Connecticut begins spring practice on Tuesday, and the Huskies will be going through a lot of changes. The biggest ones will likely be seen on offense. I caught up with new offensive coordinator George DeLeone -- who is reunited with former Syracuse boss Paul Pasqualoni in Storrs -- to find out what to expect this spring. Here is Part I of our conversation.
What's it like to be back working with Paul again?
George DeLeone: We've been together on many different staffs. We started together at Southern Connecticut, then we were assistants together at Syracuse under coach MacPherson, and then when coach Pasqualoni became the head coach at Syracuse. Then we worked together most recently with the Miami Dolphins for two years. So we've got a little history there, and one of the reasons I came here is I knew exactly what I was going to get from Paul Pasqualoni. He's a great coach, a great man and a tremendous guy to work for, and a great football coach. So I was excited about this opportunity.
As much as you've worked together, is there a shorthand between the two of you where you almost know what the other is thinking?
GD: I think I understand the expectation level and intensity level that's needed. I understand the work ethic he demands. I understand the exactness and detail that must be translated to our players, and I understand the year-round commitment that it's going to take. I've been around it for so long, you know what to expect every day when you come to work, and that's something I enjoy. And again, he's a tremendous coach who has a great feel for the game.
You guys didn't get hired until mid-January, and then had to go through recruiting, and now it's spring practice already. How frantic has it been the last couple of months?
GD: We all say we can't wait until next year at this time, because we will be so much further ahead. We had to scramble in a lot of different areas. We're installing a whole new offense, a whole new defense and utilizing a lot of systems. It's very, very difficult to do in the amount of time we had to do it, and the fact we're starting spring ball so early. We usually like to do a lot of things in terms of research and development and studying the NFL, and we really weren't able to do those things this year. So everything has been compressed, and we just hope that we've got enough ready to go here. It's a process, and we probably had to shortchange the process a little bit to get everything in.
Several assistants from the previous staff were kept on. How much does that help you in getting to know the players and what they can do?
GD: What he did was unique in college football today. If you look around the landscape of college football, you don't see what coach Pasqualoni did very often, which was to take a staff that was left on an island and retain them. It shows you what type of person he is, number one, and it's also a positive because these guys are good coaches. I think Coach P respected the job that was done here. But it does help with knowing the personnel, no doubt about it.
Will the offense be similar to what we saw you run at Syracuse, or have you picked up different things from your time in the NFL? Or will it just fit around your personnel?
GD: I think it's all of the above. I don't care where you are or what you've done, your offense has to revolve around what your people do best. We have to figure that out. I understand what the coaches have described to me; I want to see it on the field with my own eyes. That's number one -- what can this group do well? We have to figure that out. Then, number two, what is needed to attack our opponents?
I have a lot of plays -- I can wallpaper your home with the plays I've run. But the important thing is, what fits with the people, what fits with the league and attacking the defenses we'll see on a week-to-week basis, and long term, how can we grow in a system? Because ultimately, you end up with a system that's going to be carried over year to year with these players. So it's a slippery slope we're walking, because we don't know the answers to a lot of those questions yet.
Let's talk quarterbacks. You have only one -- Michael Box -- who's started a game, and that didn't go so well. How wide open is this competition?
GD: Yeah, it's going to be wide open. We do have the Box kid who's been in a game. But it's not like he has significant experience over the other kids. So our goal this spring, one of our biggest challenges, is to make sure each quarterback has equal opportunity to get repetitions. That's the challenge, with three or four quarterbacks you're dealing with. And more importantly than the reps, it's the type of reps they get in certain situations. For example, if you're in a blitz drill, and you've got one quarterback who gets all the blitz drill reps, and the other quarterback is in 7-on-7, well it's a lot easier to throw the ball in 7-on-7. So you've got to combine the reps so they are not just equal reps but equal types of reps. And that's a challenge.
Will you split the reps all spring or begin to narrow it down a bit?
GD: It's going to be a spring-long process. I'd be shocked if it went any other way than that.
Paul said earlier this month the quarterback battle could go all the way until the end of fall camp. Do you see it that way?
GD: It could. I understand you want to have quarterbacks working with the receivers you're going to throw to, but I don't place as much stock on that as a lot of people do. I think the football team knows the coaches, the staff, is doing their best to get us the best quarterback to win. So it's going to be a process. And whoever that quarterback, we'll all be rooting like heck for him to succeed.
What qualities are you looking for as you evaluate the quarterbacks?
GD: In the NFL, I look at the great quarterbacks. I look at Drew Brees. One of the great things he has is escapability. You look at Phillip Rivers. One of the great things he has is escapability. I look at Tom Brady -- as great a dropback passer as he is, I see him avoid people in the pocket. As great a dropback passer as Peyton Manning is, I see him live and in person avoiding people in the pocket.
My point is, number one, quarterbacks have to have some sort of escapability. In today's day and age, with the amount of blitzes and pressures you see, quarterbacks have to be able to escape and have to do something beyond the design of the play to keep the chains moving. When we had Donovan McNabb, he was the greatest example of that. On three of the four third downs, he'd sit in pocket and throw the ball. And all of a sudden on the fourth one, he'd run for a first down and keep the chains moving.
That skill, in the National Football League, is as big as any -- the ability to escape and keep plays alive. A quarterback who has that type of ability and is able to throw with accuracy and be a leader and mentally take on the challenge this offense will present will have a heads-up on everybody.
Have you designed any plays where Johnny McEntee stands on a catwalk and throws into a garbage can?
GD: I hope in the opening game against Fordham, we can bring a few garbage pails out there and maybe have Johnny sit in the stands and throw a few touchdown passes. But I don't know if Fordham is going to go along with that.