As season opener looms, questions at tight end remain

Last modified: Thursday, September 04, 2014
AMHERST — With less than two weeks until UMass’ Aug. 30 season opener against Boston College, the tight end scenario remains in a state of flux.

Brandon Howard and Rodney Mills, who if healthy would be No. 1 and 2 on the depth chart, are both sidelined with undisclosed minor injuries. Junior college transfer Jon Denton, a junior, and redshirt freshmen Sharif Custis and Todd Stafford, a converted quarterback, are getting added work in their absence.

“The first two guys are nicked up and haven’t practiced the past couple of days, which is good because Denton, Custis and Todd are getting more work,” said UMass coach Mark Whipple, who expected Howard and Mills back shortly. “They’ll be all right. They’ve just missed the past couple days.”

Howard thought he’d be back as soon as Thursday.

“I’m good. I have a doctor’s appointment (Wednesday),” he said. “After that I’ll be good.”

Jean Sifrin, the highly touted junior college recruit from Miami via El Camino Junior College in California, has yet to practice, as he’s working to complete necessary academic and administrative requirements to get eligible. Whipple wasn’t sure when Sifrin would join the team, but didn’t rule out using him against BC if he was eligible and looked ready.

“I think so. I don’t know. We haven’t seen him on the field,” Whipple said. “We’re just waiting for things to come in with his academics.”

Offensive lineman Ryan Johnson, also a junior college transfer, is in the same situation at Sifrin. Both players have been working out on their own.

Howard has taken a circuitous route to the potential starting job. After redshirting in 2011, he was dismissed from the team in the preseason in 2012, but reinstated last year. He played in all 12 games and caught four passes for 55 yards as a reserve tight end.

“I’m excited for the chance to contribute to the team. I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself,” said Howard, who thought Whipple’s pro-style offense better fit his skills than former coach Charley Molnar’s spread. “It’s definitely a nice offense. It’s tight end friendly.”

Even when Howard, Mills and Sifrin return, Denton figures to be a contributor.

Unlike many tight ends, who tolerate the blocking part of their job for a chance to be a receiver, Denton, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound, Coffeyville Community College product, can catch the ball, but is more focused on the less glamorous part of his job.

“I love blocking. It’s something I take pride in,” Denton said. “Most of the tight ends I’ve known, all really want to get out and be a receiver. I just grew to like blocking. It’s just you and one other person most of the time and who’s going to man the other one up?

“We’ve been looking better and better every day. The offense is very similar to what I’ve done in the past. I’m starting to get the different terminology and all the plays down. I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable. It’s a very tight end friendly offense. The coaches understand how important the tight ends are and how to utilize them to their advantages”

BC TICKETS— According to UMass associate athletic director Tim Kenney, 17,000 tickets have been sold so far for the season opener against Boston College. According to the Attleboro Sun Chronicle, Gillette Stadium is expecting around 30,000.

U*M*A*S*H*— Senior nose tackle Daniel Maynes returned to practice Monday and barring a set back will be in the starting lineup against Boston College.

Sophomore running back Lorenzo Woodley remains out of action with an ankle injury.

“He’s just got to get healthy. He’s getting treatment, but it hasn’t come around as fast as we’d like,” Whipple said. “We’d like to get Lorenzo out there as soon as we could.”

Injuries continue to plague freshman linebacker Da’Sean Downey, who missed time early in camp with a shoulder injury and is now in a walking boot.

FROHLDER — In addition to being UMass’ starting quarterback, Blake Frohnapfel will handle holding duties on extra points and field goals, a role he also filled at Marshall.

“He did it at Marshall for two years. He’s good. The kickers liked it,” Whipple said.

PEP RALLY — Whipple will speak at a pep rally for UMass football at the Boston Harbor Rotunda Hotel, Aug. 27 at noon. The UMass marching band will perform at Columbus Park and will then march to the hotel for the event. Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and Henry Thomas, the UMass Board of Trustees chairman, will also speak.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage