The Minutemen, playing their final year in Division I-FCS, will have a new defensive alignment and a new QB.
AMHERST -- To call 2011 a year of change for the University of Massachusetts football team is putting it mildly.
It's not only UMass' last year in the Colonial Athletic Association and Division I-FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) play, but as the Minutemen transition into Division I-FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) play next year, they'll do it with a new defense and a new quarterback.
The Minutemen are not eligible for the CAA title or the Division I-FCS postseason. That means UMass will just play an 11-game schedule.
"For a lot of seniors, this could be our last time ever playing the game," said linebacker Tyler Holmes, a preseason All-America selection and the CAA preseason defensive player of the year. "Our attitude is positive, regardless of postseason play or anything like that. We've had great energy in preseason, and I'm just very excited waiting for the season."
Holmes is one of several Minutemen who are being moved around the football field by head coach Kevin Morris and his staff. That's because new defensive coordinator Frank Forcucci has installed the 3-4 defense. That replaces the 4-3 favored by former defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski, who joined former UMass head coach Don Brown at Maryland. Brown is the defensive coordinator there under former Connecticut coach Randy Edsall.
Morris said the new defense was put in during spring practice, and now the Minutemen are working to refine what they have to do on that side of the football.
"At first, I was stressed studying to learn the new coverages and stuff. I got it all down now," linebacker Courtney Jackson said.
The redshirt senior from Brandywine, Md., has had to make more of an adjustment than many of his teammates because he was a defensive end last year. Jackson had 15 tackles in eight games in 2010. He said that the adjustment to rushing from a standing position instead of a three-point stance isn't too difficult, since he did it in high school.
"The hardest part is remembering the pass coverages and all the new terminology," he said. "Other guys have played the position before or they have played in the secondary and they got moved. I never had to listen to the coverages."
Offensively, the Minutemen have key returnees in skill positions like running back Jonathan Hernandez, wide receiver Julian Talley and tight end Emil Igwenagu. It's the quarterback position where UMass' season may rise or fall.
There are six quarterbacks looking to replace Kyle Havens. As of Wednesday, redshirt sophomore Kellen Pagel and sophomore Brandon Hill were battling for the top spot. Morris said he might have a better idea of who will start by next week.
"The tempo of practice we've had day in and day out has been as good as it's ever been," the third-year head coach said. "It goes to the senior leadership with [co-captains] Holmes and Igwenagu. It's a real quality group. They understand how important it is to have that tempo."