Huskies To Watch: Part 4

STORRS – Excitement is building around Connecticut's corps of wide receivers, especially with Shakim Phillips eligible to play for the Huskies this season.

Phillips sat out all of last season as a transfer from Boston College because of NCAA rules. Now a redshirt sophomore, Phillips will be given his first chance to showcase his abilities for UConn Thursday night in the Huskies season opener against the University of Massachusetts.

"I can't wait," said Phillips, who was all smiles after UConn's weekly press conference on Sunday. "I feel good coming back to finally start playing again. I'm happy that it's here."

Phillips participated in spring practice and played in the Blue-White spring game, when he caught five passes for 55 yards, including one catch for 20 yards. All five receptions came from quarterback Chandler Whitmer, who entered preseason camp No. 1 on the depth chart and will get his first start for the Huskies on Thursday.

The two seem to be bonding as quarterback and receiver, forming what could be a productive tandem.

"Shak's got a different gear," Whitmer said. "He's real good on the deep balls and he'll go up and get it. He's a great athlete."

Phillips, 6 foot 1 and 200 pounds, has thick shoulders, large hands, and a 39-inch vertical jump – something Whitmer praised while talking about his athletic ability. Combine those physical tools with great route running ability and Phillips adds depth and potential to a receiving unit that starts the season healthy and ready.

Phillips could be a huge addition to the Huskies, giving them a much-needed deep threat, as well as a consistent playmaker.

"He brings explosion and power to our offense and has the ability to turn an ordinary play into an explosive one," UConn receivers coach Matt Cersosimo said. "He has picked up our system and continues to play fast because he knows his assignments. We expect him to continue to develop throughout the season and when given the opportunity, contribute to the offense and the team."

Phillips is part of a receiving unit that may be one of the deepest for the Huskies in recent memory. He will join either Nick Williams or Michael Smith, both seniors, in the starting lineup.

Williams was the fifth leading receiver for the Huskies last season. He finished 2011 with 11 receptions for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Smith, who did not play last year due to academic reasons, was the leading receiver during the Big East championship season in 2010. From 2008-2010 he had 73 receptions, 922 yards and two touchdowns. The Huskies also have good depth with sophomores Geremy Davis and Tebucky Jones expected to get playing time.

"Right now, we're pretty healthy and that's kind of a delicate position, traditionally," coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "I think that we have more depth [this year] and I think that the roles that they're in really fit their skills sets. If we can stay healthy and play fast, I think we can have a productive set of wide receivers."

Phillips, a once highly touted high-school recruit, played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and was a No. 1 wide receiver recruit out of New Jersey. He appeared in four games for BC and caught his first career pass against Florida State for nine yards.

"Coach [Pasqualoni] obviously brought me in here to play my best and to make plays," Phillips said. "Hopefully I can just go out there and make as many plays as I possibly can."

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