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Five guys, one goal

By Chuck Banning

Publication: The Day

Published March 21. 2012 4:00AM
Sean D. Elliot/The Day
UConn quarterbacks, with Casey Cochran in front, go though drills during the first day of spring football practice Tuesday at the Mark O. Shenkman Training Center in Storrs.
UConn quarterback battle includes Cochran in the mix

Storrs - A year ago, Shane Day was quarterbacks coach of the Chicago Bears and had only one major concern: when the NFL lockout would end,

Day had some peace of mind, however. When the NFL finally got back to business, he knew Jay Cutler was going to be his starting quarterback.

Tuesday afternoon, the new UConn QBs coach found himself in an entirely different situation.

Not only is there a major quarterback competition taking place inside the Shenkman Training Center this spring, but Day has to deal with a five-man race.

"In the meeting room, they keep joking, 'Coach, no one's ever done this in football,'" Day said. "There's never been five guys to get the reps. I have to work through it because I haven't done it before.

"It's hard with five guys, to be honest. You'd like to have three guys and divide the reps between them. But we've got five, and they all bring something to the table, so we're going to see what they can do."

Senior Johnny McEntee, who started all 12 games last season, is the incumbent, but sophomores Scott McCummings and Michael Nebrich also saw action. The Huskies, 5-7 in coach Paul Pasqualoni's first season, were inconsistent at the quarterback position, so junior college transfer Chandler Whitmer and Masuk's Casey Cochran, who graduated from high school early, arrived in January to challenge the three returning players.

All five took an equal amount of repetitions during the fast-paced workout Tuesday, the opening day of practice.

"Obviously Johnny's a little bit ahead simply because he's gotten so many snaps under his belt," Pasqualoni said. "Mike has a little more familiarity with calls and the same with Scott.

"But Chandler and Casey did a pretty good job today, this being practice No. 1. They just got here eight weeks ago, and we're not holding back anything."

It's a learning process for all five players as they adapt to a new quarterbacks coach following the departure of Joe Moorhead, who left to become head coach at Fordham. And Cochran, the son of former New London coach Jack Cochran, is right in the thick of things as the highest-profile Connecticut recruit since Shelton's Dan Orlovsky helped guide the Huskies through the early days as a Division I-A program.

"I was excited to get out here with everyone," said Cochran. "There's a lot I have to work on. I had some good throws, but there's a lot more bad than good right now. It was a great feeling getting the jitters out. The first couple of throws were nerve-racking but then I settled down.

"It's a huge adjustment. Managing your time is the biggest thing as far as the playbook and school and having some free time for myself."

But Day and McEntee certainly like the way Cochran's handled himself.

"Casey's a special guy in that he's a very mature guy for his age," Day said. "He's just coming out of high school, but it's like he's 25 years old. He's as serious as guys I've worked with in the NFL, and that's just his personality. That's who he is and he's doing fine."

Added McEntee: "Casey and Chandler were really good out there today. And for their first day, especially Casey being a young guy, he played pretty well much better than I would have at his age."

The Huskies have 13 more practices until their annual Blue-White Spring Game at Rentschler Field on April 21. And while the coaching staff is anxious to evaluate players at a number of positions, the QB battle is the most intriguing.

"Everybody is competing right now," Pasqualoni said. "Part of being a player is trying to show the coaches why you should be the one who starts. That's got to be part of your mind-set every day you come out here 'I'm going to show you, Coach, why it should be me.' Guys that can perform consistently from play 1 to play 80 on the script, that will get my attention.'

"In my mind," Day added, "the biggest thing that I have to resist is the same thing everybody else has to resist, and that's making a decision too early. I'd like it to be over today and have a No. 1, No. 2 and No. 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."

c.banning@theday.com

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