It could be an interesting offseason for the UMass football team

  • UMass defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham helped turnaround the Minuteman defense. He could be a sought after commodity during the offseason. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Roderick Jones, top left, and Chinedu Ogbonna celebrate along the UMass sidelines during a game against Georgia Southern this season. AP

Monday, December 04, 2017

After the UMass football season ended Saturday afternoon and athletic director Ryan Bamford announced that night that Mark Whipple will return, the program officially turned the page and started moving toward 2018.

Before next season starts, there are some storylines that still need to play out. Here are some of the most noteworthy:

ED PINKHAM — A big reason for UMass’ turnaround has been the play of its defense. The new coordinator has received rave reviews both from his players and outside observers for helping to turn the Minutemen around.

With coaching staffs turning over around the country, the Minutemen will have to be worried about losing Pinkham. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets a raise or an extension during the offseason as UMass tries to keep him.

BARR’S DECISION? — If he hasn’t already decided, linebacker Bryton Barr will likely spend the next couple of days evaluating his chances of playing professional football. The NCAA granted him a sixth and seventh year of eligibility after a series of injuries at Towson.

He has his degree already. He’s healthy and coming off the best year of his career. If he thinks he has a chance to make it professionally, he could take it.

SIGNING DAY — This year marks the first early signing period every in college football history. Nobody entirely knows how it will affect the overall recruiting process, but most smaller programs like UMass seem optimistic that it will help them lock-in players early without worry about a bigger school swooping in at the last minute.

QUARTERBACKS — Andrew Ford has already said he’s coming back and not utilizing the grad transfer rule. UMass has two high school quarterbacks committed for next season. The Minutemen have three other quarterbacks — Ross Comis, Randall West and Michael Curtis — on the roster. It’s hard to picture six QBs on the same roster. Will somebody head elsewhere?

JORDAN FREDERICKS — It will be interesting to see how UMass integrates running back Jordan Fredricks into the offense. The Syracuse transfer will be a junior and could be among the most watched players in the spring.

How much will Whipple divvy up the carries between him, Marquis Young and Bilal Ally? Fredericks, who sat out under NCAA transfer rules, had surgery early in the fall, but was part of the scout team at the end of the season.

“I’m excited about Jordan Fredericks. He’s off surgery and was practicing at the end of the year,” Whipple said. “He’s got a lot of talent.”

GRAD/JUCO TRANSFERS — UMass will likely be in the market for some players who can contribute right away after losing some key pieces on defense. UMass loses Steve Casali and possibly Barr, as well as part-time starter Teddy Lowery and reserve Colbert Calhoun at linebacker. Ali Ali-Musa, Sha-ki Holines and Da’Sean Downey were all valuable pieces on the defensive line.

Logan Laurent will be hard to replace at kicker and punter.

Whipple said he’s gotten some feelers about grad transfers and is looking at junior college players on defense and at kicker.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATES — Some of next year’s key contributors might already be on UMass’ roster. Whipple said several young players who redshirted or played sparingly as freshmen could take steps forward, especially on defense. There could be some spirited competition to see who moves into starting roles in the spring.

Chinedu Ogbonna and Jake Byczko are candidates to make an impact on the defensive line, while linebackers Mike Ruane and Cole McCubrey will have opportunities to earn more time at linebacker.

Claudin Cherulis, Xavier Steele and Tyrus Lebeau will compete for added time at safety, while Chris Hunt and Brian Roberts could be in the mix at cornerback.

On offense, 6-foot-8, 310-pound lineman Brian Abosi could become part of the rotation on a unit that doesn’t lose anyone to graduation. Receivers Zak Simon, Silky Brown and Melvin Hill could all make an impact next year as they’ll get opportunities in a crowded receiving corps.

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