AMHERST, Mass. - Now that the UMass football team has reached the midway point of fall camp - and things are done at full speed, with full pads – head coach Charley Molnar has a better feel for his freshmen.
The UMass football team took a breather during practice on Wednesday morning.
When asked about who is standing out early on, Molnar listed off offensive and defensive players, in no particular order.
On offense, the second-year head coach has been impressed with wide receivers E.J. Burston and Shaq Harris, who were teammates at Palmetto High School in Florida. He also added Shakur Nesmith to the list. At running back, Molnar said both Lorenzo Woodley and Daquan Mack have been steadily improving.
When it comes to the offensive line, Tyshon Henderson looks ready to contribute immediately. The 6-foot-7, 315-pound left tackle has gotten some run with the first team. He has been filling in for Anthony Dima, who is dealing with some blister issues at the moment, according to Molnar.
“(Henderson) is a little bit ahead of the rest of the guys, and we expected that he would be. He's doing an excellent job, but when you're running with the first unit, the expectations are a little higher,” Molnar said. “He still has numerous errors, but he's reducing them every single day.”
On defense, Molnar is impressed with two of his linebackers: Steve Casali and Shane Huber. Casali has taken snaps at middle linebacker, while Huber plays outside and has been let loose on a few goal line formations.
At defensive back, Molnar said Jackson Porter is making plays. Elijah Wilkinson, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound defensive tackle, is doing the same.
“There's others, but those guys are right now clearly in the rotation,” Molnar said in reference to the freshmen he listed.
Proceed With Caution: Lorenzo Woodley, UMass' highly rated freshman running back, was in a boot during practice. Molnar said that the boot was precautionary and that Woodley should be ready to go shortly.
“Woodley has got a minor problem, and we can either let it heal up now or it could linger on for the next several weeks,” Molnar said. “We just made the decision to limit him over the next couple of days until he is healed up.”
UMass captain Rob Blanchflower was out of pads and on the sideline throughout practice. Molnar said his starting tight end is a little banged up, and he isn't going to risk injuring him in practice.
He added that Blanchflower's absence will give coaches a chance to evaluate the team's other tight ends.
“He's already been through the wars, and he's a little banged up, so we're holding him out. I don't need to see him out there today,” Molnar said. “I really need Derek Beck more, Rodney Mills more, Sharif Custis more.”
As mentioned above, Dima is dealing with lingering blister issues.
Wide receiver Tajae Sharpe was back in action after tweaking his shoulder over the weekend. He was running with the first-team offense.
Scouts in Attendance: NFL scouts from the Washington Redskins and the Arizona Cardinals were at McGuirk Alumni Stadium evaluating talent.
While NFL scouts will not speak to reporters about who they're keeping an eye on, the Redskins' scout followed UMass' special teams unit and was clocking the hang time on Colter Johnson's punts. He also seemed interested in longsnapper Vance Barton.
The Cardinals' scout was speaking to Dima and UMass strength coach Mike Golden on the sidelines.
Offensive Line Production: Henderson has been the most impressive freshman offensive lineman so far and uses his massive size to make up for a lack of lateral quickness. Henderson has a good initial burst and hasn't looked overmatched against either first- or second-team defensive linemen. There is definitely a visible difference between Henderson and Dima, who has quicker feet and is devastating on the move. However, the freshman has all the makings of a quality left tackle down the line.
During UMass' goal line formation, David Osei (RG) and Vincent Westcarr (RT) looked good on the right side. The combination of Osei's athleticism and Westcarr's overwhelming size helped disrupt the defense.
“Those are two guys that are really playing good football. Athletically, David Osei is really good. He's not as big as Westcarr. Westcarr is just massive. When he gets locked on a guy, it's over. He just eclipses him and drives him out,” Molnar said, adding that the left side, which has consisted of either Dima or Henderson at left tackle and Tyrell Smith at left guard, has been equally good.
Some of the other youngsters got some run with the second team. Terrel Correia, a Nantucket native, looks like he has already put some weight on his 6-foot-7 frame and lined up at both left and right tackle. Fabian Hoeller showed flashes of quickness at guard, and seems to complement Rich Queen, who picked up some reps at center.
Sam Zeff looks to be fighting for time at right guard, and in one sequence held down the left side of the line with Cameron Mock, a massive 6-foot-7, 305-pound tackle from New Mexico.
Mack Truck: When UMass brought in Daquan Mack, a few people wondered what Molnar was going to do with a fullback in a spread offense. If Wednesday's practice was any indicator, it seems we have our answer.
He's going to run the ball right up the middle.
Mack scored a rumbling touchdown up the gut during practice and completely bowled through the defensive line. At 6-foot-1 and nearly 250 pounds, Mack is tough to take down and seems to be improving as camp goes on.
"I think today was his best day as a Minuteman,” Molnar said.
New Walk-On: According to The Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise, Connor Lemieux, a former QB for Fitchburg High School, has walked on to the UMass football team. Lemieux will play wide receiver for the Minutemen.
Odds and Ends: AJ Doyle looked out of synch and overthrew a number of receivers during practice. Molnar attributed it to the guys around him, who are still getting used to the offense. … Linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox had an impressive pick six at the line of scrimmage. … While Mack picked up a number of carries in the red zone, Jordan Broadnax carried the load when UMass was within five yards. He scored on one attempt and was stonewalled on another. … Running back Stacey Bedell ran a few slant routes during practice and showed some impressive hands. … Freshman walk-on punter Logan Laurent has a pretty powerful leg and was sending some booming punts during practice. His kicks didn't have the same hang time as Johnson's, but he looks like he can get the job done.