UMass football opens training camp under Walt Bell

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  • UMass quarterback Andrew Brito, front, runs a drill during the first practice of the season, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium.

  • Members of the UMass offensive line run a drill during the first practice of the season, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium.

  • UMass wide receiver Samuel Emilus catches during the first practice of the season, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium.

  • UMass quarterback Michael Curtis, left, runs a drill during the first practice of the season, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium.

Staff Writer
Published: 8/2/2019 9:09:44 PM
Modified: 8/2/2019 9:09:30 PM

AMHERST — It didn’t take long for Walt Bell’s voice to grow a little hoarse Friday evening.

Bell was as vocal as ever in his first training camp practice as UMass head coach, voicing both encouragement to his players as well as his displeasure over certain plays. But like every other college football coach in the country, Bell said he was satisfied with the energy and enthusiasm from his team. And like every coach in the nation, the challenge will be for the Minutemen to grow and build on the first day in the four weeks of preparation for their season opener on Aug. 30 at Rutgers.

“Really good energy, everybody’s excited, but I think every college football team in America probably had a really exciting first practice,” Bell said. “The challenge for us will be can we do it better tomorrow. We’re in much better shape physically, much better condition mentally in terms of what we want from practice, but we have to be better tomorrow.”

One area Bell specified for improvement was in his quarterback’s decision making. Most of Bell’s anger was directed at his quarterbacks for poor decision making, at various times pulling quarterbacks in the middle of their allotted repetitions for a bad choice.

“We’ve been doing it all summer and we made a lot of mistakes that we made on the first day of spring when we first got here, and that can’t happen,” Bell said.

Here are some other news and notes from the first day of practice for the Minutemen:

JOHNSON DILEMMA — It’s always easy to spot the quarterbacks at most football practice. They’re dressed in a different color to signify to the defense that they can’t be tackled – in UMass’ case the old alternate grey uniforms.

Yet Josiah Johnson was dressed in the white uniform of the rest of his offensive teammates. The redshirt freshman is still very much in the mix at quarterback according to Bell, but he’s also very active with the wide receivers during most of practice. He warmed up with the receivers, ran through position drills with that group and even ran routes for other quarterbacks in the offense-only portion of practice. He did take eight snaps at quarterback during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, but otherwise never joined the quarterbacks in any of their position-specific drills.

Johnson will continue to dress as a wide receiver this fall, a change from the rotation he did this spring when he dressed certain days with the quarterbacks and others with the rest of the offense. However, Bell said the defense has very specific and clear instructions to treat him like a quarterback even if he’s acting more like a receiver most days.

“He may win the job at quarterback, if he wins the job at quarterback that kind of allows you to do some certain things with him,” Bell said. “We’re just trying to make sure we can get our best 11 guys on the field. He’s one of the best ball-hand guys, we’ve got on the team, so we need to really put him in a position to be able to do both.”

TRANSITION INSIDE — For the last two years, Ray Thomas-Ishman has been tasked with protecting the quarterback as the left tackle. Now he’s moving back to the position he started with when he first arrived in Amherst three years ago.

Thomas-Ishman has lined up at left guard alongside Larnel Coleman at left tackle with the first-team offensive line during Friday’s practice. Although he has slimmed down considerably since he played left guard last in 2016, the senior told Bell during his first meeting with him that he felt guard was a better position for him. The move has solidified the left side of the Minutemen’s line with a pair of experienced players protecting the blindside of whoever ends up winning the quarterback battle.

“When we first got here, Ray thought guard was his best position and what would be best for his future,” Bell said. “My belief is if a kid’s really confident in what gives him the best opportunity to be the best player he can be, you need to start there. Then if something happens and he needs to move, he’ll move, but it’s something he wanted to do and he’s doing a really nice job for us so far.”

FASHION REPORT — UMass was sporting new white Schutt helmets during practice as the team continued to wear the old game jerseys as practice uniforms. The school is still waiting on the new jerseys to arrive from Adidas but expects them to arrive shortly and be revealed publicly at that time.

BRITO IMPRESSES — As much as Bell was unhappy with his quarterbacks’ choices, junior college transfer Andrew Brito stood out with his arm strength during the first day. Brito did not practice with the Minutemen in the spring, so Friday was the first chance to see the junior in action for UMass. Despite his stature – he’s generously listed at 5-foot-10 on the official roster – Brito zipped the ball around the field on his reps, including launching several deep passes to Cam Roberson and Zak Simon.

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