The 2012 Massachusetts football team was a team in transition. UMass coach Charley Molnar was starting his first head coaching job on a team entering its first Football Bowl Subdivision season.
That first practice was about learning a new system with a new style of coaching, while preparing to play the program’s first season in the Mid-American Conference.
The first practice of 2013 was a whole different story.
The Minutemen hit the McGuirk Stadium turf for its first day of training camp on Monday in shorts and helmets. And although it was far from perfect, Molnar could see a significant difference from Year 1 to Year 2.
“As I reflect back to a year ago, I was optimistic coming off the field because we had made progress in the first summer camp from where we ended up spring ball, so I felt good,” Molnar said. “But if I could compare first practice of 2012 versus 2013, it’s a night and day difference.
“Just the way the guys look, the way that they worked — not just the demands that the coaches have for them that they’re trying to meet but the demands that they’ve placed on themselves — you saw and heard guys encouraging other guys to keep up and keep going and that’s a good thing.”
Molnar could not only see improvements from summer 2012 to summer 2013, but also strides made from spring practice to now.
“It was really great. It was fun to work with the players and to see the improvement that they’ve made,” Molnar said. “They seem to be more together, they really do understand the way that we wanna practice. I thought the tempo was good, much much longer than it was probably at any point out there during summer camp (last year).”
One of Molnar’s biggest concerns last season was the depth of the offensive line. The group was hampered by injuries last season and the whole offense struggled greatly as a result. UMass finished last in the MAC in total offense and closed 2012 with a 1-11 record.
The second-year coach felt much more confident about his line Monday, however. With experienced players from last season returning, including Outland Trophy candidate Anthony Dima, and the addition of tackle David Osei from Rutgers and five freshmen, depth appears to be no longer an issue. In total, the Minutemen had 16 offensive linemen on the practice field.
“I had the biggest smile on my face knowing I don’t have to stop and try to reconfigure things like we did in the spring and even at points in the fall (last season),” Molnar said.
The season-opener at Wisconsin Aug. 31 is still a long way away. While Molnar is excited to kick the regular season off, he knows his team still has plenty of adjustments and improvements to make before being fully prepared for regular-season football.
In fact, he’s not even ready to put his team in pads yet.
“I just want to see us get through the first day of installation offensively, defensively, special teams; see how they handle that,” Molnar said. “I like how the it builds up from helmets, to shoulder pads, to gear, then finally into tackling and scrimmaging.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.