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Posts Tagged ‘Randy Edsall’

STORRS, Conn. — At 6-foot-5, Ted Jennings is hard to miss. So when he broke through the offensive line on a 3rd-and-six play during practice Thursday morning, the quarterback knew he had to get rid of the ball quickly.

Jennings had other plans.

Racing with both arms extended above his head, the redshirt sophomore defensive end deflected the pass, ending the play.

“I just cranked up that pass rush and not jump offsides,” Jennings said. “I was watching the ball, came on the ball hard — a little slap, rip — and used my height to my advantage.”

UConn hopes to see much more of that from Jennings. After sustaining two losses at the position, the Huskies will look to younger players to step up and fill the void. Along with Jennings, Trevardo Williams and A.J. Portee will be expected to contribute immediately.

The most recent setback occurred last week when Marcus Campbell sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament during a non-contact drill. He had surgery Friday and now begins the rehabilitation process.

But before the Huskies lost Campbell, who missed last season due to academic concerns, they lost Greg Lloyd Jr.

Lloyd will sit out this season while he recovers from a knee injury. Even if he were to play, coach Randy Edsall said Lloyd will move back to linebacker before he ever sees a snap at defensive end.

At first blush, it appears a sage move. Because of injuries, the defensive ends are a young group that will gain plenty of experience. The top four players are sophomores. Meanwhile, UConn will lose two starters at linebacker and Lloyd’s experience will be needed at that position.

It’s not quite a baptism by fire for Jennings and Portee, but they getting closer to the flame.

“What we’ve been able to do is have A.J. and Teddy exclusively run with the twos,” Edsall said. “They’re getting more reps because they’re up with the twos and we’re not having to alternate anybody.”

For now, the defensive line will be led by its one returning starter, Jesse Joseph. Joseph started all 13 games last season. The first true freshman to start for the Huskies in the program’s NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision history, Joseph had two games with seven tackles.

“These guys are doing a great job,” Joseph said of his D-line teammates. “As every day progresses, they get their skills up. They’re ready for the season. I can tell, everyone can tell.”

Opposite Joseph will be Williams. Like his counterpart, Williams played in every game, including one start. But life as a regular starter, Williams said, is more challenging.

“By moving up, the offensive line is really bigger and more experienced,” Williams said. “Moving from second defensive to first defense really takes a lot of focus. The second defense can slack a little bit because the guy across from may not know what he’s doing sometimes, he’s learning at the same time. Moving to the first defense is like picking up at another pace.”

The Huskies aren’t fools. They know teams will do their best to test their defensive ends until they prove they can hold their own.

That, they say, means there is more pressure than ever.

“Expectations are a lot higher,” Joseph said. “People are looking at us now, saying they wonder if the D-line is going to be as good or worse with Marcus out. We’re just going to prove them wrong. Our defense is going to be up there and our defensive line is going to go hard. We’re going to show everybody what we can do.”

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STORRS, Conn. — The morning after UConn announced the indefinite suspensions of backup quarterback Cody Endres and offensive guard Erik Kuraczea, head coach Randy Edsall wasn’t about to divulge the specific team and university policies the players violated.

But he didn’t shy away from his disappointment in his players.

“I don’t want to talk about guys that aren’t here,” Edsall said Thursday. “The only guys that mean anything to me are the guys that are out here practicing. … The guys that aren’t here, I don’t want to talk about them because I’m wasting my breath, because obviously they didn’t feel it was in the best interest of our team to do what was right to be out here.”

Whatever the transgression, it sent a jolt through training camp. Endres is known for being easy going and has a reputation as one of the team’s nice guys.

Said starting quarterback Zach Frazer: “It’s definitely a shocking thing. It just all of a sudden hit us. We weren’t

expecting anything like that, we don’t expect that on our team. It was (Endres’) decision and he has to live with what happened to him. I wish him the best of luck. It was his decision, and it went that way.”

Frazer and Endres were the only quarterbacks with game experience. Last season, Endres started seven games and completed 98-of-154 passes. He had 1,354 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. Should Frazer sustain an injury during Endres’ suspension, the Huskies could be in trouble.

The loss of Endres means three untested players — Michael Box, Johnny McEntee and Leon Kinnard — are all battling for the No. 2 spot in Endres’ absence, however long that might be.

If Thursday morning’s practice was any indication of who holds the early lead, it’s Box. The redshirt freshman out of Suwanee, Ga., completed a higher percentage of his passes than his peers and had a better grasp of what was being asked of him.

The 6-foot-3, 209-pound Box said his biggest task is to make smarter decisions. He along with the other quarterbacks don’t hesitate to ask the two people who know the system best — offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead or Frazer — for advice.

Recognizing the opportunity at hand, Box called the added repetitions a “nice adjustment.”

“Things happen and you never know when your time is going to be called,” Box said. “All you can do every single day is train like you’re going to be the starter. You’re always one play, two plays, three plays away from going in and you just have to be ready when your time is called.”

