UMass football lacking playmaking, experience in skill positions

By Stephen Sellner

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When a team finishes 1-11 in its first season in the Football Bowl Subdivision, there are plenty of areas that need to be addressed.

And coming off an FBS-low 12.7 points per game, the Massachusetts football team lacked a playmaker on the outside that could lead to quick scoring drives instead of settling for long drives down the field.

Things won’t get any easier for the Minutemen, as their top three wide receivers – Deion Walker, Alan Williams and Marken Michel – are no longer with the team. Walker and Williams will graduate in the spring, while Michel left the team unexpectedly on Monday night.

UMass coach Charley Molnar said he hopes the coaching staff can fabricate big plays and make up for the lack of a game-changer on the offensive end.

“We don’t have a particular player on our team that is a breakaway threat as a running back right now. We don’t have a wide receiver that can make you miss and take the ball the distance,” Molnar said after practice Thursday. “But we’ve got a lot of guys that can run the ball and get nice chunks (of yardage), and we also have some wide receivers that can make some great plays down the field, so that’s how we’re gonna do it.”

Molnar added that freshman Tajae Sharpe – who will be a sophomore when the 2013 season starts – is the favorite to be the No. 1 receiver. Sharpe had 20 catches and 206 yards while playing in all 12 games last season.

Sharpe heads an inexperienced group that brings back only two others that recorded catches from a year ago. Sharpe also said he’s ready to take on more of a leadership role and even considers himself an upperclassman considering the younger receivers rounding out the group.

“We’re very young so we’re just taking it day by day,” Sharpe said. “We’re just trying to learn and get better, we’re just trying to work on our fundamentals and with that, we’ll be fine, I think.”

Molnar is expecting freshman Bernard Davis to take a big step this season after only tallying six grabs and 32 yards in his rookie campaign. Molnar said Davis has “excellent hands,” but hopes he expands on that to round out his repertoire.

“He needs to become a better route runner, he needs to play smart all the time, needs to give great effort all the time,” Molnar said. “I think he’s working on all those things. There’s no indication that he won’t get better in those particular areas.”

But the receiver position isn’t the only area that lacks experience or depth; sophomore Jordan Broadnax and freshman Jamal Wilson are the only returning backs that had carries last season. Broadnax had 138 rushing yards on 51 carries, while Wilson racked up just 48 yards on a minimal 17 carries.

“We’re very young at the running back. Besides me and Jamal, everybody else are freshmen or redshirt freshmen and transfers that are just coming in,” Broadnax said. “They’re just learning and I gotta be the one to teach them. There’s a lot of potential.”

UMass does have incoming freshman running back Lorenzo Woodley who should help address the lack of playmaking on the offense. Woodley was a three-star recruit from Miami, Fla., that had offers from Cincinnati, Florida State, West Virginia and Syracuse, as well as four other FBS schools.

As for the Minutemen on campus for spring ball, Molnar is hoping the hiccups that come with inexperience can be resolved gradually as the offseason progresses.

“That’s why we’re out here practicing,” he said.

Stephen Sellner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.