New Day for UConn Quarterbacks

STORRS – The first day of spring football practice required more than the average planning for Connecticut quarterbacks coach Shane Day. Innovation might be a better word.

The Connecticut coaching staff isn't reinventing the practice plan this spring, but there is a unique challenge involved with splitting reps between five candidates for the starting quarterback job.

Day, who joined coach Paul Pasqualoni's staff in January after two years as the quarterbacks coach for the NFL Chicago Bears, would prefer a three-man rotation that establishes the starter sooner than later. But that's not the situation he walked into.

"No; never ever, ever, ever," Day said when asked if he has experienced a five-man battle for the starting QB spot. "No one has. We keep joking as we go into staff meetings. We're like, ‘Coach, no one has ever done this in football.' There has never been five quarterbacks where you've got to split the reps.

"So it's something new. I have to work through it because I haven't ever done it before. It's totally new territory for me as well."

On Tuesday, the Huskies held the first of 15 spring workouts that will culminate with the spring game April 21 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. Johnny McEntee, last year's starting quarterback, is back for his senior season. Reserves Scott McCummings and Michael Nebrich return as well.

But most eyes Tuesday were focused on newcomers Casey Cochran and Chandler Whitmer. Cochran is the two-time Gatorade High School Player of the Year from Monroe, Conn. Whitmer is the transfer from Butler Community College in Kansas who originally enrolled at Illinois and red-shirted there.

"You've got to take advantage of every rep," Whitmer said. "Every move you make on this field is graded and evaluated. You've got to take care of those reps and make sure you execute correctly. It's going to be a fun competition."

Whitmer and Cochran both enrolled at UConn in January. They've been competing in the weight room and helping each other learn the playbook with the help of McEntee and the other returnees. Cochran graduated from Masuk High School and gave up the traditional rituals that go with the final semester as a senior to get a head start on his freshman season at UConn.

Cochran had been itching to get on the field since his arrival on campus, so Tuesday was a big day. He made some good throws, some not-so-good throws, and had a couple of fumbles. Without pads and no contact, it's hard to tell a lot but Pasqualoni was pleased with the five QB rotation and Cochran was thrilled to get it all going.

"We're all just going out and working as hard as we can every practice," Cochran said. "Everyone if fighting every single rep.

"It was a great feeling just getting all the jitters out. The first couple of throws were nerve-wracking but after that I just settled down and that was a great feeling."

Pasqualoni and Day are both impressed by the maturity and attitude of Cochran and Whitmer. That will be a big plus as they compete. Day said Cochran acts like a 25-year-old and is as serious and focused as any NFL quarterback he has ever been around. Cochran was the last player off the field Tuesday. He stuck around overtime to run sprints and do push-ups.

And although the fascination will be with the newcomers, it is wrong to count out McEntee. He has the advantage of experience and familiarity with Pasqualoni's complicated pro-style offense.

"I think they're giving us all a fair chance," McEntee said. "I think the competition is good. It will make me better and make everybody better. Casey and Chandler were really good out there for their first day. Casey is the young guy. He played better than I would have at his age."

And now every day of spring practice bring a new challenge as these five quarterbacks battle it out for the starting spot.

"The biggest thing I have to resist is the same thing everybody else has to resist," Day said. "And that's making the decision too early.

"I'd like for it to be over today and have a No. 1, 2 and 3 quarterback and let's get ready to play. But that's not the reality of the situation. The reality of the situation is we've got to let it play out."

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