AMHERST — On Tuesday morning, the Massachusetts football team opened its second week of spring practice, buckling down on defensive skill and connections between quarterbacks and wide receivers.
Notable in Tuesday’s practice was wide receiver Isaac Ross, who took his position-focused drills and work during 7-on-7 onto the field for scrimmages.
The redshirt-junior had precise footwork with these specific drills. With his tight footwork and quick pace, his completed catches and run-throughs were spot on and noticeable once the team started scrimmaging. After the first round of scrimmage, regrouping with the offensive playmakers, he spent more time with the quarterbacks. Ross practiced these routes with man-on-man coverage, running towards mid-field.
During the final 11-on-11 of the practice, Ross made a diving catch in bounds before the ball could bounce on the turf. Reading the pass from quarterback Taisun Phommachanh, the wide receiver lit up the offensive side of the ball.
The coaches were looking for this eye throughout the morning, and by the end of practice the players put that focus to the test. The success from all wide receivers, not just Ross, in the position-specific drills focusing on footwork and routes translated onto the field.
Ross, though, led the way for the offense who was in a rut against the team’s strong defense in that morning’s scrimmages. Running back Greg Desrosiers Jr. followed suit, breaking past defense behind the 50-year line and running all the way down the field into the endzone untouched.
In the closing minutes of practice, wide receiver Mark Pope connected with the quarterback to complete a long pass down the field. Pope would have run the ball all the way into the endzone if it were not for the whistle calling the play.
Quarterbacks Phommachanh, Brady Olson, Carlos Davis, and Ahmad Haston all spent key time with the wide receivers roughly sharing reps throughout the day especially during 7-on-7. Olson seemed to be on top of his game during practice, throwing sharp and precise throws throughout the morning. Even with no contact in 7-on-7, though, long passes were a struggle for the wide receiver and quarterback connection.
It is still unclear as to which quarterback will find themselves in the starting position as each of them showed their ability to connect with players on the field as well as their own ability to run the ball themselves. Olson and Phommachanh, especially, put up strong performances gaining yards and downs themselves to break past a fueled defense during the practice’s final 11-on-11. All four quarterbacks, though, struggled with reading the field and directing their passes to targets.
Though practice ended with offense feeling satisfied with their impressive completions and small successes, defense noticeably tightened up and strengthened their game.
The defensive and offensive lines spent most of practice working on their own community and communication while no contact drills were happening on the farside of the field. From the start of practice, the coaching staff was urging the team to play with a “no excuses” mindset, and the defense applied this message to their game from the get-go.
In the second scrimmage, the offense could not find an opening to gain more than a few yards. The third and final scrimmage was a similar story, despite the quarterbacks’ impressive runs and the three plays from Ross, Desrosiers Jr., and Pope. This final scrimmage was a situational 11-on-11 for the team, focusing on unique game situations the players may run into.
Despite these few runs and completed catches, the UMass offense was unable to break past and make consistent plays against this defensive powerhouse. They were not only able to hold off the quarterback and the run but were close to picking the ball to make plays themselves, dominating the last twenty minutes of Tuesday’s practice.