Sydney’s sights & sounds from Saturday’s UMass spring practice

By Sydney Ciano
NEFJ Correspondent

AMHERST — The Massachusetts football team finished their second week of spring practices on Saturday, focusing on the technicalities of defense and the connections between quarterbacks and running backs.

Defense continued to be a strength for the Minutemen on Saturday, a running theme throughout their practices. That morning, this side of the ball focused more on footwork during individual drills. The coaching staff placed an emphasis on quick feet and staying on the offensive players during game-like drills.

On the other side of the field, quarterbacks focus more on their connections with running backs. Though wide receivers, like Isaac Ross, continued to find time on the field and practice time with the quarterbacks, Saturday’s practice placed more importance on solidifying the run game. Even before the whole team warmed up, the Minutemen were split at either end of the field and the four quarterbacks were seen practicing their handoffs to the men in the backfield.

During each scrimmage, the offensive side of the ball incorporated more running plays than in practices earlier in the week. This seemed to be a highlight for the offense. Earlier in the week, this side of the ball had trouble breaking through the defense.

Putting an emphasis on the running backs, though, brought the playmakers momentum. Many of these run plays lead to touchdowns on that side of the ball. In all three scrimmages, there were less moments where the quarterback felt forced to run the ball himself.

Quarterbacks Brady Olson, Taisun Phommachanh, Carlos Davis, and Ahmad Haston each had time during drills and scrimmages, but Olson and Phommachanh specifically had lots of time on the field.

Each quarterback, though, lost sight on the field during the third and final 11-on-11 of practice. Losing steam with all members of the offense as the minute ticked down in practice, the quarterbacks were unable to throw passes on target and threw many of the balls too deep. On these plays, the wide receivers also could not follow the ball.

Timing continues to be a struggle for the Minutemen. Centers have had a hard time connecting with quarterbacks and kickers, many of their snaps going too high for a stable play. Offensively, too high of passes have forced wide receivers into the air. The perfect timing to jump off the ground to make a completion, though, has not been found.

Defense continued to have a strong performance. Both sides of the ball were quicker on their feet on Saturday, noticeably the defense that spent most of their group and individual drills practicing man-on-man coverage and footwork. The technicality of defense coverage was put to the forefront on Saturday morning.

This footwork and speed was noticeable in scrimmages. Even as run plays made it into the endzone, the defensive players did not give up speed, chasing the player all the way down the field. On passes to wide receivers, the defense did a good job playing the ball while keeping wide receivers off of completions.

Especially towards the end of practice when offense started to struggle more, defense played until the very last second. Reading the ball well and watching the quarterback with a good eye, the defense was able to tip and pick the football in each of the three 11-on-11’s.

As the Minutemen head into their third week of practices, all of the pieces are being brought together on the field with a focus on the technicalities of each play and position.