UMass Roster Breakdown: Wide Receivers

Photo by Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Photo by Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s football coverage will offer daily positional breakdown’s of the Massachusetts football team in the days leading up to the start of the 2014 summer training camp. Today, the focus is on the wide receivers. You can find previous breakdowns at the bottom of the page.

Returnees: Kevin Lovaincy (RS SO), Tajae Sharpe (JR), Ryan Jacobucci (RS SO), Shaquille Harris (SO), Iric Harris (RS JR), Elgin Long (RS JR), Shakur Nesmith (RS FR), Bernard Davis (JR)

Newcomers: T.J Kelley (FR), Lamarriel Taylor (FR), Alex Kenney (Graduate Student), Marken Michel (RS JR), Jalen Williams (JR), Connor Lemieux (RS FR), Alfred Adarkwah (FR)

Key Losses: E.J Burston (left the program)

Projected Starters: Tajae Sharpe, Jalen Williams

The Skinny: The Massachusetts receiving corps enters 2014 with plenty of returning depth.

The Massachusetts receiving corps also enters 2014 with plenty of questions about that returning depth and a cast of newcomers eager to gain reps quickly.

Outside of leading receiver Tajae Sharpe, who caught 61 balls for 680 yards and four touchdowns last season and is the most talented receiver on the team, the Minutemen are cluttered at the position. UMass returns Bernard Davis, Elgin Long, Shaquille Harris and Shakur Nesmith, which is normally a good sign for a youthful position looking to build on the prior season.

However, those four receivers combined to catch just 33 passes for 353 yards and two scores in a combined total of 32 games. And while some of that could be contributed to shaky quarterback play, it was clear once Mark Whipple replaced Charley Molnar that the coaching staff wasn’t content with what it already.

The reinforcements came quickly.

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UMass Roster Breakdown: Tight Ends

Photo by Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

Photo by Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s football coverage will offer daily positional breakdown’s of the Massachusetts football team in the days leading up to the start of the 2014 summer training camp. Today, the focus is on the tight ends. You can find previous breakdowns at the bottom of the page.

Returnees: Rodney Mills (JR), Brandon Howard (RS JR)

Newcomers: Sharif Custis (RS FR), Jordan Fiske (FR), John Lucier (FR), Jon Denton (JR), Jean Sifrin (JR)

Key Losses: Rob Blanchflower, Ricardo Miller

Projected Starter: Jean Sifrin

The Skinny: Who is going to replace Rob Blanchflower (pictured above)?

It’s simple really.  When looking at the tight end core for the 2014 UMass season there’s only one question that needs to be answered: Who is going to replace Rob Blanchflower?

Blanchflower was the Minutemen’s biggest offensive weapon for the past two season, when healthy and on the field.  And despite missing chunks of both 2012 and 2013 due to injury, Blanchflower was one of the few UMass playmakers that opposing defenses had to scheme for.

Now catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Blanchflower set records for UMass including most receiving yards by a tight end (1,164).  Although his on-field presence will certainly be missed, the two-time captain’s leadership off the field will be severely missed by the Minutemen as well.

If any UMass fans are expecting someone to fall into their laps to replace the load the Blanchflower carried, they are going to be severely disappointed.

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UMass Roster Breakdown: Offensive Line

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s football coverage will offer daily positional breakdown’s of the Massachusetts football team in the days leading up to the start of the 2014 summer training camp. Today, the focus is on the offensive line. You can find previous breakdowns at the bottom of the page.

Returnees: Elijah Wilkinson (SO), Tyshon Henderson (SO), Fabian Hoeller (SO), Femi Oyewole (RS SO), Matt Sparks (JR), Tyrell Smith (RS SO), Enock Asante (SO), Josh Bruns (RS JR)

Newcomers: Sam Zeff (RS FR), Dmitri Angelas (FR), Anthony Fernandez (FR), Dan DiNicola (FR), Ryan Johnson (JR), Rich Queen (RS FR), Liam Porter (RS JR)

Key Losses: Anthony Dima, Vincent Westcarr, David Osei

Projected Starters: LT Tyrell Smith, LG Elijah Wilkinson, C Matt Sparks, RG Josh Bruns, RT Tyshon Henderson

The Skinny: In 2013, UMass was the beneficiary of an offensive line ladled with veteran experience and continuity, as injuries didn’t impact the composition of the line until very late in the season.

