UMass football: Spring practice pendulum a good sign for Minutemen

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 04-04-2023 2:22 PM

AMHERST – Don Brown doesn’t mind his defense winning some spring practice days and losing others compared to the offense. The pendulum indicates the strength of a program.

“For good teams, the pendulum swings back. It just does,” Brown said. “If you're not a good team, the pendulum doesn't swing back.”

The UMass football offense showed its progress in Tuesday’s practice. Running back Greg Desrosiers broke off three long touchdown runs. Miami transfer receiver Mark Pope hauled in a one-handed deep ball. Williston Northampton graduate tight end Eni Falayi caught a perfect touch pass from quarterback Brady Olson, who stared down the barrel of a blitz and dropped the ball into an open seam.

It all shows a level of comfort in Year 2 in offensive coordinator Steve Casula’s scheme.

“When you’re the second year in, if you’re not, you’ve got the wrong scheme,” Brown said. “If they're not more comfortable and can't decipher, it means you’re too complicated, you're not keeping it player friendly. Keep it player friendly. You still have to have tweaks and changes and all that, always something to work toward.”

The offensive success gives the defense something to shoot for. They see why a play worked and can better understand how to thwart it the next time.

“Now we've seen the formation. We've seen the scheme they’re in and everything, so now we know how to adjust. It’s constantly making us better because all college football teams repeat things,” UMass defensive lineman Billy Wooden said. “You’re going to see trips, you’re going to see two by two, you’re going to see a different alignment so it's all a repeat thing. It’s helping us to know as we get to Saturday.”

Both sidelines celebrate big plays when they make them as victories for their side of the ball, but that never boils beyond the line of beneficial competition.

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“I feel like it’s about the competitive edge and it's us being a team. We know it's offense versus defense sometimes, but at the end of the day it’s still UMass,” Wooden said. “We’re all trying to get to fall camp and get to the season. We keep that in perspective. We still practice hard, it might be full pads, but let’s thud instead of taking somebody off into the ground, it’s being a good teammate.”

SUIT UP – UMass practiced in full pads for the first time Saturday and kept them on Tuesday. The drills and team periods look almost identical to when UMass is just wearing helmets and shells but features more of the sound of plastic clashing against itself.

“In this day and age, with the numbers sometimes that you face, guys get really good at practicing in full pads and getting worked on, but not necessarily having to kill everybody and taking them to the ground,” Brown said. “We don't practice much different. It's 11 on 11. It's blocking schemes. It's all that stuff.”

QUARTERBACK RUBRIC – UMass is just four practices into spring ball and very much at the beginning of its quarterback competition among incumbent Brady Olson, transfers Carlos Davis (Western Carolina) and Taisun Phommachanh (Georgia Tech) and freshman Ahmad Haston, but Brown and Casula know what qualities they’re looking for in the Minutemen’s eventual starter.

“Guys that can go under center, or go into gun, can decipher and figure out what the defense is giving them and if there's a play to be checked, they can handle the check or just function at a high level in terms of, ‘hey, if the ball’s going to be thrown first, second, third (read),’ you know what I mean?” Brown said. “If the ball is going to be run, are we running it to the proper side, that kind of stuff? There's a lot of that going on checking wise and so forth.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>