COMMENTARY: Smart Move by Pasqualoni

No reason to beat around the bush: Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni has just set a terrific tone for the upcoming football season.

UConn's football players reported to preseason camp on Thursday. They will begin practice Friday in Storrs. The first day of any season is always exciting but Pasqualoni's announcement on Thursday that sophomore Chandler Whitmer will begin camp as the No. 1 quarterback has to be uplifting to everyone – even the other quarterbacks.

Why?

First, I think players like to know where they stand. It's not only important to the guys competing for a spot, it's also important to their teammates – in this case, especially the other offensive players.

Second, Whitmer earned this designation during spring practice and most notably during the spring game in April. He had the best day and that game serves as the final exam for spring workouts.

Most importantly, this decision – which certainly can be reversed if Johnny McEntee comes in and dazzles everyone the next three weeks – means we won't have a repeat of last season when UConn opened with three quarterbacks, no starter and no clear leadership.

McEntee eventually became the guy. Nobody beat him out. He was consistent and capable – but far from sensational. Give McEntee credit. The guy bailed UConn out of a tough situation. The previous administration (aka Randy Edsall) headed off to Maryland knowing the Huskies were in trouble at the most important position on the football field.

That was a tough way for Pasqualoni and his staff to take over. The coaches compounded the problem by taking so long to commit to one starter. And that became a burden for the entire team because the fans complained and the media asked about it – week after week after week. (That's what we get paid to do folks.)

At Big East media day in Newport, R.I., Tuesday I asked Pasqualoni if he had the patience to go through all that again.

"I don't know if I'm patient enough [for that], but if I don't feel it's right, I'd be disciplined enough to get it right," Pasqualoni said Tuesday at Big East media day. "But like [the media] and any coach in the country, if I can make the decision – the sooner the decision is, the better I think it is for everybody.

"I'm all on board with that. Whenever it's clear, it's clear."

Not sure what changed in about a 48-hour period. For some reason, Pasqualoni wasn't ready to make this official on Tuesday. He told us he wanted to be settled by Aug. 23 – one week before the Aug. 30 opener against UMass. He told us that freshman Casey Cochran may not get the cast off his non-throwing hand until Aug. 23 or Aug. 24. He didn't tell us that sophomore Scott McCummings will miss the beginning of preseason camp due to excused personal reasons. Maybe he didn't know that yet.

I'm sure Pasqualoni will explain in more detail after practice Friday when he meets with the media.

Sophomore Michael Nebrich remains in the mix of five as well but no one thinks Nebrich is ready for the starting job yet.

Whitmer, however, showed he can handle it. He redshirted at Illinois in 2010. Then he went to Butler Community College in Kanas and was 180 for 316 passing for 3,022 yards with 25 TDs and 14 interceptions. He received All-Kansas Junior College Conference first team honors and earned National Junior College Athletic Association All-American honorable mention. Butler was the second-ranked junior college team nationally in 2011.

During spring drills, Whitmer was confident and poised. Maybe he didn't take a clear step forward until the Blue-White Spring Game. But on April 21, he was 18 of 27 for 187 yards and two touchdowns. His footwork, his leadership and his results seemed to outshine the rest.

As Pasqualoni begins Year Two at UConn, this is the single best decision he has made. The Huskies have a guy to rally around. If Whitmer fails, don't blame Pasqualoni for giving him a chance.

McEntee will be there whenever he is needed. That's the kind of class act he has been since he arrived in Storrs. McCummings and Nebrich can be used in the "wildcat" package that Pasqualoni still believes in. And Cochran really will be best served with a redshirt season. That was true before his bicycle accident led to the broken left wrist. Cochran is learning and he will learn more.

Cochran may be the future of the UConn program. Whitmer is the guy right now.

"I think you like to have somebody the whole year," tight end Ryan Griffin told me Tuesday. "If someone's not performing or they're all performing at the same level, then you have to drag it out. It's an unnecessary evil. Hopefully we're not doing the two quarterbacks like we did last year. You would like to know [the starter]. I think it makes it easier seeing the same face."

And that's what Pasqualoni did Thursday. He made it easier for everyone.


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