UMass football spring notebook: Pads help separate Minutemen from Minuteboys

  • UMass receiver Delvin Attifah catches an over the shoulder fade during spring football practice Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • UMass defensive back Jalen Stewart tackles a human-sized rolling ring during spring football practice Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • UMass receiver Jami Roberts catches an over the shoulder fade during spring football practice Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • UMass linebacker Josh Brunelle attacks a tackling drill during spring football practice Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 4/5/2022 4:04:56 PM
Modified: 4/5/2022 4:04:18 PM

AMHERST – The familiar din of plastic colliding filled the bubble.

The UMass football team practiced in pads for the second time Tuesday. It allowed for marginally more physicality and a clearer, if still far off, view of what the Minutemen will look like on the field in the fall.

“You get to work on the physical fundamentals and techniques that you need to get after it,” UMass defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski said. “There's guys who play really well in shorts, and there's guys who play really well with the pads on, and that's what we're trying to determine. Who are those guys when we put the pads on, because it gets a little bit different with the intensity.”

Four practices into spring, Don Brown and the rest of his staff are still very much in fact finding mode. They’re trying to understand what they have and who fits best where. He’s in no rush to assign starting positions or fill out a depth chart.

“Yeah, I'm a big believer that don't judge too quickly, especially with younger guys, which our team is made of. They tend to grow and grow exponentially if you practice them properly and all of a sudden a light switch goes on,” Brown said.

He indicated competition for most starting positions will likely remain contested into fall camp.

“In this day and age, [if] you don't give guys an opportunity, they're going to transfer. So you know, we want to make sure we give everybody a fair shot, make sure we're coaching them all, and we'll let the chips fall where they may when the time is right,” Brown said.

Some of that lack of separation emerges from no one having a schematic advantage. UMass is installing both a new offense and defense, and adding new concepts sometimes supersedes perfecting old ones.

“We're gonna keep the foot on the throttle and we're gonna keep challenging them.That's a conflict that you're constantly trying to evaluate, rectify and make good decisions,” Brown said. “I think we're ahead of where I thought they would be. But you never feel like you're ahead of the game, you just kind of grind it for the next day.”

EVERYONE KNOWS YOUR NAME – Dudzinski knows his way around Amherst and the UMass campus. It’s now his third stint as a UMass football assistant after Brown brought him along from Arizona. He previously coached the Minutemen from 1998-2001 and was their defensive coordinator from 2004-10.

“Third time’s the charm,” Dudzinski said. “The first few times it was FCS, and coming back it was great to see the new football building, the bubble. These are great improvements that really make a big difference for us.”

Dudzinski has also coached with Brown during stints at Brown University, Northeastern, Maryland, Michigan and Arizona.

“He has a good understanding of what we’re trying to do, and we work extremely well together,” Brown said. “You look for guys that you trust and guys you know are going to do a professional job with your team.”

Dudzinski is so in sync with Brown that he used his head coach’s favorite word to describe how he envisions the defense: “aggressive.” Realizing that may have been too on the nose, Dudzinski smiled and said “ferocious.”

“We’re gonna put a lot of stress on the quarterback,” he said. “We’re going to be very multi-faceted on the defensive side of the ball.”

GET YOUR POPCORN – Te’Rai Powell provided the highlight of Tuesday’s practice when he snagged a one-handed interception after tipping it to himself. Fellow defensive back Josh Wallace defended a long pass intended for Rico Arnold in a 7-on-7 passing drill. 

As the ball floated toward the ground, Powell nearly overran it but batted it upward with his right hand before pulling it into his body as he fell. He high-stepped down the sideline as the defensive sideline erupted.

“In the moment you’ve got to make plays, and I think that’s one of the reasons that can help us win,” Powell said.

Running back Ellis Merriweather busted through a massive hole for a 70-yard touchdown during the same period and skipped down the sideline back to the huddle asking, “Who says I don’t have speed?”

NESCAC DAY – Members of the coaching staffs at Amherst College and Hamilton attended Tuesday’s practice taking notes. The NESCAC will allow its teams to hold practices in the spring for the first time ever this year.

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

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