As training camp comes to a close and practice preparations for Boston College gain momentum, it’s easy to forget that it hasn’t even been three full weeks since the Massachusetts football team embarked on the 2014 season.
On a micro level, players have worked daily to adjust to new schemes both offensively and defensively. New names such as defensive backs Jackson Porter or Zeke Edmonds don’t seem as new when they trudge off the practice field daily and consistently take reps with the first team. For those who follow the team closely, the Minutemen are starting to take shape.
So it’s easy to forget that many of the players, especially along the defense, are still relatively new and have little-to-no experience. Freshmen haven’t played in a real game and some players are starting for the first time. The defense has just two seniors in Stanley Andre and Daniel Maynes. It’s a young group adapting to new surroundings and with that comes growing pains.
“It’s a lot of young guys playing,” defensive coordinator Tom Masella said. “You look at the depth chart, it’s a lot of young guys. There’s a lot of guys going through this for the first time.”
The youth is most evident along the defensive secondary, which now features Porter as a starting cornerback and both Edmonds, redshirt freshman Jesse Monteiro and freshman Charan Singh as players competing for a limited number of snaps.
The team has worked freshman outside linebacker Da’Sean Downey behind veterans Trey Seals and Kassan Messiah and the entire defensive line is youthful outside of Maynes, who is working his way back into shape from a back injury.
“We’ve had to sprinkle some of those other kids in with the (starters),” Masella said. “Because you don’t play with 11 guys on one side of the ball or the other, you play with a lot more than that…And I think we have a good idea of what our nucleus is going into Boston College but we have to keep developing other kids to get them closer to ready.”
With that youth comes, at times, frustration. Coach Mark Whipple called Thursday’s scrimmage “probably our worst day” of camp and stressed the team needs an uptick in secondary leadership. The team ran a bevy of wind sprints and the defense walked off the field frustrated at its inability to limit big, game-changing type plays.
“I think today was more I wanted to see effort and communication and cohesiveness,” Masella said.
“At times it was there, at times it wasn’t. We have to get our kids to understand, the only way to play defense is at 100 miles an hour. Every snap, all the time. We still don’t do that on a consistent basis and we have to…if you take a play off, that may be a big play.”
Masella did note the defense hasn’t made enough decisive plays.
“One disappointing thing is we haven’t caused enough turnovers,” he said. “And that’s something that we have to stress, we have to cause some turnovers and certainly that’s something we’ll talk to our players about.”
Forming a cohesive defense while adding in new, inexperienced parts takes time and won’t be a finished product by week one. Traditionally, younger guys have relied on veterans to provide leadership. Andre, a redshirt senior middle linebacker, is the leader of the defense, but other players with experience will be asked to step up as well.
Masella said the veterans in the defensive secondary — Trey Dudley-Giles, Joe Colton and Randall Jette — are taking on some of that responsibility, but cautioned that it’s a difficult venture.
“In one sense, they’re still fighting and figuring things out a little bit back there,” Masella said.
“It’s hard to worry about somebody else when you’re worried about what you’re doing. It’s getting closer and those kids are leaders but they’re fighting to get their area right. They’ve gotten better and better but again, it has to be better as we go.”
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli