We Came, We Saw, They Practiced: Part Two

Andrew Callahan

With less than two weeks remaining before the season opener against Towson, the Huskies held their final open practice today in Storrs. Here’s what we saw:

Football, they say, is a game of inches. More importantly, however, it’s a game of applied force. Case in point—the collision involving sprinting cornerback Taylor Mack and slow moving tight end Sean McQuillan late in practice. The crash itself wasn’t the biggest hit, but it was the biggest, most unfortunate news of the day.

In the final stretch of a no-huddle 11-on-11 drill, McQuillan caught a ball from Chandler Whitmer in the right flat and turned.

Mack, making a correct read on the play, flew in and tackled him immediately. The newly made offensive starter went down in a heap.

He didn’t get up.

Then, after lying on the ground for nearly ten minutes, McQuillan was placed on a stretcher and escorted to Windham Hospital for examination. Head coach Paul Pasqualoni called his team together, and the Huskies ended their morning session 15 minutes early. The team needed to re-adjust its focus for the final scrimmage of summer set for that afternoon.

Luckily, Pasqualoni later told the press that his redshirt sophomore tight end should ultimately be okay, but he couldn’t offer any sort of diagnosis (hours later McQuillan returned to the team’s complex after being diagnosed with a severe concussion). Coach P added that the incident unfortunately also put a damper on the practice.

He was right. Separate from McQuillan’s injury, and starting safety Andrew Adams hurting his right shoulder, the team put together a competitive, well-run session. The morning practice showcased an added focus on plays to run when backed up against the goalline, positional work, skeleton passing and no-huddle 11-on-11 competition.

It also featured special teams reps and one-on-one drills that pitted offensive lineman against their defensive counterparts, wide receivers versus defensive backs and running backs on linebackers.

Pre-stretching portion and special teams

In the first half-hour of practice, before the team stretched, the Huskies worked on special teams and situational offense, just as they had two weeks ago. The team rehearsed various punt coverages on both long and short kicks. Cole Wagner performed well, sending a couple punts over 40 yards and registering hang times in the range of 4.0-4.3 seconds. Barring injury, he will undoubtedly be back as the team’s starter in 2013.

Meanwhile, the offense ran plays from inside its own five-yard line, beginning almost every series with a quarterback sneak. Then, the unit moved onto short passes to the outside and runs, where Lyle McCombs, Max DeLorenzo and Martin Hyppolite enjoyed the luxury of running behind an extra offensive lineman. This schematic wrinkle was seen throughout practice.

Finally, in the first practice segment post-stretch, the Huskies returned to special teams work with field goals and point-after tries. At its conclusion, Chad Christen had knocked in all of his attempts, including a 45 yarder that scraped by.

Offense

Starting right tackle Kevin Friend and center Tyler Bullock were not seen for the entire morning, so the offensive starters looked like this:

QB Chandler Whitmer

RB Lyle McCombs WR Geremy Davis, Shakim Phillips

TE Sean McQuillan and WR Deshon Foxx or FB Matt Walsh

OL Jimmy Bennett, Steve Greene, Alex Mateas, Gus Cruz, Xavier Hemingway

The first portions of practice split up the unit, as skill position players focused on ball security and fighting through contact. When together, quarterbacks worked with the tailbacks on hand-offs out of the shotgun and a Wishbone formation (this is just a description of the set. Don’t you dare spread rumors they’re going to use the Wishbone). When with the wideouts, Chandler Whitmer and co. rehearsed multiple route concepts from two and three-receiver sets against a standing defense composed of back-up offensive players.

The passing game faced stiffer competition when the team moved to a skeleton passing drill, which features a quarterback and five eligible receivers against linebackers and defensive backs, but no pass rush.

Whitmer demonstrated some nice zip on a handful of deep out routes and good anticipation with most of his passes. The redshirt junior’s biggest struggle today appeared to be with overthrows. Whitmer took all the first-team reps.

Casey Cochran ran with the second-stringers from start to finish, showing good command at the line of scrimmage. Excluding one muffed snap during 11-on-11 play, he handled the no-huddle pace well. Freshman Tim Boyle followed Cochran as the third-team quarterback, while fellow first-year signal callers Richard Lagow and Kivon Taylor split up the remaining reps.

Despite the fact they are entrenched as back-ups, wide receivers Dhameer Bradley and Kamal Abrams did flash at times over the morning. Bradley displayed noticeable elusiveness with the ball in his hands, and Abrams regularly ran well with the second-team. However, like many of the young wideouts, neither could hold their own during a one-on-one blocking drill against the defensive backs.

