Scrimmage gives UMass football head coach Walt Bell insight into depth chart

  • Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Sports Editor
Tuesday, October 13, 2020

UMass football head coach Walt Bell likes the progress his team is making, considering how much work the Minutemen have squeezed in during their limited practice time.

Last week closed with a situational scrimmage on Saturday, and following a day of film, Bell lauded his team’s work.

“It was a good scrimmage and we came out of it pretty healthy, which is always a huge plus and not always the case,” he said. “You got to count your blessings when you can. I’m excited for this week to get back and get some base football and sprinkle in some situations as opposed to being so situational intensive.”

In a normal year, a lot of the situational work is done during the preseason when the players have more time devoted to just football, but this isn’t a normal year.

“That’s one of the things that’s so interesting about the situation right now,” Bell said during a virtual press conference Monday. “Typically this would be fall camp, 16-18 hours a day, wall-to-wall football, no real interruptions. Now our crash course in training is coming in the middle of a NCAA-mandated 20-hour work week with school involved. You get about 3-4 hours a day to get all what you would normally have 16-18 hours a day to do. Time on task.”

Bell said the situational scrimmage consisted of work in third-down territory (short, medium and long), goal line, red zone, 2-minute drill, special teams and protection situation.

“Typically you’re six or seven days of normal offense before you start to move into some really basic generic situations,” said Bell, who has not been told when the team’s first game will be. “We just had to pack a lot in. A lot of information, a lot of processing going on right now, but we had to get all that stuff in just to make sure we’re prepared from a bare-bones standpoint moving forward depending on when this jumpoff date is.”

Bell said he worked a lot of players into the scrimmage with an eye on filling out the depth chart.

“From a receiver group, finalizing who the third, fourth and fifth guy’s going to be. From the line standpoint, finalizing who our five best are and again, who six, seven and eight are,” Bell said. “Tight end position we feel pretty good about that. The running back position we feel pretty good about the rotation. Obviously we got to find out who the starter at quarterback is going to be.”

Bell didn’t comment on the quarterback depth chart, but he did say that redshirt sophomore Josiah Johnson, who had been moved from quarterback to tight end, has been practicing at quarterback.

“I think all of those guys, knowing the opportunity that’s at hand, have done a really nice job,” Bell said. “Obviously that situational scrimmage, especially in a lot of those disadvantaged downs, that’s really reveling for a lot of those guys and so it was great work on Saturday. You’re starting to see a little bit of separation but we’ve got as much time as (Athletic Director) Ryan (Bamford) says we do. It’s been good. Those guys have been competing, they’ve been studying and they all have pretty unique skillsets which is fun. They’ve all been doing a great job.”

The scrimmage also gave Bell insight into the depth of his defense.

“Just rotation on the D-line, we’re in a much better position than we were a year ago. The linebacker position just trying to get as many of those young guys as many game-like reps as possible between Gerrell Johnson and Abdoul Kone, Myles Turner, knowing (Cole) McCubrey and (Mike) Ruane have played so much ball,” Bell said. “In the defensive backfield the same thing, trying to find out what’s the best combination of guys. We got eight, nine guys we feel really good about, now it’s just what combinations in what spots.”

Bell said freshman defensive lineman Viczaril Alobwede and freshman defensive back Te’Rai Powell played well in the scrimmage. Redshirt senior defensive lineman Avien Peah has been a “nice surprise” in his ability to play multiple positions on the line.

Bell said junior running back Ellis Merriweather has made an impression. Merriweather played at Garden City Community College in Kansas last year.

“He’s 6-2½, he’s 230 pounds and he’s the (second) fastest offensive skill player we have,” Bell said. “He’s real physical when he runs the football and people are not fond of tackling him.”

TESTING — As of Monday, the program has taken 2,300 coronavirus tests with three positive results. One week ago UMass reported only two positives among 2,180 tests. Details surrounding that third positive were not made available.

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com. Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.