The needs at quarterback are well documented for the UConn football team. Zach Frazer is gone and the competition is wide open among Mike Box, Johnny McEntee, Scottie McCummings and Mike Nebrich.
While there are fewer concerns at wide receiver, new coach Paul Pasqualoni is looking to enhance UConn's downfield passing game. And that means you can't have enough capable wideouts. Michael Smith and Kashif Moore led the team in receptions a year ago, but neither was a big-play threat. Smith averaged 13.4 yards per reception and Moore averaged 12.6.
Compared to the rest of the Division I wide receivers, Smith's 13.4 average would rank 168th. The top six WRs averaged at least 20 yards per reception, with UTEP's Kris Adams leading the nation with 22.8. So, yes, the Huskies have room for improvement.
Which is why freshmen wideouts Geremy Davis and Tebucky Jones Jr. aren't leaving their position on the depth chart to chance. After every practice, both players run extra routes, and take turns catching tennis balls fired from a tennis ball machine from just a few feet away.
“Every day, the coaching staff emphasizes opportunity, and that we have to come out here and prove ourselves,” Jones said, according to the Journal Register News Service.
“That’s how I take it every day. Work hard, and hopefully earn a spot on the field. I’m out here every day, me and some of my teammates, and try to be the best we can be. It’s fun to compete against each other, but basically you’re competing against the whole country.”
At 6-3, 200 pounds, Davis makes for a big target. He also comes to UConn from Norcross, Georgia. If the town sounds familiar, it's because it's also the home of Jeremy Lamb, Davis' high school basketball teammate. “I was more of a defensive specialist and spot-up shooter,” said Davis. “Jeremy was a scorer. We looked to him to get all of our points, pretty much.”
Now, through the extra post-practice reps, Davis is working for the opportunity to contribute to the Huskies offense. Jones, whose father played for Pasqualoni at Syracuse and was a first-round pick of the New England Patriots in 1998, is more of a deep threat, which fits with Pasqualoni's offensive philosophy.
For now, Davis and Jones are using the spring to get better.
“They’re learning their craft,” Pasqualoni said. “There’s a lot to it. It’s not something that’s just easy to do; it takes time and a commitment to do it. We’re making progress, we’re not where we need to be but we’ve got time to do it and we’re headed in the right direction.”
In the end, competition makes UConn better. Even if Davis and Jones don't see much playing time in 2011, their hard work now and in the fall will only push the players ahead of them on the depth chart to keep their jobs. And in that respect, everyone wins.