football Edit

Heat, humidity haunt final practice

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STORRS, Conn. – Hoping to simulate a typical day in Durham, N.C. Tuesday afternoon, head coach Randy Edsall and the coaching staff had the temperature of the Shenkman Center jacked up to a humid 85 degrees.
Luckily enough for the players, it was a bit of relief. After all, Edsall had the thermostat at 92 degrees for the previous two days.
"It was one of those things where I just felt we needed to come in and get some of this stagnant air and these hot temperatures as much as we can get," Edsall said. "We don't have the sun beating down on us, but at least we can simulate the heat."
It's all part of the plan to prepare the team for the first game of the season at Duke, which is just 11 days away. With that game closing in, and the team beginning preparations for the Blue Devils on Friday, Edsall has started to see some of the changes and adaptations from his players that will set Thursday's decision on the two-deep in stone.
For some, the final practice of the preseason – a scrimmage set for Rentschler Field tomorrow at 2 p.m. – will be the chance to make one last push for a chance to gain a starting role. Others will have the opportunity to prove that they are indeed the right choices for the team.
Edsall didn't give any hints as to the outcome of some of the more hotly-debated battles Tuesday, but he said there will be plenty of things the coaching staff will be looking at before making their decisions.
"There are still some guys that might have the edge going into tomorrow, but I'm going to look at the whole body of work through the preseason and what people have done to make those final determinations," Edsall said. "We as coaches will grade the film tomorrow, and they'll sit down offensively and defensively to talk about things, and then we'll reconvene on 7:30 Thursday morning as a staff … and hopefully have something by the end of the day."
One of those decisions appears to have been set at weakside linebacker, but the position battle there only began with an injury to incumbent Ryan Henegan. Lawrence Wilson appears to have taken that role, filling in with the first team during Tuesday's practice. Henegan, wearing a brace on his left knee, limped around the Shenkman Center Tuesday, but Edsall declined to give information about the extent of his injury other than calling him day-to-day.
Other battles that appear set include using Dahna Deleston, who started last season, alongside Robert Vaughn as the starting safety. Rob Lunn took most of the reps alongside Dan Davis at defensive tackle, holding off a challenge from Brandon Dillon, and Desi Cullen has all but officially locked up the starting punting job.
The more volatile area is the special teams unit, with Edsall saying plenty of players have been considered on the kicking and return teams. One player sure to get time as a starter there would be D.J. Hernandez, who has spent considerable time working with the units in recent practices.
Edsall added that he hopes to get several of the wide receivers in the mix on special teams in an attempt to make up the difference for moving kickoffs back to the 30-yard line. Those who will be considered include the receivers who are more willing to serve as wedge-busters and break through to make a tackle.
"We have to get some contributions out of those wide receivers on special teams," Edsall said. "I think what happens is, you now have to adjust yourself to maybe find some more of your faster guys on your coverage team."
With two weeks of practice complete after tomorrow, Edsall did admit the players look ready to just get into a regular rotation with practice and game preparations.
"I've been impressed with the approach and the attitude throughout the preseason," Edsall said. "I think the approach and the attitude and the overall work ethic has been pretty darn good. Now, we have to see how that carries over when we play the games, but for the most part, I think they came in in good shape and they've worked."
Tuesday's practice, which began with work on positional drills, moved to a 7-on-7 pass skeleton for 15 minutes, followed by work on blitzes and punt returns. Concluding the session was work in both the red zone and tight red zone before the team's four-minute drill, a simulation designed to run out the clock while leading with the ball.
Zac Boyer covers UConn sports for Rivals.com. He can be reached at zacboyer@gmail.com.