The UConn Huskies football team had its first day of spring practice Wednesday. The 2011 version of this squad won't much resemble the group that played in the Fiesta Bowl two months ago. There's a new coaching staff, including Paul Pasqualoni, who replaced Randy Edsall, and a lot of players vying for starting jobs.
And perhaps the most important position -- quarterback -- is wide open. Last week, Pasqualoni admitted that the competition for the starting gig might "go right until the last minute in the fall."
If there's a depth chart it's undoubtedly written in pencil and redshirt sophomore Michael Box is probably atop it (for now, anyway). Box started one game last season, a 26-0 drubbing at the hands of Louisville. He finished that afternoon completing 4 of 12 passes for 35 yards, including an interception. He added 22 rushing yards on five carries. A rough outing, for sure, but it's worth remembering that Box was a freshman and if not for injuries and suspensions he wouldn't have been on the field.
But it doesn't sound like Box's "experience" will have much bearing on who eventually wins the job. When asked about his QBs, offensive coordinator George DeLeonetold ESPN: "…it's not like [Box] has significant experience over the other kids. So our goal this spring, one of our biggest challenges, is to make sure each quarterback has equal opportunity to get repetitions. That's the challenge, with three or four quarterbacks you're dealing with. And more importantly than the reps, it's the type of reps they get in certain situations. For example, if you're in a blitz drill, and you've got one quarterback who gets all the blitz drill reps, and the other quarterback is in 7-on-7, well it's a lot easier to throw the ball in 7-on-7. So you've got to combine the reps so they are not just equal reps but equal types of reps. And that's a challenge."
The other quarterbacks competing for the job include Johnny McEntee, Scottie McCummings, and Mike Nebrich, who will be a freshman in the fall.
After practice, Box echoed the sentiments of his coordinator. "It is just an open competition for every position, and that is what you want because it makes everybody better, everybody is competing," even agreeing that starting one game doesn't give him much of an advantage over the other quarterbacks. "[The experience] is nice to have, but the Louisville outing didn't go extremely well for me. I don't look at it as I have one more game than the other guys, I look at it as I have seen it and I know what I need to do to get back there."
But this is just day one of spring practice. Nothing has to be decided now. UConn has some five months to sort out the depth chart, including who will be under center when the Huskies host Fordham on Sept. 1.
For now, Pasqualoni is just enjoying the process. "I am just happy to be here, and happy to be here working and starting spring practice. …It is the time of the year where you don't have to worry about game planning for some other opponent, you can just work on what you do and you can work on the tools, techniques and fundamentals that players need. When you are a coach and a teacher that is the best part of the job."