STORRS - The notion that familiarity breeds contempt is older than the game of football. But the idea of a UConn football team policing itself in some way is a rather new concept.
UConn coach Randy Edsall has been wondering aloud about the lack of leadership on his team almost since his return to the job two seasons ago. However the veteran coach is starting to see signs that his current team is starting to get it.
Those signs came Thursday afternoon in the form of a little fight during practice.
The scuffle, though it was rather minor and ended quickly, is somewhat typical of training camps around the country. But this particular one wasn’t because of any cheap shot or extreme aggression.
Edsall says it was perhaps because of a lack of aggression.
“It wasn’t anything personal but I think the kids felt like somebody wasn’t competing as hard as they should,” Edsall said after what was practice No. 8 for his team in the preseason. “If you give your best effort and get beat, that’s one thing. But if you’re not competing as hard as you should, they’re into holding people accountable, which is a great sign to see from a coaching standpoint.”
The Huskies, who open the season Aug. 29 against Wagner, apparently haven’t held each other accountable in recent years. And the results have followed suit. UConn is coming off a 1-11 campaign in which it set national records for defensive futility.
But the current group is fighting, literally in this case, to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
As far as the melee itself, most of the players shrugged it off and didn’t want to discuss it in very much detail.
“It’s camp. You get used to playing against the same person. And you can also get tired of playing against the same person,” said linebacker D.J. Morgan, a first-year UConn defender who transferred from Notre Dame. “So tempers definitely flare. But we all know we’re one family at the end of the day. We’re one team and we all have the same goal.”
Safety Diamond Harrell, a transfer from Chaminade College Prep in St. Louis who is also in his first season with the team, agreed with his head coach that the minor scrape was a positive thing.
“It shows that people care a lot, actually. We need that,” Harrell said. “Not too much, of course.”
Of course, some of it could have also been related to the familiarity issue.
“We see each other every day, all day and this is week two. We’re probably just tired of seeing each other,” wide receiver Ardell Brown said.
“But it does show that guys care,” Brown added. “And also when you can bounce back and perform after you do that, that shows a maturity level as well.
The level of performance in the outdoor workout picked up following the fisticuffs, but it began to slack again just as the practice was finishing up. Although Edsall admitted that his team “is doing a better job of holding each other accountable,” he took it upon himself to make sure the job was done properly by adding a few unscheduled 100-yard sprits at the end of the day.
“We’re going to be the best conditioned team in the country,” Edsall bellowed at his players before lining them up.
One of the factors Edsall believes determines whether or not a season will be successful is a team’s attitude and energy in practice. It’s something he sometimes questioned in his team during the 2018 season.
He has not done so during this preseason.
“I think it’s been totally different,” Edsall said. “I’ve been very pleased with the effort and the attitude.”
NOTES: Tight end Jay Rose returned to practice Thursday after missing a few days with a sprained ankle. … The Huskies expected starter at tight end, senior Donovan Williams, did not participate in many parts of Thursday’s practice because of a minor injury. “He got a little bit of a strained oblique, which our coaches don’t know about because they don’t have obliques,” Edsall said, then quickly repeated the same joke to include a reporter instead of assistant coaches. … Morgan and junior Ryan Gilmartin were the Huskies’ starting linebackers in their base defense for most of Thursday’s practice. … Wide receiver Jahkai Gill appeared to sprain his right ankle during the sprints that ended the practice. … Former UConn players Uyi Osunde, Chris Bellamy and Cedric Baylor, who played defensive end, running back and linebacker, respectively, for the Huskies in the early 2000s paid a visit to watch their old team practice on Thursday.