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UConn camp opens with Whitmer as No. 1 quarterback

By Pat Eaton-Robb
Associated Press / August 3, 2012
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STORRS, Conn.—Connecticut opened its preseason Friday with a single quarterback at the top of the depth chart, something the Huskies did not have a year ago or at the start of spring practice.

Coach Paul Pasqualoni named transfer Chandler Whitmer the Huskies' starter, based largely on the strength of his performance during the spring game, during which he completed 18 of 27 passes for 187 yards.

"I wanted to give the starter coming into camp more of an opportunity with the reps," coach Paul Pasqualoni said, "and to work with the first-team guys in an effort to develop the communication aspect, the chemistry aspect, the feel-for-each other aspect."

That's different from last year, when the Huskies broke camp with three players -- Johnny McEntee, Scott McCummings and Michael Nebrich -- still fighting for the job. McEntee, a walk-on, ended up with most of the snaps.

He threw for 2,110 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions, but UConn opened the season 1-2 and finished a disappointing 5-7, a year after playing in the Fiesta Bowl.

Pasqualoni made it clear, after the season, that he was looking for more consistency out of the position. And the Huskies went out and snared Whitmer and freshman Casey Cochran, the most highly touted instate quarterback to commit to UConn since NFL backup Dan Orlovsky.

Whitmer outplayed Cochran in the spring. And the battle ended after the freshman broke his left and non-throwing wrist during a July bicycle accident.

Cochran was in a cast on Friday. He participated in some drills, but wasn't able to take any snaps. He's not expected to heal until just before the Aug. 30 opener against UMass. Pasqualoni said the staff is considering whether to have him redshirt this season.

"We could make (that decision) by the UMass game," he said. "But typically, we might not make it until the sixth game of the year."

Whitmer has three years of eligibility at UConn, and should be a key cog in this pivotal year for all involved. The Big East, after all, is up for grabs, Pasqualoni needs a bounceback season himself, and the Huskies want to get back to -- at the least -- bowl eligibility.

"I think it's important just for everybody," Pasqualoni said in explaining the early quarterback decision, "just to get into a rhythm as an offense and get clicking."

Whitmer is a drop-back passer, who signed with Illinois out of high school. He left after a redshirt season and spent last season at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan. before transferring to UConn in time for the spring semester.

UConn also will have new players catching the ball. Speedster Michael Smith is returning for his senior season after sitting out a year because of an academic issue, and Shakim Phillips, a transfer from Boston College, also is expected to get playing time.

"With Chandler coming in, it's helped me out a lot," Phillips said. "He didn't know the playbook, I didn't know the playbook, so we came in and studied together and we learned together, and that's how we've pretty much got our connection there."

Pasqualoni expects a good competition in the race for the backup quarterback slot. The coach knows he's going to need all McEntee and Nebrich, a sophomore who completed just five passes for 69 years a year ago, can give.

"We're not going to make it through the season with one quarterback," Pasqualoni said. "We're going to need another guy to go in the game and win a game."

McCummings, a sophomore who was used extensively last season as a running threat, has been excused from the start of practice for personal reasons. He threw for just 157 yards last year, but ran for 285 on 74 carries.

Pasqualoni said he plans to include an option-style package in UConn's offense again this season.

"That's kind of a piece of our DNA," he said.

In their last four games last season, the Huskies averaged 28.7 points per game, but only went 2-2 in that span.

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