 2012. There are two newcomers in camp - redshirt sophomore Chandler Whitmer, a junior college transfer who also played a year at Illinois, and freshman Casey Cochran, a mid-year enrollee, who was the Connecticut Player-of-the-Year for the past two seasons.
Tailback has become a staple of the UConn offense over the years and redshirt sophomore Lyle McCombs leads the way this spring after earning Freshmen All-America honors in 2011 by rushing 1,151 yards. A pair of veterans in redshirt senior D.J. Shoemate and redshirt junior Martin Hyppolite, also bring experience here. Redshirt freshman and Connecticut product Max DeLorenzo looks to break into the lineup and freshman Joseph Williams, a midyear enrollee, will also be in the hunt for action.
A number of performers return at wide receiver. Senior Nick Williams is the veteran of the group and has also enjoyed a terrific career as a kickoff and punt returner. Senior Mike Smith returns after missing last season, but has played in 36 career games - the most of any returning WR. Redshirt sophomore Jeremy Davis played in all 12 games last year and made six catches while classmate Tebucky Jones played in eight games with five catches.
Redshirt sophomore Shakim Phillips is a transfer from Boston College, who sat out last season at UConn, and will look to crack the rotation this year. Sophomore Kamal Abrams played in eight games in 2011. Sophomore Deshon Foxx, who played seven games at TB last year, has been moved over to WR this spring. Senior Denzel Allen, juniors Robert Cherry, Brandon Flower and Frank Guardi are also at wide receiver as is redshirt freshman Brendan Donegan.
Last year's starting fullback Mark Hinkley has departed and the Huskies have three FBs on the roster looking for playing time. Redshirt sophomore Reuben Frank played in all 12 games last year while redshirt sophomore Michael Osiecki has switched from linebacker to fullback. Also at the position is redshirt freshman Christopher Matteis.
Passing to the tight end was emphasized more at Connecticut under Paqualoni in his first year than it had been in the past. Redshirt seniors Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt both return this season to give the Huskies outstanding experience at the position. Griffin is the team's leading returner from last season with 33 receptions while Delahunt had six receptions and used more in the blocking scheme. Redshirt sophomore Mark Hansson and redshirt freshman Sean McQuillan will also battle for playing time.
With the departure of Petrus, redshirt sophomore Bryan Paull and mid-year enrollee Kyle Bockeloh will be looking for a shot. In addition, players currently at guard and tackle could also get a chance at the center spot.
The Huskies return two veterans at guard in redshirt senior Adam Masters and redshirt junior Steve Greene. Masters started all 13 games at right guard last year while Greene started at left guard for the final eight games of the year. Masters has started 23 games over the last two seasons. Also starting spring drills at guard are redshirt junior Tyler Bullock, redshirt sophomores Gus Cruz and Alex Mateas (a transfer from Penn State) and Joseph Danielson and mid-year enrollee Drew Ghio.
Redshirt junior Kevin Friend leads the tackles after starting nine games last year at right tackle. There is a whole on the left side with the departure of Ryan. Redshirt senior Jimmy Bennett will look to stay healthy and compete for that spot after making two starts last year. Also in the mix are redshirt junior Stephen Brown and redshirt freshmen Dalton Gifford, Xavier Hemmingway and Paul Nwokeji.
On defense, the Huskies have lost three key starters in defensive tackles Twyon Martin and Kendall Reyes, who made an amazing 85 career starts between the two of them and were keys in UConn making three bowl appearances in the four years they played. Also lost is safety Jerome Junior, who made nine starts in 2011.
The defense ends return considerable experience with senior Jesse Joseph, who has started 34 games over his career and has 106 career tackles. Senior Trevardo Williams started most games at the other defensive end spot last year and exploded towards the end of the season to finish second in the country in sacks per game. Also at defensive end are redshirt senior Ted Jennings, and redshirt sophomores B.J. McBryde and Jonathan Louis.
With the loss of Reyes and Martin, there is ample playing time available for those returning at that spot. Redshirt junior Shamar Stephen has the most experience with 24 career games while redshirt senior Ryan Wirth has been in 18. Redshirt junior Tim Willman, redshirt sophomore Angelo Pruitt and redshirt freshmen Kenton Adeyemi and Julian Campenni will also be in the mix.
UConn has the bulk of the linebackers back from 2011 and all three starters from last year. The leader is redshirt senior Sio Moore, who has started 21 career games and has 202 career tackles and 28.5 for a loss. Redshirt sophomore Yawin Smallwood started each game to begin his college career and had 94 tackles while redshirt senior Jory Johnson also started each game and had 97 tackles and has 132 for his career.
Also at linebacker is senior Ryan Donohue, a transfer from Maryland, redshirt sophomore Brandon Steg, and redshirt freshmen Jefferson Ashiru and Marquise Vann. Also at linebacker is junior Isaac White.
Redshirt senior Dwayne Gratz started all 12 games last season to lead the UConn cornerbacks as does classmate Blidi Wreh-Wilson. Wreh-Wilson was limited to just five starts last year due to injury but has played in 30 games over the past three years with 27 starts and has 134 career tackles. Redshirt sophomore Byron Jones helped pick up the slack in Wilson's absence as he started seven games and made 51 tackles.
Bringing additional experience to the cornerbacks is junior Taylor Mack, who has played in 21 games over the past two seasons, and redshirt junior Tevrin Brandon. Redshirt freshmen Tyree Clark and David Stevenson will look to compete here and junior Alex Kantor is also at cornerback.
The departure of Jerome Junior at safety leaves a hole as he started nine games last year. Redshirt sophomore Ty-Meer Brown comes in as the most experienced CB with six starts last year as he made 45 tackles. Junior Gilbert Stlouis has played in seven career games while redshirt freshmen Andrew Adams, Wilbert Lee and Jeremy Claflin will all look to get on the field.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
The graduation of Dave Teggart, the school's all-time leader in points, extra points and field goals, leaves a huge gap to file. Redshirt junior Chad Christen, who has handled kickoffs the past two years, will be the leader for that job. Redshirt freshman David Goodrich will also get a look.
The Huskies are solid at punter with redshirt junior Cole Wagner, a Second Team All-BIG EAST pick. Junior Adam Mueller returns as the deep snapper, while there is experience back in both kickoff and punt return with Williams and Mack.