UMass football makes progress in Walt Bell’s first spring

  • University of Massachusetts redshirt junior quarterback Michael Curtis looks to pass before taking off downfield during the spring game at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday morning, April 20, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts freshman lineman Dennis Osagiede, right, strips the ball from redshirt junior quarterback Michael Curtis during the spring game at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday morning, April 20, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts junior linebacker Gilberto Torres is brought down by junior linebacker James Bowe, with pressure from sophomore Chinedu Ogbonna and freshman Dennis Osagiede, top left and right, in the spring game at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday morning, April 20, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts head coach Walt Bell talks to his Minutemen after a rain-soaked spring game at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday morning, April 20, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts lineman Johnathon Weir celebrates a sack of redshirt sophomore quarterback Mike Fallon during the spring game at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday morning, April 20, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts head coach Walt Bell talks to his Minutemen after a rain-soaked spring game at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday morning, April 20, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • ,University of Massachusetts redshirt sophomore quarterback Mike Fallon, center, talks with linebackers junior James Bowe and freshman Michael Nesmith, following the spring game at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday morning, April 20, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts head coach Walt Bell talks to his Minutemen after a rain-soaked spring game at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday morning, April 20, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts junior linebacker Gilberto Torres (48) looks for daylight behind blocking from redshirt junior lineman Mike Yerardi in the spring game at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday morning, April 20, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts quarterbacks, redshirt sophomore Mike Fallon, left, and redshirt junior Michael Curtis, leave the field following the spring game at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday morning, April 20, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts redshirt sophomore quarterback Mike Fallon hands off to junior linebacker Gilberto Torres during the spring game at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday morning, April 20, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts sophomore linebacker Chinedu Ogbonna returns an interception during the spring game at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday morning, April 20, 2019. The play was called back on a penalty. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 4/30/2019 5:46:53 PM

AMHERST — The rain on April 20 did little to dampen the positive momentum flowing through the UMass football program.

The 15th and final spring practice of the year wasn’t the crispest thanks to the weather and there is still plenty of work to be done before the Minutemen kick off the season on Aug. 30 at Rutgers. However, the most important indicators of success were all there for UMass in its first set of practices under the direction of Walt Bell.

“We came a long way,” Bell said. “By no means did we play great football on that Saturday, but it was much improved, our kids did a great job of trying to give what we asked of them. We still have a long way to go from a technical standpoint, from a skill development standpoint, just overall system knowledge, but that’s typical of your first spring.”

A coach as prepared as Bell was not surprised by any of the pitfalls that sometimes affect first-time coaches. He knew he was going to need to spread his time better and created a plan to make sure he was able to supervise the progress of all three phases of the game. As part of the strategy, Bell didn’t get a chance to spend as much time with the defense during practice, but that wasn’t an issue for the coach.

He said he felt comfortable with how involved he was with the defense during the spring and sees his role on that side of the ball evolving as the summer blends into fall and practices don’t involve as much teaching.

“I don’t feel behind by any means,” Bell said. “Moving forward, having the ability to be a practice manager and just being able to help is the biggest thing. Obviously by no means am I a master of defensive football, but having the ability to help those guys out when they need it, that’ll be the biggest thing moving forward.”

The Minutemen exit the spring without much clue as to who will earn more playing time this coming season. There are a few players who are almost certainly starters if they stay healthy, but there are still far more questions than answers about the roster at the moment. UMass has certainly tried to build depth this spring by using players in multiple roles – especially on defense where being versatile is important to the scheme – and Bell said he has more confidence in some of the thinner areas of the roster as a result of those actions.

Before any lineup decisions are made, however, Bell must also assess the players planning to arrive this summer on campus as either transfers or true freshmen. He said although the coaches have a good sense of the players who will make an impact on Saturdays this fall, he isn’t going to rush any decisions and will wait until the last moment to finalize it all.

“We know the guys and I feel like we developed and have a really good handle on the guys who we know we can count on,” Bell said. “But we’ve got to take this thing through the summertime and fall camp just to make sure we can put out best 11 out on both sides of the ball. We’ve still got time and the number one rule of decision making is to take all time allotted.”

One player who has earned a spot in the starting lineup is junior offensive tackle Larnel Coleman, who impressed Bell this spring. The coach said Coleman was one of the most improved players over the course of the 15 practices and the lineman earned offensive practice player of the day on multiple occasions.

Which quarterback Coleman and his linemates will be protecting is still the biggest question looming over the Minutemen. None of the five listed on the roster separated themselves from the pack during the spring, and junior college transfer Andrew Brito will throw his name into the mix when he arrives in June.

Bell said he wasn’t concerned about the lack of separation just yet because of how much pressure is on the quarterbacks to learn the new offense. He added that it is the position group he expected to perhaps take the longest time to decide during fall camp.

“Any time you’re in the first time in a system, there’s going to be struggles and that’s to be expected,” Bell said. “That one is going to take some time, we still have a lot of competing left to do there.”




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