UConn wide receivers believe ‘iron sharpens iron’

UConn wide receiver Cameron Ross (9) runs for a 94-yard touchdown reception against East Carolina in 2019.

UConn wide receiver Cameron Ross (9) runs for a 94-yard touchdown reception against East Carolina in 2019.

Stephen Dunn / Associated Press

STORRS — With the first week of UConn football fall practice nearly complete, a vague image of team strengths and weaknesses is beginning to develop.

Like Polaroid film fresh out of a camera, only time will bring about a clear picture.

In the time that has elapsed since last Friday’s opening practice head coach Jim Mora has been encouraged by his defense, but offensively he demands more.

“I think it is natural early in camp for defenses to be a little ahead of the offense,” Mora said. “Offense takes so much timing.”

All five quarterback options have seen a similar workload in week one, but on the field chemistry with receivers has been sub-optimal.

“One of the problems that we are having right now is we’ve had some minor injuries with receivers, some pulls and some strains,” Mora said. “So, there is a lack of consistency for the quarterbacks in terms of who they are throwing to.”

Last year during UConn’s 1-11 season, the wide receiver group was one of the team’s bright spots.

Keelan Marion led the team with 474 receiving yards and five touchdowns last season on 28 receptions. Aaron Turner led the team with 33 receptions, good for 232 yards.

Returner Cam Ross (foot) suffered a season-ending injury last year, holding him to just two games played, but is emerging as a leader of the group according to Mora.

“We have some natural leaders here who are still feeling their way out and figuring out if it is time for them to speak up,” Mora said. “Cam (Ross) and I had a discussion the other day about leadership where I said, ‘in my opinion, you have earned the right to be a little more vocal and demanding of your teammates because of the way you work.’”

The responsibility is one Ross takes seriously.

“I don’t take it lightly at all,” Ross said. “I just try my best to come out here, not say too much and just do my job. Lead by example. I want to be a guy that everybody can look up to.”

There are 12 receivers on the depth chart as of now, including a pair of transfers vying for starting roles.

“Iron sharpens iron, and I have always believed in being a product of your environment,” Ross said. “As long as our environment is competitive ... I think everybody in our room is a wide receiver one to be honest with you.”

Graduate student Nigel Fitzgerald joined the Huskies out of Old Dominion, while Dajon Harrison transferred in from Texas.

“This is one of the most talented wide receiver rooms since I have been here, we got guys,” Ross said. “We have coaches to call plays for us, all it is going to come down to this season is a matter of execution.”

Just minutes into the practice on Tuesday, the collective group execution did not meet Mora’s standards.

“Catch the ball,” he yelled. “Demand more of yourself. Please demand more of yourself.”

While Mora acknowledged that he has vowed to himself to yell less, at times it is an effective strategy.

“I really don’t like to yell,” Mora said. “But I think sometimes that it is one of the ways you can motivate and challenge them.”

The motivation certainly influenced some receivers, who locked-in and impressed their coach.

“Keelan (Marion) had a very good day (on Tuesday),” Mora said. “After I jumped him, he was the one that I noticed rise up. (The previous day) it was Darius Bush who I saw rise up. The whole group needs to rise up, and that is going to happen because they work at it.”

While the quarterback competition has been the talk of camp, the wide receiver group is an extension of that decision. Before any announcements are made, consistency must be seen.

“What we have to do is become more consistent in everything that we are doing,” Mora said. “We are trying to put maximum pressure on these guys, make it hard so that they have to push their boundaries…but eventually when they get synced up with everybody, we hope to see some separation.”

Will.Aldam@hearstmediact.com; @AldamWill