UMass football defense flying fast in spring practice

  • UMass defensive lineman Charly Timite runs a drill during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium.

  • UMass defensive lineman Jake Byczko at spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium.

  • UMass defensive lineman Jake Byczko at spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium.

Staff Writer
Published: 4/2/2019 8:52:08 PM

AMHERST — Walt Bell has divided his day evenly into three time periods.

In the mornings, he’s hard at work on the offense and in meetings with the coaches on that side of the ball. His afternoons before practice are spent on the special teams while the evenings are devoted to the defense. Most of UMass’ defensive assistants have not moved their families up to Amherst full-time, Bell said, so he’s able to devote more time to them while they grind away in the football offices during late-night hours.

The defense has been the bright spot for the Minutemen midway through their allotted 15 practices this spring, and it isn’t a surprise when the players describe the new scheme.

“It’s definitely pretty simple,” rising junior linebacker Cole McCubrey said. “It’s moreso about knowing what you’re going to do, doing your job, and just being physical and running to the ball. It’s all effort.”

The effort has certainly not been an issue for UMass since the team hit the weight room with new strength coach Matt Shadeed on Jan. 22. McCubrey and fellow rising junior linebacker Chinedu Ogbonna both said the attitudes developed in the weight room over the winter translated on the field for spring practice. They said having a constant sense of competition has brought out the best in everyone and has brought the unit stronger together.

Although he might not spend as much time with the defense during practice as he does the offense, Bell said he’s been pleased with what he’s seen from the unit. However, the coach said there’s still a lot of work on the fundamentals that still needs to be done before UMass plays any games.

“Right now, they’re doing an unbelievable job chasing the football,” Bell said. “The effort part we feel like we’re moving in the right direction, now it’s just the techniques within the defense, really starting to master something as opposed to just being close or being where we’re supposed to be.”

The biggest obstacle UMass defense must face in the final half of spring football and then into the summer is coming together as an 11-person unit. The Minutemen's biggest letdowns last season were caused by one-man breakdowns that opened up holes for opponents to exploit. 

Rising junior Jake Byczko said the defense is designed for players to give their maximum efforts while working in unison, so if the Minutemen can sustain both parts, the overall unit should show a lot of improvement from last year.

“It’s pretty much play hard, play fast and be the toughest person out there on the field,” Byczko said. “We’re all just playing hard and the scheme will fall into place if we’re on the same page and doing our job.”

OFFENSE INSTALLED – The good news for the offense is that Bell and the staff has finished installing all the main concepts in the playbook.

The first-year coach said there are still minor supplemental items that the staff is working through in practice to make sure they have it on tape to teach during the summer. But the bulk of the offense is in place for the quarterbacks so that they have enough tape to watch and learn from once spring practices wrap up on April 20. Bell said the unit is still on the ABC side of the alphabet spectrum and probably won’t advance past that until after the first game is played.

“We have not graduated yet, we have a long way to go,” Bell said. “Especially the quarterback position, that’s the hardest position to play in the system, so those guys have a lot of work to do. We need all spring, all summer and all of fall ball.”

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