UConn developing a solid group of wide receivers this spring
Fourteen practices into UConn football's spring session, John Allen has a good feel for his receiving corps.
There's a lot to like about this pass catching group.
"They love to work," said Allen, the team's wide receivers coach/pass game coordinator after Thursday morning's light workout inside the Shenkman Training Center. "I'm excited about their growth over the last four weeks now. They just like to compete.
"They love to learn. Especially with this new system, there's a lot to it. It's a conceptual base, so there's a lot learning. They've done a great job. ... I'm happy about where we're at with this group."
UConn will be wrapping up spring workouts on Friday by holding a Blue/White Showcase at 7 p.m. at Morrone Stadium. The practice is open to the public and gates open at 5:30. Gov. Ned Lamont will serve as an honorary coach.
The event will cap off a productive spring that's helped build a bond between players, new head coach Jim Mora and his coaching staff as well as generate much-needed excitement around the program.
Aaron Turner, a sophomore wide receiver, appreciates Allen's coaching style.
"Spring has been great," Turner said. "I love the new coaches and how they're doing stuff here. Coach Allen, he's been a great coach for us. I'm learning a lot more than I did last year.
"He gives you your own relationship with him. Sometimes a lot of coaches like to favor certain players. But he treats everyone the same. I just love it. ... Coach Allen, he might yell at you, but you can tell when he's yelling that's all love. He's just trying to get you better."
The receiving corps is one of the team's deepest position groups.
Sophomore Keelan Marion, who led the Huskies in yards (474) and receiving touchdowns (five), is back. Redshirt sophomore Kevens Clercius (20 catches, 260 yards, 3 TDS) and Turner (a team-high 33 catches, 232 yards) also return. Redshirt sophomore Cam Ross, who appeared in just two games last season due to an injury, is making a comeback.
UConn added a quality player in 6-foot-3 Nigel Fitzgerald, a graduate transfer from Old Dominion. Fitzgerald, who saw limited action at his previous stop and had just 14 receptions, fills a need with his size and leaping ability.
"He's a big, physical receiver," Allens said. "Unfortunately for him, he hasn't really played in the last two years because of COVID and an injury, so we're still trying to get his feet underneath him. But he gives us another threat as far as physicality.
"He gives us something that's a little bit different than the other guys."
There's a variety of skill sets in the group.
Allen, who spent the last two seasons as the outside receivers coach on Skip Holtz's staff at Louisiana Tech, broke down the abilities of his top receivers.
"Keelan Marion has the ability to play inside, outside for us," Allen said. "He's very smart. He's a physical guy. He's made plays in the past. Cam Ross has done a great job of putting himself in the position to play both as well, not just a slot. ... Keven Clercius has really come along as an outside receiver. He can play in the boundary as well.
"... Aaron Turner has come along. As a second semester freshman, I know he got a lot of play because of injuries. I'm really, really excited about his play as a slot. ... He's got good speed down the field.
"I'm happy with our group. I think it gives us a lot of flexibility within this system to be able to do a lot of different things and continue to grow each week."
The coaching staff is still trying to figure out who will be throwing the ball to these receivers come opening day on Aug. 27 at Utah State.
Ta'Quan Roberson, a transfer from Penn State, and redshirt junior Steve Krajewski, who appeared in 11 games last year, have taken the majority of first team snaps this spring. Redshirt freshman Tyler Phommachanh is battling back from a season-ending knee injury last fall. He's improved to the point he's participating in 7-on-7 drills. He expects to be a full-go by the summer.
"It's amazing just to be back with my guys on the field," said Phommachanh, who appeared in three games last fall. "Playing and getting reps, it feels good."
When asked about the receiving corps, Phommachanh said he plans to put his trust in them, throw them the ball and let them make plays.
Allen has noticed that the quarterbacks and receivers are building a nice rapport.
"We always talk about the brotherhood," Allen said. "I think they're really done a great job of building that camaraderie. You hear them talking about football a lot, about situations that occurred in practice. And that's good. They're not just talking about playing XBOX and going to hang out. They're actually talking about what we're doing on the field."
After Friday night's Blue/White Showcase, the Huskies will take a break. They hope to carry the momentum built up during the spring right into the summer camp.
"We understand who our team is right now," Allen said. "I think we've got a better feel from an evaluation standpoint of each player. I think we'll be able to go into the summer and say, here's our strengths and weaknesses, these are the things that we need to work on, these are the things that we're good at, and we can continue to push and grow.
"I think it's really been great. But we have to keep developing. We had a good spring but we're not where we need to be to play Utah State yet."