Quarterback competition heats up as UMass spring practice begins
University of Massachusetts quarterback Mike Wegzyn is looking to bounce back against Indiana at 3:30 p.m. Satuday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. Purchase photo reprints »
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University of Massachusetts quarterbacks Mike Wegzyn, left, and A.J. Doyle chat during practice last season at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »
A.J. DOYLE Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — As he flew home to Tennessee and then to Florida for spring break, University of Massachusetts redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Wegzyn watched and studied video from the 2012 season.
While some of the footage wasn’t easy to relive, he said it was valuable.
“Since the end of the season, I’ve been watching film over and over again on the games. When I look back I see, I should have checked to this or done this differently. I think I’ve learned a lot from that. I can feel myself growing up as a quarterback and taking another step forward from last year,” Wegzyn said Tuesday after the first spring practice. “It was tough. There were some plays I was pretty mad at myself, a lot of things I thought were stupid mistakes. Some were hard to watch, but it’s good. It’s something I can use going forward to build off of.”
Wegzyn, who started 11-of-12 games in the fall, took snaps with the first-string offense when spring No. 2 of the Charley Molnar era began. The coach has been clear, though, that Wegzyn is a competitor trying to win the starting job rather than an incumbent. True freshman A.J. Doyle, who started the final game of last season, and sophomore Brandon Hill, who missed 2012 with a shoulder injury, are all in the mix this spring. UMass opens the season Aug. 31 at Wisconsin.
“They both had good days,” Molnar said of Wegzyn and Doyle. “They both had pretty good command of the offense. There was nothing really new out there except for a few subtleties. I thought they both handled themselves very well.”
Molnar didn’t think the starting job could be won before the fall. “It can be lost in the spring,” he said. “If you don’t keep pace, you’re not going to catch up. But we should have three guys neck-and-neck coming out of camp going into the summer.”
Wegzyn expected to be a better player in his second year after completing 182-of-346 passes for 1,825 yards, six touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2012.
“Having a year of experience under my belt is a whole world of difference. I feel way further along than I was last year,” Wegzyn said. “I’m just doing what I can every single day. I’m happy to have that spot and to be No. 1, I guess, right now. You have to keep working hard because you know there are other guys working real hard behind you. I just need to stay out front and do what I can to help the team.”
Doyle has his sights set on overtaking Wegzyn.
“Even though Mike was taking the No. 1 reps today, from now on, the way I view it, hopefully with all the bowl games and MAC championships, there are (42) games” over the next three years, Doyle said. “I intend to start all of those for the rest of my career here. I don’t intend to give up the starting job.”
Doyle wasn’t happy with his play Tuesday.
“Today’s practice for me was real bad. I didn’t have too many good throws. I didn’t pick up blitzes well. I’m far away from where I want to be,” he said. “Rust could explain it, but at the same time I’ve been throwing, working out. I figured I’d do a lot better. I didn’t have what I wanted. Hopefully Thursday I come out and have a lot better practice.”
Molnar was more forgiving.
“He certainly threw some errant balls, but he made some good decisions and did some other good things. He’s well worth working with,” Molnar said. “He’s a perfectionist. All good football players are. They want to do their best on every play. I saw enough good out of him that he’ll be a lot of fun going through camp.”
Hill, who didn’t practice at all after shoulder surgery last year, is trying to make up for lost time. Like Doyle, he wasn’t pleased with his showing.
“I don’t feel like I cut loose today. I didn’t play as well as I wanted to. I can do a lot better. I lacked a little bit today. I don’t know if I’m thinking too much or trying to do too much trying to take the team over,” Hill said. “I’m trying. I’m just trying to get my shoulder back to being healthy. It’s good. I just have to get the offense down and get my arm back to where it was before. That’s my main goal to get it back where it was. I think I did that a little bit last year. I tried to come back too early and tried to do too much. Now I’m only going to do what my arm can take and try to make the best of it.”
Molnar saw potential.
“He started off good. His arm tired really fast, but the first half hour to 45 minutes of practice. I liked what I saw,” Molnar said. “As the day went on, his arm wasn’t ready for the amount of throws that he had.”
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at @GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.