Energetic UMass opens spring football

  • UMass quarterback Randall West passes during a warm-up drill at spring practice, Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass defensive lineman Jake Byczko at spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass quarterback Michael Curtis passes during a warm-up drill at spring practice, Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass quarterback Josiah Johnson passes during a warm-up drill at spring practice, Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass defensive lineman Jake Byczko, left, and linebacker Adam Tucker run a drill at spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass quarterback Randall West passes during a warm-up drill at spring practice, Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass quarterback Michael Curtis passes during a warm-up drill at spring practice, Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass Head Coach Walt Bell watches quarterback Michael Curtis, left, during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. Mike Fallon, another quarterback, looks on. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass defensive lineman Jake Byczko at spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass Head Coach Walt Bell watches his team during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass quarterbacks Randall West, from left, Josiah Johnson and Michael Curtis pass during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass quarterbacks Randall West, from left, Josiah Johnson and Michael Curtis pass during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass cornerback Isaiah Rodgers carries the ball during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass Head Coach Walt Bell shouts instructions during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass Head Coach Walt Bell shouts instructions during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. One of the quarterbacks, Randall West is behind him. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass wide receiver Brennon Dingle carries the ball during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass Head Coach Walt Bell shouts instructions during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass wide receiver Jessie Britt carries the ball during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass wide receiver Brennon Dingle carries the ball during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass wide receiver Sadiq Palmer carries the ball during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass defensive lineman Jake Byczko runs a drill during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass defensive lineman Charly Timite runs a drill during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass cornerback Bakhari Goodson runs a drill during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass defensive lineman Charly Timite runs a drill during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/19/2019 9:38:11 PM

AMHERST — The first practice of the Walt Bell regime was much like the new coach himself.

It was quick, it was organized and it was energetic. With players and coaches racing around the field at McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Tuesday, UMass held its first of 15 spring practices in the late-afternoon wind. The conditions weren’t ideal, but that didn’t deter the Minutemen from enjoying their first practice in nearly four months.

“The energy was definitely out there,” rising junior defensive end Jake Byczko said. “Everyone was flying around, even the coaches. It’s great to have all that positive energy around and it’s great to build off that.”

It was hard for the players not to have some energy in a practice that moved at lightning speed at times. The expectation was the players sprint to the sideline after every repetition and that kept the drills moving at an accelerated pace. Even the coaches were running around the field and nearly losing their voices on the first day as the Minutemen briskly moved through Bell’s practice plan.

Rising senior cornerback Isaiah Rodgers smiled when he described the first practice as “fast, very fast,” noting how good he felt to be able to be on the field again with his teammates.

“It was very fun, it was great being back out there and everyone was excited just to play football again,” Rodgers said. “It just felt very good and very exciting. I just felt like a little kid again, just being able to finally be back on the field, throw footballs around and see everyone happy.”

UMass was so fast in its first practice that it actually ended the session six minutes early while still completing every repetition. However, Bell said he’s trying to keep the load light on the Minutemen, who are still short bodies at key positions that need a higher rate of substitution within drills.

“We’re not getting very many reps,” Bell said, “but a lot of that is because of where we are numbers at skill positions, we’re purposefully trying to keep the volume down a little bit just because we don’t have a lot of bodies at certain skill positions, and we’re not in great football condition yet. As spring progresses, those 10-minute periods will become 32 reps and those 15-minute periods will be in the 40s. We were getting 16 reps in five, six minutes (Tuesday), which is OK, but as we get in more shape, that’ll pick up.”

Overall, it was a positive start to Bell’s tenure as he finally was able to focus more on his current roster of players than recruiting future ones. He said he has enjoyed these past six weeks of working with his team more because he gets to spend time with them and teach them lessons about how to act both on and off the field.

Those lessons begin with the fundamentals, which Bell said is his overarching goal of these 15 practices. He said in addition to yearning for daily improvement, he wants to establish the technical foundation for his team that will be the basis of any future success on the field.

“We want to make sure we’re really simple and we’re going to do one thing, and that’s reduce our game to technique,” Bell said. “We’re going to play with great technique and great effort. I tell our kids every day if we can just play hard and play smart, we’ll be real tough to beat. We’re going to be really simple and we’re just going to play the football game the right way. If we can do those things, we’ll have time to scheme, we just need to learn how to play hard and play smart.”

There were of course plenty of little things for the Minutemen to correct, but there’s still five weeks for UMass to iron out those details in the spring and another four weeks during training camp this summer. In the meantime, the players seem to be enjoying putting on their helmets again and preparing for a fresh start to the program.

“It was fun to finally get out there and fly around,” Byczko said. “There’s a lot of work to do, but we had fun out there.”




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