NEWPORT, R.I. - That the UConn football team was picked to finish last in the Eastern Division of the American Athletic Conference in the league’s annual preseason medial poll Tuesday was not a surprise.
Given UConn’s atrocious finish last season, it’s no wonder voters had little faith in the Huskies’ ability to turn things around quickly.
But the only thing less surprising than the predictions were coach Randy Edsall’s reactions to them. The 58-year-old Edsall, now beginning his second stint as the Huskies’ head coach, is used to being underestimated.
“I’ve read that chapter before. That’s nothing new,” Edsall said during the American’s Media Day. “You still have to go play the games and that’s what we’re going to do.”
South Florida was picked to win the East and the overall league title. UConn was picked to finish sixth (last) in the East, with only Tulane receiving fewer points overall in the media rankings.
The perceived slight could add a little fuel to the Huskies’ fire in the early part of the season.
“You have incentive every year, but when you see that it probably adds a little bit,” Edsall said.
The UConn players will report back to campus for training camp July 27, with practice to begin two days later. The trio of players who accompanied Edsall here seemed to agree with their head coach’s take on the rankings.
“It’s a little bit of motivation, not for too long though, because you can’t really get caught up in that,” senior tight end Tommy Myers said. “Our goal is compete for the championship and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Edsall has decided against naming captains for his team this season. But many players, including perhaps Myers, will be named to a leadership council that will help guide the team.
So far, Edsall likes what he’s seen from the group.
“I think this team is really going to come together,” Edsall said. “It’s a group that’s pretty tight right now. You always have a couple knuckleheads, but they’ll be OK. I like what I’ve seen so far.”
It’s not clear how much the fact that the Huskies lost their final six games in 2016 and experienced amazing offensive ineptitude has set the program back.
“We have to get that culture of winning back,” Edsall said. “It’s everybody. It’s the players, it’s the administration, it’s the fans. Before, we had all those things. But that kind of slipped, kind of went away.”
The QB question
Few teams like to begin the preseason not knowing who their quarterback will be when the season begins, but UConn is experiencing that now.
“It’s a wide-open competition. The guys know that,” Edsall said Tuesday during the American Athletic Conference’s Media Day.
Senior Bryant Shirreffs has a great deal more experience than anyone else on the roster and could re-take his spot as the team’s signal-caller. Sophomore Donovan Williams, who replaced Shirreffs midway through last season, could also receive another shot. Even sophomore Brandon Bisack, who took the majority of the snaps during the Huskies’ spring game, could be given a chance in games this season.
The Huskies also will add three new quarterbacks when practice begins in 10 days: freshman Jordan McAfee from Everett, Massachusetts; freshman Marvin Washington from Orlando; and junior David Pindell from Lackawanna Junior College.
Edsall said it’s possible to get a true freshman ready to play in a short amount of time, but the coach seems more inclined to choose Pindell if he starts a newcomer this fall.
“You’re pretty much talking about David Pindell,” Edsall said. “Coming from a junior college, he has experience playing. That level is a step above high school. He has a little bit more experience than your typical high school player coming in at the same time.”
A native of Columbia, Maryland, Pindell seems to have many of the qualities Edsall likes.
“He’s a kid that’s well-prepared, understands the game,” Edsall said.
Because Shirreffs, Williams and even Bisack are more known commodities, Edsall said he expects to work his new quarterbacks quite extensively during practice in August.
“They’ll probably get a few more reps early on in practice,” Edsall said.
Rose in chains
The biggest addition to the UConn football team this season is one the Huskies added once already. Jay Rose, the all-state quarterback from Southington who came to UConn last season as a tight end but left during the preseason and seemingly ended his football playing career, has re-enrolled at UConn and has rejoined the team.
“He reached out to me, asking to come back,” Edsall said. “I told him what the expectations were that we had for him. And if he wanted to be part of that, that would be fine with me. He did.”
Rose will be in uniform for training camp, which for the Huskies begins July 29.
“He’s back with us now. I put him on scholarship about a week ago,” Edsall said.
The UConn players were apparently glad to have Rose back in the fold, including one who could serve as something of a mentor to the freshman.
Tommy Myers, the Huskies’ senior tight end from Coventry, was excited Rose changed his mind.
“Jay’s a great player. He’s a great athlete, he’s strong, and he’s going to be a great fit for us at tight end,” Myers said.
Myers also has a bit of a new security system ready, however.
“I was his roommate the first go-around in camp. So I told him I’m going to chain him to his bed this time so he won’t leave again,” Myers said with a laugh.
There isn’t likely to be another early departure, however, Myers believes.
“He’s got a new determination and a new excitement for the game,” Myers said.
Although the quarterback situation not being clear isn’t ideal, UConn’s biggest question mark entering the preseason is on special teams. The Huskies lost their starting kicker and punter as Bobby Puyol and Justin Wain graduated this spring.
“Who is the punter going to be? That concerns me. That’s a big part of the game,” Edsall said. “I think we’ll be OK at field goal and PAT. We have guys there that will be able to compete and give us what we need.”
Senior Will Rishell, a former RHAM standout, and sophomore Michael Tarbutt are the Huskies’ place kickers.
Edsall said his final roster is not set for 2017. “We still have some things going on with the roster,” Edsall said. “That’s why there is no depth chart now.” … The coach says he’d like to add a few more players to the roster. “Maybe three more, possibly,” Edsall said. “I’d like it to be three more, put it that way.”