Move to tight end has paid div­i­dends for McLean

Greenwich Time (Sunday) - - SPORTS - By Jim Fuller

MEM­PHIS, Tenn. — With his name reg­u­larly in­cluded on the dean’s list since his ar­rival in Storrs, there’s never been a ques­tion about Aaron McLean’s in­tel­li­gence.

Dis­play­ing his IQ, how­ever, isn’t lim­ited to the class­room. Not long af­ter meet­ing with new UConn of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor John Dunn, McLean saw that many of the pat­terns he ran on pre­vi­ous UConn teams would now be done by the tight ends so McLean did what any bright, am­bi­tious soul would do, he asked to move to tight end.

Head­ing into Sat­ur­day’s game at Mem­phis, UConn was on pace to have more re­cep­tions out of the run­ning back and tight end po­si­tions than dur­ing any other time while play­ing at the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion level so McLean’s tim­ing ap­pears to be im­pec­ca­ble.

McLean came into the Mem­phis game sec­ond on the team with 199 re­ceiv­ing yards and tied for first with 14 re­cep­tions de­spite be­ing held with­out a catch in a re­cent game at Syra­cuse.

With fresh­man run­ning back Zavier Scott, McLean and fel­low tight end Tyler Davis com­bin­ing for 43 re­cep­tions, the Huskies com­pleted more passes to backs and tight ends than to wide re­ceivers in the first five games of the sea­son. It just so hap­pens that Sat­ur­day’s game was a matchup of the two Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence teams who have thrown the ball to tight ends and run­ning backs more than any other team head­ing into this week’s ac­tion.

“I have def­i­nitely got­ten more com­fort­able with it,” McLean said. “I am get­ting used to be­ing in mo­tion and pick­ing up blocks that way so I think I have got­ten bet­ter at it through­out the sea­son.

“We (McLean and fel­low for­mer re­ceiver Tyler Davis) have def­i­nitely grown into the po­si­tion,” McLean said. “He has been play­ing it a lit­tle bit longer than me so as far as foot­work, he is a lit­tle bit bet­ter than me but I am try­ing to learn from him, watch him ev­ery day so I can be more of a tech­ni­cian.”

McLean also went back and watched film of Alec Bloom and Tommy My­ers,

UConn’s top two tight ends in the pre­vi­ous four sea­sons.

“When we looked at film from last year, their tech­niques and their foot­work was good so that is the main thing I have tried to work on,” McLean said. “Once I get that, I think I could be re­ally good.”

McLean earned a rep­u­ta­tion as UConn’s best block­ing re­ceiver in his first three sea­sons but he knew there is a big dif­fer­ence in be­ing able to throw an oc­ca­sional block as a wide re­ceiver and block­ing con­sis­tently as a tight end.

“I def­i­nitely have to get a lot stronger, I knew that be­cause I am in the trenches now,” McLean said. “Look­ing at the of­fense, I feel like I have to be more ef­fec­tive here. I wasn’t re­ally ner­vous about mov­ing there but the sum­mer was go­ing to be big for me to get stronger and I think I did

get a lot stronger.”

How well has McLean adapted to the tight end po­si­tion? Well, in last week’s loss to Cincin­nati he led UConn by be­ing tar­geted 14 times, more than twice as many as any other player. He was tar­geted 19 times in the first two con­fer­ence games of the sea­son.

“That comes with work­ing and the chem­istry, that is what we did all sum­mer, we worked out a lot, threw it to each other a lot,” UConn quar­ter­back David Pin­dell said. “He is a big guy, tall, ath­letic and he has good hands.”

McLean has also taken on a lead­er­ship role. Not the most talk­a­tive of the UConn se­niors, McLean was the one who sat in front of the me­dia af­ter last week’s 49-7 loss to Cincin­nati and said, “every­body has to do more, we have to watch more film, prac­tice harder and every­body just has to do more and once we start do­ing that, it will start go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.

If we don’t do more, we are go­ing to get the same re­sults.”

A few days later McLean was given a chance to re­flect on his grow­ing role as a team leader and oc­ca­sional spokesman.

“A lot of it has come from gain­ing con­fi­dence in my­self, get­ting out there and play­ing and re­al­iz­ing I could do it,” McLean said. “Once I got out there, fresh­man and sopho­more year I didn’t play much but last year I started play­ing more and the con­fi­dence comes from that so I am kind of build­ing on that through­out the year.

“Through­out my ca­reer I have never been a rah rah guy but I have al­ways tried to lead by ex­am­ple, do my job and get every­body else to do their job. I don’t think I will ever be that rah rah guy but I try to get the younger guys to see how it is sup­posed to be done.”

Steve Con­ner / As­so­ci­ated Press

UConn tight end Aaron McLean (8) pulls in the ball for a touch­down against Boise State on Sept. 8.

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