Notebook: Quarterback competition has some clarity

  • UMass quarterback Michael Curtis runs a drill during the first practice of the season, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass quarterback Andrew Brito, right, runs a drill as quarterback Michael Curtis waits his turn during the first practice of the season, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass quarterbacks Randall West, front, and Michael Curtis run a drill during the first practice of the season, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/11/2019 6:43:27 PM

AMHERST — Walt Bell has been very transparent since taking over as UMass’ head football coach in December.

There have been some trade secrets – such as who will actually be calling the offensive plays on game day – but practice is open to the public and media, giving them access to the six-player battle to be the next UMass starting quarterback. So it’s hard for Bell to hide exactly who is still in the running to be the signal-caller in three weeks when the Minutemen travel to Rutgers for the season opener.

During practice on Thursday and Friday, the same four quarterbacks – Andrew Brito, Michael Curtis, Mike Fallon and Randall West – took all of the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 reps with the offense. It seemingly leaves little doubt that those four are likely the ones still in contention to be the starter.

Bell, of course, played it coy when asked about the clarity at the position after Friday’s session.

“We still have a long time,” Bell said. “Especially knowing not only how much Randall has improved but so has Curtis; Brito is really physically talented but he’s a little bit behind mentally. Who catches up, who steps up, who stays healthy, who takes care of himself, who keeps making good decisions, so we still have a long time to go.”

Although Bell didn’t mention Fallon by name, he did say that there was a fourth man in the race after he was asked about Brito, Curtis and West specifically. When asked to confirm whether or not Fallon was the fourth player, the first-year coach smiled and repeated “I don’t know.”

Fallon is the wild card in the mix largely because he was such a non-factor in the quarterback competition under the previous staff. He has never played in a college football game, redshirting his freshman year at Sacred Heart before transferring to UMass.

The first real chance for separation will come in Monday’s scrimmage, which should give the coaches a chance to figure out where to turn their attention before the opener in New Jersey.

“We’ve had some discussions about that,” quarterbacks coach Angelo Mirando said. “We have a scrimmage coming up, and that will narrow it down a bit more. We’re just trying to get all these guys reps and get them to learn and understand the system. Every day we’re taking steps and getting a little bit better.”

BIG DEESE-L — Adam Deese was known for being physical last year.

He primarily played on special teams, but was listed on the roster as a fullback and did see some action in the backfield. Yet there is no fullback position in Bell’s offense and Deese has had to adjust to a new role within the system. His move to tight end has had its challenges, but Friday, the sophomore from Belmont made the play of the practice.

Deese ran a vertical route during 7-on-7 drills and hauled in a 30ish-yard touchdown pass over a safety. Although he won’t be used much for his pass-catching abilities, the improvement in that area is a good sign for UMass, which needs depth at the tight end position.

“He can really help us in the run game, he’s a really physical guy,” Bell said. “His perimeter skills are improving, not even necessarily just catching the football but his perimeter blocking skills and his ability to be an enforcer on the edge. As he becomes more system-sound, he’ll work his way into a big role for us, especially on special teams as well.”

FRESHMAN SURPRISE — Although Bell and defensive coordinator Aazaar Abdul-Rahim probably knew what they were getting in freshman cornerback Josh Wallace, the Hyattsville, Maryland, native has stood out this training camp. Listed at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Wallace has impressed with his physicality and tenacity in drills against wide receivers, winning many battles against the better wideouts on the Minutemen’s roster. The starting cornerback spot opposite Isaiah Rodgers is still open, and it wouldn’t be a shock if Wallace takes that spot at some point this season.

LET’S GET PHYSICAL — Friday was the first time UMass raised its level of physicality during practice with live tackling and an emphasis on third-and-short situations. Bell said it wasn’t as physical as he would have preferred, but that it’s part of the process of familiarizing bodies back to the rough and tumble nature of the sport.

“No different from conditioning is contact,” Bell said. “You have to be conditioned to contact. You’ve got to harden and callous your body, and that’s the fine line every coach in the country right now is playing. What’s enough to be calloused and battle-hardened and what’s too much.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.



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