At the outset of this year, the Minutemen simply don’t have that luxury.

Gone are mainstays Anthony Dima (pursuing a professional career), Vincent Westcarr and David Osei. And while UMass does return a bevy of players with experience in the system, finding the right mix will presumably take some time.

What the Minutemen start with is a mixture of promise and potential combined with sheer physical size. Sophomore’s Tyrell Smith and Tyshon Henderson worked as bookends in the spring game with Smith starting at left tackle and Henderson at right tackle. Henderson stands considerably larger at 6-foot-7, 340 pounds and has experience at both tackle positions while Smith measures in at 6-foot-5, 295 pounds and spent last season as the starting left guard.

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UMass Roster Breakdown: Special Teams

Photo by Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

Photo by Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s football coverage will offer daily positional breakdown’s of the Massachusetts football team in the days leading up to the start of the 2014 summer training camp. Today, the focus is on the special teams. You can find previous breakdowns at the bottom of the page.

Returnees: K Blake Lucas (JR)

Newcomers: K Matthew Wylie (FR), K Markus Colin (RS FR), P Logan Laurent (RS FR). P Brian McDonald (Graduate Student)

Key Losses: P Colter Johnson

Projected Starters: K Blake Lucas, P Brian McDonald

The Skinny: The casual UMass football fan probably won’t immediately turn his or her’s watchful eye to the special teams unit during training camp.

In fact, even a seasoned supported of the Maroon and White may find it difficult to devote time to the kicking game. After all, on a checklist of camp battles which includes, well, just about every position, checking out the newest punting regime may require a little extra leg work. But after the Minutemen graduated mainstay punter Colter Johnson and return a kicker in Blake Lucas who made just 3-of-10 field goals a season ago, there are jobs to be earned in the kicking game.

Lucas figures to have the inside track – at least initially – at earning the starting kicking role. After making 7-of-8 his freshman year, he struggled to generate any type of consistency last year. Lucas’ struggles culminated in a dismal performance against Western Michigan in which he missed two crucial field goals, prompting former coach Charley Molnar to go for two and the win at the end of the game instead of putting overtime in the hands of his kicking game. Lucas was replaced by kicker Brendon Levengood following the loss. His career-long is 42 yards, although his range extends slightly beyond that as seen in the Wisconsin game, and he at least has experience kicking in game action.

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UMass Roster Breakdown: Defensive Line

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s football coverage will offer daily positional breakdown’s of  the Massachusetts football team in the days leading up to the start of the 2014 summer training camp. Today, the focus is on the defensive line. You can find a list of previous breakdowns at the bottom of the page. 

Returnees: Daniel Maynes (RS SR), Adam Richard (RS SO), Michael Dowe Jr. (RS SO), Robert Kitching (JR), Leo Krizanovic (RS SO), Peter Angeh (SO), Al Leneus (JR)

Newcomers: Chris Carter (FR), Josh Smiley (FR), Jack Wayne (FR), Jake Largay (FR), Joe Tyo (RS FR), Sha-ki Holines (RS FR), Da’Sean Downey (FR), Lukas Kolter (FR)

Key Losses: Justin Anderson, Galen Clemons, Brandon Potvin, Kevin Byrne

Projected Starters: Peter Angeh (DE), Daniel Maynes (DT), Sha-Ki Holines (DE)

The Skinny: The defensive line is the biggest question mark for UMass this season.

Hands down the most inexperienced unit entering 2014, the Minutemen’s defensive line currently poses more questions than answers. Whereas most teams are tasked with replacing a player or two each year, UMass will face the daunting task of replacing an entire unit. Justin Anderson, Galen Clemons, Brandon Potvin and Kevin Byrne all contributed significantly a season ago and all graduated. With Trey Seals making the switch to outside linebacker in the new 3-4 defensive scheme, UMass doesn’t have a just a few holes to fill, instead will be forced to fill a hole, let’s say the size of the Grand Canyon.

Ok maybe the Grand Canyon reference is a little too much, but replacing the line is definitely going to take some serious work. Anderson led the team last year in sacks (4) and tackles-for-loss (7.5), and finished fifth on the team in total tackles (57). Potvin finished second on the team in sacks (2) as him and Anderson were the only two players to record more than a single sack on the season.