As the defense overtook the receivers, all running backs went head-to-head with the linebackers while running routes out of the backfield. Overall, the offensive group seemed to have the edge with consistent separation from the man across from them. McCombs consistently escaped and caught multiple passes, even against Yawin Smallwood. Although, outside linebacker Ryan Donohue stood out for the defense, nearly hauling in two interceptions on his first couple of reps.

Defense

DL: Tim Willman, Julian Campenni, Shamar Stephen, Angelo Pruitt

LB: Graham Stewart, Yawin Smallwood, Ryan Donohue

DB: Byron Jones, Taylor Mack, Ty-Meer Brown, Obi Melifonwu

Early on, the unit stayed together and repeatedly simulated interception returns. Upon any dropped ball in the drill, Pasqualoni stressed that everyone has to catch any throw they can get their hands on, a rarity last year when UConn picked off just six passes. The defense then divided into positional work as linemen and linebackers honed block shedding techniques and defensive backs worked on their backpedals. Pasqualoni spent much of the early practice with the defensive linemen, as did defensive coordinator Hank Hughes.

Later, the safeties spent time on disguising coverages pre-snap, rotating to their multiple positions upon a call from their coach. According to a veteran secondary player, last year’s playbook, which was (constructed by former defensive coordinator Don Brown) predicated on multiple fronts, disguise and an attack mentality, has carried over in 2013 and in fact grown.

For the most part, starting front seven players had success in drills where they faced offensive blockers. Shamar Stephen showed up repeatedly against first-team offensive lineman, using his brute strength to push an imagined pocket. Third-stringers BJ McBryde and Folorunso Fatukasi followed suit with their own bull rushes, albeit against lesser competition.

During blitz pick-ups, the linebackers dominated the running backs. Smallwood swallowed up any blocker in his way, as did Stewart. The lone offensive player seemingly able to slow them down was freshman fullback Matt Walsh, who was eventually bested by Marquise Vann.

11 on 11 play highlights

The Huskies operated at two different speeds with their no-huddle attack, and ran the ball a great deal with their first-team. They were able to gain yardage to varying degrees of success, but showed marked improvement on run plays from their earlier practices.

Max DeLorenzo and Martin Hyppolite ran well in goalline situations, each scoring a pair of touchdowns.

Stepping in for the injured Adams, safety Obi Melifonwu took a Tim Boyle interception back to the house on a pick-six. The 6’ 3" redshirt freshman has some impressive athleticism.

Boyle also threw another interception to back-up safety William Lee, but he dropped it. Save for showing some nice touch on a touchdown pass to new tight end Michael Boland, Boyle had a rough day.

Vann was praised repeatedly by coaches for his work to help stop the run.

Cochran did a nice job of keeping his eyes downfield on his final pass of the morning, finding freshman receiver John Green crossfield on a deep corner route.

Starting in place of Jesse Joseph, Angelo Pruitt showed nice burst off the line of scrimmage and regularly found himself in the backfield.

Happy Huskies

LB Yawim Smallwood, DT Shamar Stephen, FB Matt Walsh, QB Casey Cochran

Unhappy Huskies

OT Jimmy Bennett, OG Gus Cruz, QB Tim Boyle

Injury Report

Not seen: DE Jesse Joseph, T Kevin Friend, C Tyler Bullock, FB Jazzmar Clax, TE Spencer Parker

TE Sean McQuillan and S Andrew Adams left practice early with a concussion and right shoulder injury, respectively.

Odds and Ends

Multiple members of the women’s basketball team were in attendance, including Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kiah Stokes.

The Carolina Panthers sent a couple of scouts to view the earlier portions of practice.

For what it’s worth, you can see a stark contrast between the coaching styles of George DeLeone and new offensive coordinator TJ Weist. DeLeone, like a handful of other coaches, is constantly barking, while Weist seems to pick his spots with yelling. He also moves about with a high level of energy, frequently jumping into formations to guide players. He’ll come down on his players with a great intensity from time to time, but overall seems much more upbeat.

Given the team’s need for more bodies in the secondary, Pasqualoni mentioned that freshman cornerback Ellis Marder, who once had been lining up as the team’s nickelback, could move to safety, a position he played in high school.

Many Huskies mingled after practice with families and fans. Some very graciously signed autographs and stood for pictures, before heading back to team complex for lunch and rest prior to their scrimmage.

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