John Denton's Knights Insider: Calabrese Changes It Up

Aug. 9, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Rob Calabrese came to UCF to play quarterback and still dabbles in the position from time to time as the Knights' break-glass-in-case-of-emergency signal-caller. But in some ways, being free of the pressures of being a quarterback has liberated him.

These days, Calabrese is trying to make it as a slot receiver for the Knights. A tough and athletics player with good size, Calabrese was moved to wide receiver when Jeff Godfrey took over the quarterback reins last season and became the face of the team.

Calabrese, now a senior, still works at quarterback at times in practice behind Godfrey and redshirt freshman Blake Bortles, but his primary focus is trying to grasp the nuances of playing wide receiver. And after struggling as the starting quarterback each of the past three seasons, the position switch is a welcomed one for Calabrese.

``You could say that (the burden has been lifted), but I always put pressure on myself to be the best that I can be. Maybe I did a little too much of that at times, but playing receiver I'm a little more relaxed,'' Calabrese said following a full pads workout this week. ``Playing that (wide receiver) position under coach (David) Kelly you have to have a little more swagger and poise and you have to be relaxed when you catch the ball. I've been working on staying more relaxed and it's helped me.''

Head coach George O'Leary, offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe and associate head coach/wide receivers coach David Kelly put their heads together this past offseason in an attempt to find a way to get Calabrese on the field. With UCF losing 19 seniors off last season's 11-3 team that won the Conference USA title and the Liberty Bowl, the coaching staff is looking to inject leadership on the field at every position. Wide receiver is one of the Knights' most inexperienced positions, so the hope is that Calabrese can bring some calmness and direction to the position as a possession receiver.

``Rob can do a lot of things for this football team. We'll look to him for leadership, he's been there before and he catches the football at receiver,'' O'Leary said. ``Plus, Jeff (Godfrey) is still just a sophomore and Rob being on the field and in the huddle can be a calming influence on him.''

That was certainly the case last season. Godfrey took over for Calabrese late in the NC State game and nearly led the Knights to a 21-point rally. Godfrey started the next four games, while splitting time under center with Calabrese. But in the Marshall game last October Calabrese's season came to an end when he tore a ligament in his left knee while scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run.

But whereas most players would have left the team following the season-ending injury, Calabrese stayed on the sidelines and in the ear of the young Godfrey, a true freshman at the time. Calabrese still helped signal in plays, offered up suggestions to Godfrey along the sidelines and even watched film with the other quarterbacks.

``First and foremost, I'm a team player and I'll put the team first in any way,'' Calabrese said. ``Even though I went down, I knew the talent that we had on the team and I could see the way Jeff was progressing every week. I did my best to teach him what I knew, but it was all him because he learned it all.''

Calabrese is doing his best now to learn the ins and outs of playing wide receiver. He said he has a new appreciation for the demands of the wide receiver position - especially the blocking part since that is a top priority of coach Kelly's. But Calabrese said his experience at quarterback has actually helped him advance quickly as a wide receiver.

``Playing quarterback helped me, no doubt about it,'' Calabrese said. ``It's really from learning the whole offense and being here with coach Taaffe the past three years. I know where everyone is supposed to be and how to run every route against all of the coverages.''

Taaffe said he likes the idea of having the 6-foot-2, 213-pound Calabrese on the field for a variety of reasons. One of them is because of the lack of size with other receivers such as Quincy McDuffie (5-10, 175), A.J. Guyton (5-11, 198), Khymest Williams (5-10, 179), J.J. Worton (6-2, 193) and Josh Reese (6-1, 178).

``He's very smart. He's not going to beat anybody down the field, but he knows how to get open,'' Taaffe said. ``I didn't know how it was transition for him, but he seems to be doing things at wide receiver fairly naturally. He has good hands and his strength and size is good. We're a little small at receiver and he gives us that presence of a bigger body for blocking. And his overall presence as a senior leader, you can't put a price on all of that.''

For now, Calabrese said he's just fine with splitting his time at wide receiver and quarterback. He'll gladly shift back to quarterback if needed, but for now he's just focused on making a contribution to the team however he can.

``I do get tired doing both, but I conditioned myself all summer to do this,'' Calabrese said with a chuckle. ``I'm in pretty good shape and I'm just trying to help out the team in any way - even if that means playing both positions.''

John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.