Losing Kuraczea, who started five games last season, doesn’t hurt the Huskies as much as the loss of Endres because of the team’s significant depth across the offensive line.

Edsall said linemen Steve Greene, Gus Cruz and Gary Bardzak are vying for second-string spots.

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STORRS, Conn. — It didn’t take very long, the first day of training camp in fact, for UConn football coach Randy Edsall to make his first big change of the season.

With so much inexperience in the Huskies’ secondary, Edsall decided to take over coaching the safeties from new defensive backs coach Darrell Perkins.

It wasn’t a quick-fire dismissal of Perkins’ abilities. Instead, Edsall felt if he and Perkins split the responsibilities with Perkins taking the cornerbacks, they would be able to provide greater instruction to their pupils.

“I had a chance to really reflect over the summertime in terms of where we are and what we need to do in terms of being the best we can,” Edsall said last week. “I think that’s always the role of the head coach. You have to sit down and exam where you can help your team. The one thing I saw was we were young on the outside, we were young at safety. We came back and I told the defensive coaches.”

The Huskies are looking at one senior, two juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen — both redshirts — on the positional depth chart. One of those players, Mike Lang, is moving from wide receiver. Another, Kijuan Dabney, is moving back after playing linebacker and is recovering from an arm injury.

Lang, who played safety in high school and returned an interception 75 yards in a Florida state playoff game, would start at free safety if the season began today.

“The one thing that I liked was that he was a guy (in high school) that was physical and would hit you,” Edsall said.

“I thought that he could make that transition, and he’s done fine. He’s done fine from the mental part of it. He’s a smart kid, he understands football. He’s picking up the techniques. With every game that he plays, he’s going to get better.”

Losing valuable resources among the defensive backs such as Robert Vaughn, Robert McClain and Jasper Howard is putting additional pressure on the safeties. But it’s welcomed, as they are ready to prove themselves.

“I miss them, but they’re not there to hold my hand like they used to,” said Jerome Junior. “Before Jazz had passed, he used to hold my hand, he used to be on my case about everything. Now that they’re gone, I have to step up my game because I have to do the same thing they did to me with the other guys.”

Dabney has 21 career games, Junior 13 and Harris Agbor five. The rest of the bunch have yet to see game experience at safety.

Coaching defensive backs is nothing new to Edsall. He worked in that capacity with Syracuse (1987-90), Boston College (1991-93), the Jacksonville Jaguars (1994-97) and Georgia Tech (1998).

Edsall has had to improve his time management skills, but just over a week into camp, the results have been positive.

“It makes me more confident that I have someone who has that much knowledge that has my back, supporting me like that,” Junior said. “I pretty much know everything in the playbook, but he’s gone into more detail about other positions. That’s what helped me out.”

Junior said having Edsall as a position coach is normal for him because Edsall would always be in his ear. Now the rest of the safeties get a taste.

For Agbor, having Edsall around the safeties throughout practice was initially intimidating. That fear quickly manifested itself into motivation.

“I say this haphazardly, because he is the head coach, you’re pressured into wanting to do things right and really learn your stuff because he’s on you in the meeting rooms, he’s on you on the field,” Agbor said. “Because of that, I’ve seen a lot of progress out of myself.”

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STORRS, Conn. — The air Zach Frazer breaths isn’t as sparse as it was a year ago. Nor does he see anyone on his heels when he looks over his shoulder.

For UConn’s quarterback, it’s a refreshing change of pace from a year ago. Amazing what a little job security will do for you.

Frazer begins the season firmly entrenched as the Huskies’ signal caller, a far cry from last season when Frazer had to do battle with Cody Endres. Injuries and performance created inconsistency at the position that, following four wins to cap last season and a solid spring, have the redshirt senior finally in charge.

“I’m definitely a lot more confident,” Frazer said. “I feel we worked hard over the summer in trying to get everyone in here working toward the ultimate goal, which is to try to win this season.”

Even with the full endorsement of his coaching staff and teammates, Frazer doesn’t take his spot for granted. He knows that if he fails to execute, Endres will be waiting to step in.

Still, coach Randy Edsall believes this year’s Huskies have a leg up on last season’s team because there isn’t a quarterback battle.

“I think that helps with the continuity of your offense, that people know that that’s the guy — they get used to one guy,” Edsall said. “Then I think that quarterback can really take on that leadership role a little bit more.”

In eight games, Frazer completed 116 of his 218 passes for 1,461 yards, 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

A year ago, the questions of who should start when both quarterbacks were healthy made Frazer uncomfortable and Edsall went as far as to restrict Frazer’s media availability.

But with a year under his belt running the offense installed by second-year coordinator Joe Moorhead, Frazer said he has gone from understanding to knowing what is expected of him.

“This year we have a great opportunity,” he said. “We’ve had the offense installed, we have plenty of starters coming back offensively and defensively, so I feel like we’re going to exceed those expectations and come out and win.”

