STORRS — UConn junior receiver Geremy Davis made five impressive receptions in a recent practice, and each time, he made a big play after the catch.
Fellow junior Shakim Phillips, the other starting wideout, said he thought of one word: “Wow!”
They were catches that brought to mind Kashif Moore’s one-handed grab for a touchdown in the 2010 Papajohns.com Bowl, or some of the grabs Marcus Easley made as a senior in 2009 that helped get him drafted by the Buffalo Bills.
The Huskies haven’t had a viable, consistent duo at wide receiver in quite some time, but this could be the year.
Davis (44 catches, 613 yards, 1 TD) and Phillips (32, 399, 1) teased UConn fans with their skills in 2012 but still combined for only two touchdowns.
New offensive coordinator and receivers coach T.J. Weist can’t hide his excitement about the possibilities for Davis and Phillips this season.
“Besides the physical tools they have — good size, both have 4.5 or better speed — they have the ability not to be just bigger receivers, but they're fast, so we can do a lot of things with them, whether it's blocking, catching or running screens,” Weist said. “They've got some versatility.
“But what makes the difference with these guys is that they've got good technique, and that comes from hard work. I mean, these two have really worked hard at the techniques of playing wide receiver, whether it's release points, breaking, route technique or just flat out-running routes. Those two are my hardest workers from that standpoint.”
Phillips like what he sees from Weist too.
“We have some great plays with Coach Weist bringing them in,” Phillips said.
Now, of course, they have to turn all of it into results in games.
“Last year, we were considered young guys behind Mike Smith and Nick Williams, but we’ve got to step it up right now, and I think we will,” said Davis, 6 feet 3, 215 pounds, from Lawrenceville, Ga. “We’ve got to step up our roles in our actions and vocally with the receiver group. It’s a big part we both have to play.
“Progressing is part of the game each year. You start off, you’re young, it’s a learning experience, you get that one year under your belt and you just try to keep growing. Obviously, I’m excited for this year to get going. It’s important. We didn’t make a bowl last year, so hopefully working through this camp and improving during the season, I can do my part to help this team.”
In 2011, Davis caught six passes for 73 yards. Last season, he topped that yardage total in five games, led by the nine catches for 123 yards and a TD in a tough loss at Western Michigan. Yet in looking at games such as N.C. State (two for 27 yards), Maryland (one for seven yards), Pitt (one for nine yards) and Louisville (two for 11 yards), the numbers say Davis has to be much more consistent in 2013. In those four games, he totaled six catches for 54 yards.
“Yeah, I do,” he said simply. “Being a little bit more consistent in route depth, that plays a big part in everything. Being a little more physical blocking, there are a lot of things. No one has the perfect game. I go back to the film all the time, and there’s always little things you can work on, maybe that first step off the line is something you look at.”
The same could be said for Phillips, a four-star recruit who was offered a scholarship by the Huskies out of DePaul Catholic in New Jersey but went to Boston College and later transferred to UConn, sitting out the 2011 season.
His start to 2012 was as uneven as it could be until he broke out with a seven-catch, 100-yard effort in a midseason overtime loss to Temple at Rentschler Field.
“I was getting back into it after sitting out and not being in a game, and I was adjusting, but I started feeling a lot more comfortable toward the end of the year,” said Phillips, 6-2 and 209, from Paterson, N.J. “I’m with Geremy. It’s time for us to step up, and I think we will if we just keep working on our fundamentals and technique, getting better at the little things. That’s what separates guys.
“Coach Weist just drills that into our heads, the whole group. Keep working on your technique and fundamentals. I think he got our attention when he brought up Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin as guys who were big with those things, and we want to be like them, so do what they did.”
Davis and Phillips aren’t being selfish. They’re helping other wide receivers too, knowing there is speed and potential behind them.
Davis and Phillips are in front, though. They’re acting and playing like it. The have good hands, good speed. They’re both getting better at catching balls in traffic. Part of their evolution is becoming deep-ball threats. The longest pass play for either of them was the 37-yard grab Davis had in a loss at Syracuse. Phillips’ biggest gain was a 25-yard reception against Temple.