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UConn Practice Notes: Newsome and the rock, Shirreffs and a stronger "O" line.

POSTED August 12, 2015
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

STORRS: UConn head coach Bob Diaco was pretty straight forward when asked how often and if former Ansonia star running back, Arkeel Newsome would be part of the 2015 Huskies offensive game plan.

“He has to squeeze the ball,” Diaco said, “If he doesn’t squeeze the ball, he’s not going to play. If he squeezes the ball, he’s going to play a bunch.”

In his freshman campaign, Newsome led the team in All-Purpose yards with 1073 or 89.4 per game but put the rock on the ground on kick returns and from the line of scrimmage more than his coaches would have liked to see.

I mean, Newsome found out in a big hurry the difference between playing in the Naugatuck Valley League where he was barely touched and at the Division 1 level where he was pounded on most of his 36 kick returns.

But when he did get the ball in pace, you saw the Newsome explosiveness that NVL fans were familiar with whenever the Chargers were on the other side of the ball.

“He’s electric,” Diaco said, “We have to get the ball to him in many different kinds of ways. If he holds onto it, and so far, knock on wood, ball security has been strong. He’ll get a bunch.”

…..Red-shirt sophomore Bryant Shirreffs is still leading the quarterback race and took all of his snaps with the first team on Wednesday and looks very comfortable.

“He has taken over that part of his game,” Diaco said, “He’s no longer the ‘new guy’. He’s, that’s over and done, been there, here we go. He goes out there and tries to take command and it’s really nice to see. It’s what the team needs, it’s what the offense needs.”

Having to sit out the 2014 campaign was not easy on the North Carolina State transfer but he worked through it.

“This past year was tough for me, not being able to play, “Shirreffs said, “But I used it to really make my game stride forward as far as mentally. I try to be the best I can be every day and just conquer the offense. I tried very hard this summer and Iv’e just reall enjoyed playing football.”

Junior Tim Boyle is not far behind Shirreffs in his progression, according to the coach.

“Tim has done the same thing,” Diaco said, “He has raised his game.”

Boyle threw for 355 yards in 2014 and comes into camp as the only QB to have started a game amongst the quarterbacks in camp with seven total.

When asked what was different about camp this year versus last, the list was too long for him to name but he tried.

“I would say that biggest change is our intensity and our mindset,” Boyle said, “Last year we had a good mindset but we were still in a losing culture. We have a winning mentality right now and we are ready for Villanova.”

….The offensive line has been a bone of contention in UConn country the past few seasons but appears to be on the upswing, according to one of the signal callers.

“I’m extremely confident in the line this year,” Boyle said, “With Tommy Hopkins at left guard and with a new center in Brendan Vechery and the two returning tackle (Richard Levy at LT and Andreas Knappe at RT) and Samra (Tyler) back at right guard. I don’t think there is a better O line in the conference right now. They are meshing real well right.”

….Wednesday marked the first time in the Diaco era that an entire practice was open for the media to watch.

It was a welcome change that will allow the folks who cover the team to tell a better, more informed story.

The team will hold a scrimmage at The Rent on Saturday and open their 2015 campaign at home on September 3 when they host Villanova at 7:30 p.m.

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