The improvements started to show down the stretch of last season. It began when the Frazer-led Huskies narrowly lost on the road to conference champion Cincinnati in a shootout. The following week, Frazer paced UConn in an overtime thriller against his old school, Notre Dame. The Huskies tacked on three more wins, including an impressive win over South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.

In those games, Frazer was expected to be more of a game manager who just so happened to have a big arm. Now, in his final season, Frazer appears ready to put it all together. His teammates have taken notice through the early days of training camp.

“He’s definitely matured,” center Moe Petrus said. “He’s taken on more of a leadership role. He’s got guys organized for 7-on-7 (drills) — he’s at every one, he’s directing the group, making sure guys are on time, holding guys accountable. His passing game — I think he has one interception in 350 passes this camp. He’s doing really well. He’s come a long way since last year and the year before that.”

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New UConn RB D.J. Shoemate. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images).

STORRS, Conn. — High on D.J. Shoemate’s left deltoid is a tattoo of the Lion of Judah. The lion, adorned with a crown of jewels, views the horizon with an intense focus.

The Lion of Judah is held in high esteem by several religions, including Christianity and Judaism. And according to UConn’s new tailback, the tattoo’s owner is much like the lion in that both are blessed and focused.

The University of Southern California transfer began his new journey in earnest Monday when UConn opened its 2010 training camp. Because of his high profile origin, Shoemate, a junior, was the center of attention.

“It’s phenomenal,“ Shoemate said of UConn. “I really like the atmosphere as far as the work ethic, the guys getting after it day-in and day-out; they don’t take any breaks. They don’t take anything for granted. Every play, every rep — everything that they do is full speed, full go.”

He committed to USC as a 15-year-old sophomore from Servite High School in Anaheim, Calif., and chose to honor his word to then coach Pete Carroll. He arrived as a wide receiver, then moved to fullback.

The experience wasn’t what Shoemate had in mind, but he felt obligated to the program to do what was asked of him.

Used sparingly, he had two runs for two yards and two receptions for 23 yards and a touchdown with the Trojans.

“At fullback, I felt I had a lot more to offer,” he said of his time in Los Angeles. “As a player, I’m a little bit more diverse. They utilize the fullback a lot differently than other places in the nation. It just wasn’t for me.”

Even with the change of coaches from Carroll, now with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, to former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, Shoemate didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

That was until the NCAA levied punishment against the program earlier this summer. It opened the door for Shoemate to look elsewhere. He looked at Texas, Texas Christian, Boise State and North Carolina.

But it was a conversation with friend and high school teammate, Johnny McEntee, that turned his attention to UConn.

McEntee is a redshirt sophomore quarterback for the Huskies.

“I think when he came out here I think he really could see himself going here,” McEntee said. “Before, when he talked about Connecticut, he had no idea what it was. Connecticut, we don’t know where that is in California. He came and checked it out, then he realized it’s a cool place, a great program. Probably the facilities, coaches — everything. Everybody treated him well. They don’t have anything like this, from what I hear, at his school.”

Before Shoemate considered changing schools, McEntee invited him to UConn’s game at Notre Dame, a bye week for USC. That game, in which UConn rallied to win in overtime, along with McEntee’s encouragement, landed the one-time ESPN 150 prospect with the Huskies.

Coach Randy Edsall didn’t put on the full-court press. Instead, he treated Shoemate the same way he has countless others before him — by telling him to take his time and make the right decision.

“I was trying to guide him from more of a parental standpoint and just say, ‘Hey, here’s what I think you need to do,’ ” said Edsall. “Knowing that I wanted him here, but I didn’t want him here unless he felt good about being here and he knew that he could be happy being here. That’s all. It takes a mature person to figure all that out. He’s a mature person.”

Having never truly experienced the recruiting process, Shoemate did some soul searching before deciding whether he could change coasts.

Sure, he misses his family and the world he’s grown accustomed to. That includes In-N-Out Burger — the absence of which, Shoemate joked, will lead to noticeable weight loss.

“There were times when I was homesick, but you just got to get through it,” he said. “You have to realize I chose this decision, I sacrificed so much to follow my dream. I sacrificed so much to chase this game that I love so much.”

The offense run by coordinator Joe Moorhead is similar to what McEntee and Shoemate ran in high school. But what sealed the deal for the 5-foot-1, 225-pounder wasn’t the available scholarship or the opportunity to play, but his belief that his experience at UConn is going to be “for sure, it’s going to be genuine.”

Shoemate is absorbing everything his fellow running backs tell him as the team prepares for its season opener at Michigan on Sept. 4.

Starting tailback Jordan Todman said he isn’t feeling slighted by all the attention bestowed upon the new arrival, even though Shoemate has yet to produce on the field.

“It’s nice to have anybody on the team who is here to win, great competitors” said Todman, who added that he’s not worried about attention. “If he can help us win, that’s great. As for the running backs’ standpoint, we love it, we’ll take anybody in. He comes in, now he’s part of the family.”

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