By Sydney Ciano
The Massachusetts football team started its third week of spring practice in the bubble on Tuesday where both sides of the ball found themselves struggling to keep up the energy and momentum on the field.
As the race for starting quarterback continued, Brady Olson, Taisun Phommachanh, and Carlos Davis spent more time behind the center as freshman Ahmad Haston got more one-on-one time. Haston’s only time on the field for scrimmages were the first few snaps of the 11-on-11. Davis, particularly, stepped up into his own game on Tuesday as both Olson and Phommachanh could not connect with their receivers to gain worthwhile yards.
The second scrimmage imitating first and second down situations was where Davis found most of his success. Each quarterback had their time during position drills practicing handoffs to their running backs. With Davis taking the snap and handing off the ball to guys in the backfield, the running backs found their way through the defense.
The quarterback also found success with intermediate throws to his receivers during this scrimmage. He found wide receiver Anthony Simpson for a connection and a first down the second play of the scrimmage, followed by another receiver’s diving connection along the sidelines.
The Minutemen offense struggled as a whole on Tuesday though. During position-specific drills, the players looked clean and precise, keeping their eye on the ball and narrowing their focus on proper footwork and technique. As soon as the team put the pieces together, though, both the quarterbacks and their receivers had difficulties connecting and the timing was off.
On long passes down the field, receivers lost sight of the ball and could not get their feet to where the ball was, barely grazing the football with their fingertips. The playmakers seemed to give up right at the last second of the play. Wide receiver George Johnson III – during the third 11-on-11 – made an attempt at a jumping catch, springing into the air, but let the ball fell right through his hands as he came back to the ground.
Phommachanh could not maintain consistency during the scrimmages. Though his receivers would not follow through on every play, the quarterback struggled to find the timing with his running backs as well as his own opportunities to carry the ball.
Though defense has been a highlight throughout spring practices, they, too, brought less energy into the bubble on Tuesday. The defense practiced without shoulder pads with the coaching staff wanting them to focus on the basics of tackling. One drill they performed focused on the defense getting to the man, but still playing the ball. Their focus was entirely on getting past players to make it to a receiver while not risking penalties. The attention to detail has been a strong point of emphasis so far this spring. After the morning’s 7-on-7, the defense was lined up to practice tackling hand shields. At the start of practice, defensive players continued to work on footwork.
As the Minutemen continue to grind through these spring practices ahead of the spring game on the 29th, lapses in energy can be expected for at least a few days, especially with how high it’s been normally. Lack of productivity on offense or defense this time of year isn’t a huge issue for a day or two, but UMass will certainly need to tighten things up later this week and during the handful of practices that remain this spring.
No doubt it looks and feels different. Hopefully, Tuesday was just a bit of an off day.