Here are my early thoughts on the way things panned out:
Quarterback: Mike Wegzyn
This was no surprise. Anyone that has been paying attention knows that, after Kellen Pagel was sidelined with post-concussion symptoms, Wegzyn was named the man in charge. I’m interested to see how much he has improved after a less-than-stellar effort in the Spring Game.
Running Back: Chris Burns, Michael Cox, Jamar Smith
The undecided running back spot caught me a little off-guard. It’s not that Burns, Cox and Smith don’t deserve a shot – it’s the absence of Jordan Broadnax. After the Spring Game it seemed as though Broadnax and Cox would be duking it out for a lion’s share of the carries. Now it appears that the sophomore back has fallen behind. I haven’t heard anything regarding injuries, so it may be that the other backs just showed more during Fall Camp. Burns (Pitt) and Cox (Michigan) have the BCS pedigree, but Smith was less of a factor than Broadnax last year.
Wide Receiver: Marken Michel, Alan Williams (slot), Deion Walker, Tajae Sharpe
Michel was a shoe-in for a starting spot, but after that it was anyone’s guess. It’s interesting that Coach Molnar moved Williams to receiver after nearly a full career at running back. After the Spring Game, I thought Williams would compete for the backup running back gig, but it looks like Molnar liked his skill-set enough to have him as a slot receiver. Also interesting is the position battle between opposite ends of the spectrum. On one end, Sharpe is a true freshman, on the other Walker is a fifth-year transfer. This is a position that is completely green, and the Minutemen will need one of these four guys to establish himself as a go-to target for Wegzyn.
Tight End: Rob Blanchflower
No surprise with this decision. While Blanchflower isn’t a prototypical tight end for a spread offense, he brings a degree of toughness and leadership that Molnar and his staff have taken a liking to. Blanchflower also showed flashes of offensive ability last year, and in the new offense should get more chances to put up numbers.
Center: Quinton Sales
Sales is a quality offensive lineman and has been a staple on the UMass line. He will continue to be a vital part of the offense, and is definitely an FBS-ready player.
Tackle: Nick Speller, Jamie Cassleberry, Stephane Milhim
It sounds like there may be some bumps and bruises among this group, which is why there is some uncertainty. Speller is a solid lineman and, to be clear, is absolutely enormous (6’5, 334 pounds). The Syracuse transfer was a third-team All-CAA selection and has been an effective member of the UMass line during his tenure. Cassleberry, a redshirt freshman, has yet to take the field for UMass and is a bit of a mystery. The Chicago native definitely brings some size to the table and obviously showed enough to be mentioned before both Anthony Dima and Vincent Westcarr. Milhim is a great offensive lineman, and, as Molnar mentioned, he will play – whether guard or tackle – no matter what.
Guard: Milhim, John Wallace, Michael Boland
There is a lot of youth at guard, and it looks like Molnar isn’t afraid to use it. Wallace, a local kid, is a redshirt freshman, and Boland is a true freshman. Molnar said that both will compete for a spot. Again, Milhim can fill in wherever he is needed. I was surprised that Malcolm Speller wasn’t mentioned with this group. While the senior has only played in two games during his time in Amherst, he would seem to bring a degree of experience to this relatively thin portion of the offense.
Defensive Line: (Ends) Stanley Andre, Ryan Delaire, Kevin Byrne, Brandon Potvin/(Tackles) Chaz Thompson, Galen Clemons, Hafis Williams, Daniel Maynes
It sounds like the defensive line is going to be like a game of musical chairs. UMass fans will be interested to see where Notre Dame transfer Williams fits in. He saw a decent amount of playing time while at South Bend and should bring that experience with him. Potvin and Thompson will be out to prove that they have improved after impressive performances last season where both had more than 20 tackles. Byrne and Clemons were not far behind. Andre, who began his career as a linebacker, will add some athleticism to the defensive end position. Maynes and Delaire haven’t had much experience to speak of.
Linebackers: Perry McIntyre, Tom Brandt, Greg Hilliard
McIntyre is a no-brainer, and may very well be the best football player on the team. McIntyre is the heart and soul of the defense, and will look to pick up with Tyler Holmes left off. If the reports are correct, Tom Brandt will be starting in lieu of his brother, Tim, even though Tim had more tackles (33) than Tom (9). Hilliard saw action in 10 games last year, and will be asked to significantly increase his production. I’m a little surprised that D.J. Adeoba won’t be starting out of the gates after an impressive season last year. It sounds like some fresh faces could end up in the fray with Jovan Santos-Knox and Leo Krizanovic impressing early.
Safeties: Darren Thellen, Christian Birt
Thellen will be the quarterback of the secondary this season, and has continuously improved during his career at UMass. I had a feeling it would be a two-man competition for that second spot, and it looks like Birt was able to hold off Ed Saint-Vil.
Cornerback: Randall Jette, Antoine Tharpe
Tharpe had a nice season last year and had 31 tackles with seven passes defended. He should continue to improve, and his numbers will certainly go up in a pass-heavy MAC. Jette is going to likely split time with true freshmen Trey Dudley-Giles and D’Metrius Williams, both of which have impressed Molnar during their first fall in Amherst. Between the three, none have any experience against FBS competition. This season should be an interesting learning experience for this group.