Let’s forget the individual play for a second. As a team, the Minutemen recorded only 12 sacks for the entire season, which was ranked second to last in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision. Add on the top four contributors from the line are all gone and there is some major concern for position coach Dave Sollazzo.

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UMass Roster Breakdown: Linebackers

Photo by Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

Photo by Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s football coverage will offer daily positional breakdown’s of  the Massachusetts football team in the days leading up to the start of the 2014 summer training camp. Today, the focus is on the linebackers. You can find a list of previous breakdowns at the bottom of the page. 

Returnees: Trey Seals (RS JR), Jovan Santos-Knox (JR), Vondell Langston (RS SO), Kassan Messiah (JR), John Robinson-Woodgett (RS SO), Shane Huber (SO), Peter Ngobidi (SO), Michael Mckenna (RS JR), Stanley Andre (RS SR)

Newcomers: Zeke Edmonds (FR), Da’Sean Downey (FR), Andrew Ellis (RS FR), Steve Casali (RS FR), Hassan Graham (RS FR)

Key Losses: Ed Saint-Vil, Tom Brandt

Projected Starters: Trey Seals (OLB), Jovan Santos-Knox (ILB), Stanley Andre (ILB), Kassan Messiah (OLB)

The Skinny: From top to bottom, UMass’ most talented position may be the linebackers.

Even with the decision to move to a 3-4 and feature an extra linebacker on the field in base packages, finding playing time for a vast array of players will be a tricky dance for Minutemen coach Mark Whipple and defensive coordinator Tom Masella.

UMass is stout up the middle, with Stanley Andre returning for his redshirt senior season as one of the most reliable players on defense. Andre started all 12 games a season ago and racked up 111 tackles. The season before, he started every game as a defensive lineman. He’s a proven run-stopper and should thrive as an inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense as opposed to spending more time as a roving middle linebacker in a 4-3.

Jovan Santos-Knox started next to Andre in the spring game and should be a favorite to command a starting role this season. He’s a solid compliment to Andre in the sense that Santos-Knox can act as a more dynamic playmaker. He appeared in all 12 games in 2013 (four starts) and made three tackles for losses, added half a sack and an interception in addition to 33 total tackles. He’ll add an athletic dynamic as Andre acts as more of a traditional run-stopper.

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UMass Roster Breakdown: Defensive Secondary

Photo by Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

Photo by Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s football coverage will offer daily positional breakdown’s of  the Massachusetts football team in the days leading up to the start of the 2014 summer training camp. Today, the focus is on the defensive secondary. You can find a list of previous breakdown’s at the bottom of the page.

Returnees: Randall Jette (RS JR), Trey Dudley-Giles (JR), Joe Colton (JR), Khary Bailey-Smith (JR), D’Metrius Williams (JR), Quayshun Smith (SR), D.J Woods (SO), Duvaughn Beckford (RS JR), Jaurice Jones (JR)

Newcomers: Jesse Monteiro (RS FR), Lucas Amato (RS FR), Charan Singh (FR), Jarell Addo (FR), Michael Grasis (RS FR), Jeremy Rodriguez (FR), Jackson Porter (RS FR)

Key Losses: Devin Brown, Antoine Tharpe

Projected Starters: Randall Jette (CB), Trey Dudley-Giles (CB), Joe Colton (S), Khary Bailey-Smith (S)

The Skinny: We’ll open our roster breakdown with a positional area in serious need of depth, the defensive secondary.

All jokes aside, despite having 16 players listed as defensive backs, the secondary offers UMass both familiar faces and dependency, something other areas of the team cannot. The team returns both starting cornerbacks in Randall Jette and Trey Dudley-Giles as well as starting safety Joe Colton.

Predicting projected starters is a bit of a treacherous prospect considering the new regime has the flexibility to form new opinions and the prior regime often cycled through players in a perplexing manner. But it’d be a tremendous surprise if Jette and Dudley-Giles weren’t starting on the corners against Boston College to open the season. Jette’s started all 23 games of his college career and led the Minutemen in pass break-up’s a season ago with 12. He chipped in an interception, 45 tackles and contributed on special teams as well.

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