UMass more focused during second team scrimmage

  • UMass head coach Walt Bell works with a group of players during practice, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/20/2019 8:37:49 PM

AMHERST — The numbers last Wednesday were startling.

UMass split up its offense and defense on opposite goal lines and one by one sprinted up to a coach, proudly proclaimed their name and then announced how many “crimes against the team” they committed in the first scrimmage. The team would then run that many 5-yard suicide sprints before the next person’s turn. On the offensive side alone the total was around 110, averaging a little more than two per player.

It was a far more reasonable total for the Minutemen on Tuesday, their first practice since Sunday’s second scrimmage. The number dropped below 50 on offense, proving UMass is headed in the right direction with just 10 days left before the opener on Aug. 30 against Rutgers.

“The second scrimmage, we had a lot better effort,” senior tight end Kyle Horn said. “There was a lot of effort all around the team. (We continue to work on) mental errors and effort, we want no mental errors and the best effort we can get from all 11 players on the team.”

In terms of scheme, the defense showed big improvements when it came to stopping the run on Sunday. The offense was able to gash the defense for several long runs in the first scrimmage, but were bottled up in the second contest between the units.

Coach Walt Bell said the defense played better as a unit and was more disciplined in its scheme, one of the areas the coaching staff harped on in the week between scrimmages. He said there are still plenty of things to clean up, but was proud of the unit’s improvements between scrimmages.

“We had a lot of explosive runs in the first scrimmage, our defense did a much better job playing team defense, fitting up the run game,” Bell said. “They really limited the number of explosives in the run game — we only had two explosives — they came out and played much better team defense. Still a few space tackles they need to make, but our defense played a lot better in the second scrimmage.”

Senior cornerback Isaiah Rodgers echoed his coach’s sentiments about the defense’s discipline. He said the unit took to heart many of the mistakes from the first scrimmage and made a point to not repeat those errors on Sunday.

“The discipline and our effort (were better in the second scrimmage),” Rodgers said. “The first scrimmage, it was pretty good, but then the second one, we realized there were a lot of things to fix and we had a lot less discipline and errors.”

EXCESSIVE PASSION — It happens almost every summer at almost every training camp around the country. The August heat takes its toll as players continue to compete against teammates, eager to hit someone else for a change and play a real game. At some point, the tension will run too hot and teammates exchange blows in an annual summer camp tradition.

Different coaches have very different views on how to handle these skirmishes. After another tussle between players at practice Tuesday, Bell said it’s important for everyone to understand how much those moments cost a team if it happens during an actual game.

“The positive is you have a lot of guys competing, things are going to get chippy when guys are fighting for jobs, ” Bell said. “But at the same time, it’s going to be no different in a game. There’s going to be more people watching, there’s going to be even more pressure, there’s going to be even more adrenaline. When you can’t control yourself in a practice, understand in a game, that’s not only going to cost you, but it’s going to cost our football team.

“It’s why we handle it on the football field, you pay for it immediately. A lot of that stuff isn’t fun, but it’s a learning experience we all have to learn that the football team and how we operate is much more important than any of your selfish endeavors.”

HORN READIES HANDS — Horn was known for his blocking skills during his first three years at UMass. Yet as heavy and powerful as he was in the past, he said he weighs more and feels more powerful now than he did when he was primarily a blocker.

Now he’s lining up mostly away from the offensive line and asked to do more perimeter blocking and catching the ball. Although that isn’t the strength of his game, Horn has looked more reliable as a pass-catcher this summer and continues to work on his hands when he can.

RODGERS LEADING THE CHARGE — Rodgers is always the first defensive back to go through any position-specific drill. Whether it’s with the secondary in general or specifically the cornerbacks, the red No. 9 is there to show his teammates how it’s done.

When his turn is over, it isn’t uncommon to spot Rodgers mentoring a younger player about technique or scheme, making sure the Minutemen are always on the same page at the back end. As eager as he may be to play the Scarlet Knights, Rodgers said he takes his leadership role seriously and wants to ensure UMass remains successful once he graduates and pursues his professional football dreams after this season.

“It’s preparing me for life, just being a leader and helping the younger guys,” Rodgers said. “I want to better them for the days ahead of them. I’m handing over the torch basically.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at

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