It wasn’t a game, but a fully-padded scrimmage was the next best thing for the University of Massachusetts football team.
Coach Walt Bell was pretty happy about things.
“It was a good scrimmage,” Bell said. “We came out of it really healthy, which is always a huge plus and isn’t always the case. You have to count your blessings when you can.”
Bell, his players and staff still don’t have an official first game scheduled. In a text to The Eagle, UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said there is nothing set “in stone” yet, and there are still many moving parts. He wrote that it is also possible that the Minutemen might not know an opponent until the week of a particular game.
One team that has often been mentioned as a potential UMass opponent is Army. According to the Middletown (N.Y.) Times-Herald Record, Army has been looking to possibly reschedule a postponed game with BYU. The two schools may end up not having a mutually-satisfying date.
The Cadets have three openings this fall: Oct. 31, Nov. 28, and Dec. 5. As of Monday, Division I-FBS independent Liberty also has a Nov. 28 free date. That was when UMass was supposed to play the Flames. That game could be rescheduled.
While it is theoretical that UMass could play this weekend, it would be highly improbable. That means the first possible game would be Oct. 17.
For his part, Bell said that trying to pack pre-season and regular-season practices into a regular-season schedule has been an adventure.
“That’s one of the things that’s been so interesting about the situation that we’re in right now. Typically, this would be fall camp, 16-18 hours a day of wall-to-wall football with no interruptions. Now, our crash course and training is coming in the middle of an NCAA-mandated 20-hour work week with school involved,” Bell said. “You get 3 to 4 hours a day to get all of what you normally would have 16-18 hours a day to do.
“Time on task, man.”
The second-year head coach had his team’s preseason camp stopped in its tracks when the school announced it would not be playing football this autumn. Then on Sept. 24, Bamford and Bell appeared on a Zoom call with reporters, announcing that the Minutemen would schedule games this fall instead of waiting for the spring.
That has meant that the UMass coaching staff has gone from instructing players on the basics during summer camp, to doing it in-season, which means that the coaches have their players for 20 hours per week.
In a Zoom call with reporters on Monday, Bell said that even with 12 practices, some positions are closer to having starters than others.
“There are positions where we have to find out who ‘that guy’ is going to be. There are certain positions where we have to find out who the next best guy is going to be. It really is position group by position group,” Bell said. “I know that’s probably not specific enough, but that’s kind of where we are right now.”
Sophomore Jermaine “O.C.” Johnson leads the receiving corps, and will likely be a starter when the season begins. Samuel Emilus, a junior who was picked as a special teamer on the Phil Steele All-Independent team, could be another starter. Bell did not commit to names but said that he and the staff are trying to firm up receivers three through five. The offensive line is a place where the staff might be confident with a starting five, but the top reserves are still in question. Bell also said that the running back rotation looks to be in pretty good shape.
“Rotation along the D-Line, we’re in a much better position than we were a year ago. I think at the linebacker position, just trying to get as many of those young guys as many game-like reps as possible,” said Bell, referring to freshman linebackers Gerrell Johnson, Myles Turner and Abdoul Kone. “Knowing that ‘Cube’ [Cole McCubrey] and [Mike] Ruane have played so much ball. In the defensive backfield, it’s the same thing. We’re trying to find the best combination of guys.
“We have eight or nine guys we feel really good about, and now it’s just what combinations in what spots.”