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It’s what’s up front that matters on UMass offense

  • University of Massachusetts QBs Ross Comis, left, and Andrew Ford, third from left, work on hand-offs with centers Derek Dumais and Lukas Kolter during a summer practice session. gazette photo

  • University of Massachusetts QB Andrew Ford, right, and center Derek Dumais warm up during a summer practice session. gazette photo



For The Recorder
Tuesday, August 22, 2017

AMHERST — When UMass offensive line breaks the huddle for its first offensive play from scrimmage in Saturday’s season opener, only Jake Largay, who’ll line up at right guard, will go to the same position he played when the Minutemen played Hawaii nine months ago.

UMass has known commodities at tight end, receiver, running back and quarterback. How the line evolves could go a long way toward determining how much success the offense will have.

Sophomore right tackle Jack Driscoll said the group is comfortable with the responsibility it’s facing.

“We have some new starters and kids playing different positions. We know we have to jell. We know we’ve got a lot of pressure on us, but we’ve had a good camp,” he said. “Kids have really stepped up. I’m happy where we are right now and I’m excited for Saturday.”

Sophomore Ray Thomas-Ishman Sr., who went by Raquan Thomas last year, moves from left guard to left tackle. Driscoll, who started at right tackle early last year when Michael Boland was injured, will start there this season.

Junior Lukas Kolter, who missed all of last year with a foot injury, takes over at left guard, while sophomore Derek Dumais replaces stalwart Fabian Hoeller at center.

UMass coach Mark Whipple said that although roles have changed, the starters have been tested before.

“Up front, we’re just better than we’ve been. We have more guys that can play,” he said. “We’re probably deeper than we’ve been. We’ve got to continue to improve, but they’ve been pretty solid. We don’t have any freshmen starting. Everybody has at least been in a game. That makes a big difference.”

It’s not just the starters. Reserves Mike Yerardi and Dan DiNicola have played before.

Nobody on the first or second unit is a senior, meaning the group has time to grow together.

“It came together really good. We’re way better than we were last year,” Thomas-Ishman said. “We’re more prepared. We’re more together. We’re going to be with each other for a long time. It’s a brother unit. We know how to work with each other. We know each other and how to get better together.”

Offensive line coach Mike Foley liked their development so far and the potential for it to continue.

“You can have individuals who are good players, but they have to be on the same page. You’ve got to get a good feel for the guy playing next to you and what they can do,” he said. “They’re very good that way. It’s key for them to build group integrity.”

The following is a look at the offense, according to the two-deep depth chart released by UMass on Monday:

Quarterback

Starting: Whipple said both Andrew Ford and Ross Comis will play. He hasn’t said what the breakdown will be between them or how he’ll determine when to use who.

Reserves: Sophomores Randall West and Michael Curtis will provide depth should both No. 1s get hurt.

Running Back

Starting: Junior Marquis Young will be the featured tailback as long as he’s healthy, while senior Malik Lee is expected to start at fullback.

Reserves: Bilal Ally will be the No. 2 ballcarrier entering the season, while sophomores Tyshaun Ingram, a converted defensive back, and sophomore Nick Orekoya will provide dept at tailback. Senior Andrew Libby and redshirt freshman Avien Peah will see action behind Lee.

Offensive Line

Starting: Thomas-Ishman, Kolter, Dumais, Driscoll and Largay

Reserves: Sophomore Mike Yerardi and redshirt freshman Larnel Coleman will certainly see action, while junior Dan DiNicola and redshirt freshman James Reilly should get chances to contribute as well.

Tight End

Starting: Breneman

Reserves: Junior Travis Reynolds and sophomore Kyle Horn will both see action in place of or alongside Breneman.

Wide Receiver

Starting: Junior Andy Isabella and sophomore Sadiq Palmer are listed atop the depth chart.

Reserves: Junior Jacoby Herring and redshirt freshman Brennon Dingle will see action as well. Freshman Jesse Britt impressed Whipple early in camp and could play himself into playing time as well.