Today was practice eleven and the Huskies’ quarterback competition is still that, a true competition. True freshman Zion Turner was up first on the day, with Ta’Quan Roberson second. Cale Millen saw a few reps, while there were limited, if any for Tyler Phommachanh. Asked if there was any separation at quarterback after practice, Mora stated the following.
“Not really, it’s still a pretty close competition,” he said after a long pause. “Every day it looks just a little bit different. There are some good things that they are all doing. While each of them have things they do really well, each have things that they struggle with; we are still sorting through that. I had told you guys that I would like to make a decision as early as possible, we just aren’t capable of doing that yet. Sooner the better, obviously, but we are not going to make a decision until it becomes as clear as we can possibly make it.”
Don’t expect any decision, at least publicly, until next Tuesday, at the earliest. The Huskies will hold a scrimmage on Saturday, open to the media, which could have a major impact on the ultimate call. Game situations are what this team and players need and playing in live-action, under the lights will help reveal some additional details to make a decision that a traditional practice can’t reveal.
Today, both Turner and Roberson were inconsistent, but nothing bad. As an example, Turner threw a pick-six to linebacker Marquez Bembry, but came back on the very next play and threw a beautiful 20-25-yard pass to wide receiver Darius Bush, on a rollout. Bush caught the ball and toe-tapped in-bounds up the right sideline.
Roberson, who had his best practice of camp during media availability on Friday, was not as sharp today. A would-be interception was dropped by linebacker Jordan Morrison and there were also a few overthrows, which Turner also suffered from this afternoon.
Millen saw some reps with what looked like the first unit and started out great, connecting with Kevens Clercius on a patient read, followed by an impressive play. After a bad snap that bounced just at his feet, he was able to keep his poise, set himself and fire a 15-yard out, cross-field, on a rope for a first down. His session ended by throwing one away after his first few reads were unable to get open, but he did miss an open Devontae Houston, who he could have hit with a dump off on the play.
As mentioned in the post-practice question and answer session with fans, the group that this team has at quarterback is a good one that likes each other and wants to see each other succeed. From someone that has seen quarterback competitions in year’s past, this one is different because there are multiple guys playing themselves into the competition, rather than sitting back and hoping to be appointed. The room is deep and this offense and team would be in capable hands with any one of the scholarship players.
END OF GAME SITUATIONS:
The last phase of practice today saw the Huskies work on end-of-game plays, be it the never-ending laterals to Hail Mary’s. Mora walked the defense through various scenarios in slow motion; stopping movement when parts of the defense became over-extended in a certain direction, which could potentially leave offensive players in an uncovered position. There was a major focus on attention to detail during the session, as Mora spent 3-4 minutes with various position groups on the field.
The top line again today to start was Valentin Senn (LT), Noel Ofori-Nyadu (LG), Chris Fortin (C), Christian Haynes (RG), Chase Lundt (RT). A positive for the group is Jake Guidone, the expected starting center, was back practicing. He started with the second team line at guard, which I asked Mora about following practice.
“You’d like to have two centers that you can really depend on,” Mora said. “You’d always like to have your two best players in there and Jake is a good guard. Right now, we’re trying to figure out the formula inside.”
One thing that is a positive with that approach, Chris Fortin seems like a guy that can play any position on the line, be it center, guard or tackle.
Another positive from a depth perspective is Michigan transfer Jack Stewart, as he’s gotten more familiar with the offensive scheme and was once again at RG with the second team. Stewart seems to have solidified that spot, particularly with Brady Wayburn currently out with an injury. Ben Murawski did not practice, as Boise State transfer Kyle Juergens saw the time at right tackle with the second team. Juergens, a young player who is still putting on weight, was able to free up a lane for running back Robert Burns, who exploded through the hole for a touchdown, one of two scores for Burns on the day.
This is a deep group, even with Wayburn and Murawski out, with the second line for the majority of practice being Gamaliel Barboza (LT), Jake Guidone (LG), Yakiri Walker (C), Jack Stewart (RG), Kyle Juergens (RT).
“I’ve been impressed with the offensive line,” Mora said. “I had been told things about this group that I wasn’t making judgment on, but I see a group that is really developing great chemistry, they understand what they are supposed to do, they play well together. We need to play healthy obviously, but that’s a group I’m impressed with and I like the way we are playing. You know this, you are only as good as the guys upfront on offense and so far, I feel a sense of confidence with those guys.”
WR Darius Bush made another outstanding catch today with a diving reception just inside the 10-yard line, to go with his sideline reception mentioned above.
Returning from injury can be a process, but WR Matt Drayton seems to be slowly working his way up the depth chart.
Linebackers Jackson Mitchell and Ian Swenson had the day off, as Jordan Morrison and Tui Faumuina-Brown took their reps with the first team today.
LB transfer Brandon Bouyer-Randle had a would-be sack today had they been going live.
RB Nate Carter had a tremendous burst through a large hole at one point in practice.
At one point, the majority of the secondary on the field were true freshmen with the second team. In nickel, Malcolm Bell was at one corner, with CB D’Mon Brinson, CB Isiah Davis, S Lee Molette III and S Camryn Edwards rounding out the rest of the group. There was a lot of plug and play with various players yesterday. Brinson has the makings of a very strong corner as he develops at this level.
Saturday is the next session the media will attend and it’s a big one, a scrimmage at 5:30 in Storrs.