Posts Tagged ‘UConn football’

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. — 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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