Learning Fast (QB taking over for Orlovsky)
Preparation The Catchword As Season Opener Closes In On Youthful Huskies
By CHUCK BANNING
Day Sports Editor
Published on 8/8/2005
MOST PLAYERS, IF GIVEN THE CHANCE, would admit they'd prefer to bypass the rigors of training camp, its grueling two-a-day practice sessions, and fast-forward right to opening day.
But not Deon McPhee ... at least this season.
?We've got to prepare,? UConn's defensive tackle said Sunday during the Huskies' annual Media Day at Rentschler Field. ?Are we going to be excited to play when we get to the opener? Of course we will.
?But if we don't prepare, we're not going to be successful. We've got a lot of young guys, so the more time we get to spend with ourselves, the better off we're going to be when it comes time to play. We need this time right now.?
That was a common theme Sunday as the Huskies completed their first weekend of practice.
UConn has less than a month to get ready for its season opener here against Buffalo on Sept. 1 at 7:30 p.m., and head coach Randy Edsall will use that time to push, prod, watch, evaluate and finalize his starting lineup, which will feature 11 new starters in 2005.
The head coach was a bit hoarse as he addressed the media ? ?I've had to use (my voice) a little more than I had hoped to,? he joked. But overall, he's been pleased with the early progress, especially from a competitive standpoint.
?I've seen some things that have been good,? Edsall said. ?And I've seen some things we still have to work on. But one thing I've seen is tremendous competition. The guys seem to be getting after it pretty good.?
The Huskies have experience on the defensive line and at linebacker, led by co-captains McPhee and James Hargrave. They're solid at tailback with Terry Caulley returning from a knee injury to complement Cornell Brockington, an All-Big East back in 2004. There is talent and depth at wide receiver, led by seniors Jason Williams and Brandon Young. And All-Big East placekicker Matt Nuzie is also back.
There are some unresolved issues on the offensive line, which graduated three starters, and in the defensive secondary, which will have some new faces. But the most scrutinized position this preseason will be at quarterback, where record-setting quarterback Dan Orlovsky has taken his skills to the NFL's Detroit Lions after moving into the starting lineup midway through his freshman season.
Right now, the job belongs to Matt Bonislawski, a 6-foot-4 junior with the most experience of any QB in camp. D.J. Hernandez, a redshirt freshman from Bristol Central, is the No. 2 man right now while a pair of highly touted true freshman, Dennis Brown of Miami (Fla.) and Billy Cundiff of Ohio, are getting their first taste of Division I football.
?They're swimming right now,? Edsall said of the freshmen. ?They're paddling upstream as fast as they can to stay afloat ... but you know what? They're working hard and they're not afraid to ask questions.
?They're just getting overwhelmed. The speed of the game is scaring the crap out of them right now.?
The same can't be said for Bonislawski, who is taking a business-like approach into his first training camp as the No. 1 guy.
?I'm looking forward to the year,? he said. ?We've still got a lot of things to accomplish. I've just got to prove things to the coaching staff and myself.?
Added Edsall: ?He came in here a skinny, scrawny, non-descript kind of guy. And now what I've seen in these first three practices is a guy whose taking charge and directing other guys. I see a guy who has confidence in what he's doing.?
UConn's preseason roster includes four players with Eastern Connecticut Conference ties. Salem's Lou Allen, a redshirt freshman from East Lyme High School, is No. 1 on the depth chart at fullback, while there are three incoming true freshmen: Franklin's Dan Ryan, an offensive tackle from Norwich Free Academy, and a pair of walk-ons, New London defensive back Aaron Bryant and Bacon Academy offensive lineman Jared Pratt. Bryant, a quarterback/safety at New London and a center on the Whalers' state championship basketball team, has gained 24 pounds of muscle since the winter and arrived in Storrs at 203 pounds. He will wear No. 18, Allen wears No. 5, Ryan No. 73 and Pratt No. 55. ... At 6-foot-8, Ryan is the tallest player on the Huskies' roster.