UMass football depth chart takes shape
With Saturday’s 4 p.m. spring game at McGuirk Stadium more ceremony and fun than legitimate football practice, the jockeying for position on the University of Massachusetts team’s depth chart is essentially over until August.
Here’s a look at the roster and position competitions that will take place when the team returns in August.
Mike Wegzyn entered the spring with a slight edge over A.J. Doyle in the race to be the starter and barring an injury, he’ll end the spring with the same slight edge.
Unless incoming freshman Todd Stafford wows the staff in August or a fifth-year transfer unexpectedly arrives, the starting quarterback job will come down to one of the two sophomores-to-be.
“When I look at Wegzyn, sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s Mike Wegzyn. He’s improved so much,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said. “His knowledge of the offense, recognition of defenses, his footwork and his accuracy, all of those things have greatly improved. Can he do it through the course of the season? Right now he’s on track to being the most improved player on offense.
“A.J. Doyle is more mature, more calm,” Molnar continued. “He’s always been a confident young man and for the most part he plays within himself. He doesn’t try to make too many throws that he can’t make. He makes good, fast decisions and if things break down, he has that penchant for keeping plays alive.”
Molnar had hoped Stacey Bedell could get in the mix as a true freshman in the fall, but a shoulder injury two games into the season ended his year.
Bedell, rising junior Jordan Broadnax, the likely starter, and rising sophomore Jamal Wilson will be joined by incoming freshman Lorenzo Woodley and Daquan Mack in what could be a competitive battle in the backfield for carries.
Trying to guess which receiver will have the most receptions or yards in 2013 is a difficult task.
Tajae Sharpe has the most catches (20) and yards (209) among returners. He’ll be joined by converted defensive back Iric Harris, Elgin Long, Bernard Davis and Dalvin Battle, who’ll all be in the mix for playing time.
Ricardo Martin, a fifth-year transfer from Michigan who won’t officially join UMass until the summer, is a tight end/wide receiver hybrid and will probably see time at both positions. Incoming freshman Shaq Harris, D.J. Woods and E.J. Burston could also compete for time.
The combination of inexperience at wide receiver and talent at tight end means senior captain Rob Blanchflower and the other tight ends could see a lot of passes. Blanchflower led the Minutemen with 43 receptions for 464 yards and two touchdowns last year. He’ll be joined by Derek Beck, a converted wide receiver, and Brandon Howard, who returns after missing last season.
Martin could see regular playing time as well depending on how Molar chooses to use him.
Senior-to-be left tackle Anthony Dima is the only offensive lineman who was on the team last spring. He’ll be counted on to lead the unit. Matt Sparks, who saw time at guard as a freshman, slides in at center and has impressed Molnar this spring.
“As we ended last fall, I thought Matt Sparks was another year away from being a true starter. He was pressed into action because of necessity,” Molnar said. “Right now I love the way he’s playing football. He’s aggressive and he’s assignment-sound. He’s playing with good fundamentals and he’s very coachable.”
Sam Zeff, who graduated high school early to participate in spring practice, is already slated to start at left guard. Junior college transfer Josh Bruns is at right guard, while true freshman Tyrell Smith, who redshirted in the fall, tops the depth chart at right tackle. Freshman Cameron Mock, who is already on campus, and four true freshman who’ll arrive in August, could also earn time.
This is the most experienced unit on the team with four seniors-to-be and a junior-to-be on the two-deep chart. Current juniors Kevin Byrne and Stanley Andre, who played some linebacker in the spring, will start at defensive end in the fall. Molnar was excited to have Byrne healthy.
“Kevin Byrne seems to be a quicker faster version of the Kevin Byrne we had a year ago,” Molnar said. “I think he’s going to make more (tackles for loss) and a couple more sacks than he had a year ago.”
Trey Seals, who had a strong spring as a freshman, and soon-to-be senior Brandon Potvin will also see action at defensive end.
Senior-to-be Galen Clemons and junior-to-be Daniel Maynes are set to man the tackle spots.
With three rising sophomores set to start, this unit could be the backbone of the UMass defense for the next three years. Kassan Messiah and Jovan Santos-Knox showed star potential at times as true freshmen in the fall, and Springfield native John Robinson had a strong spring.
Incoming freshmen Steve Casali and Shane Huber are both expected to be impact players eventually and could challenge for time in the fall.
The secondary will be loaded with sophomores in the fall. Starters Trey Dudley Giles and Randall Jette return at corner with 2012 contributor D’Metrius Williams seeing a lot of action there as well.
Sophomore-to-be Khary Bailey-Smith will start at one safety spot. Former walk-on Joe Colton, the surprise success of the fall, and Devin Brown, the surprise success of this spring, will compete to start at the other safety spot.
Brendon Levengood remains the kickoff specialist with Blake Lucas handling extra points and field goals.
All-MAC punter Colter Johnson is as secure a starter as any player on the roster.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.