Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A.J. Doyle looks forward to contributing in a tight end role

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Massachusetts football coach Mark Whipple and quarterbacks coach Liam Coen approached A.J. Doyle with an idea.

The Minutemen were low on tight end depth and in Doyle, an athletic quarterback with size, they saw an opportunity. A senior next season, he’s firmly entrenched behind star quarterback Blake Frohnapfel on the depth chart and the team is already beginning to look ahead, with Ross Comis and Austin Whipple earning reserve reps behind Frohnapfel. Doyle won’t get meaningful snaps at quarterback unless it’s a grim necessity.

But what about at tight end? UMass had the opportunity and Doyle had the attributes. At worst, trying him at the new position is an experiment in depth building as the summer approaches. At best, the team suddenly had a viable pass-catcher to add to its rotation of offensive options. Of course it was contingent on Doyle being receptive to the idea.

He was.

“They said it was an opportunity to get me on the field,” Doyle said following Friday’s spring game.

“Obviously, right now, our tight end depth isn’t very good. So it’s an opportunity to get me on the field, compete and help the team win.”

It’s atypical that a player with 10 career starts at quarterback switches position this late in his career. Just last summer, Doyle entered training camp competing with Frohnapfel for the starting job. He didn’t win it and redshirted all of last season, meaning he has two years of eligibility remaining.

Doyle could’ve sought a chance to play quarterback somewhere else via transferring. Instead, he’s remained committed to UMass.

“It’s all about just helping this team win and contributing any way I can,” Doyle said. “Obviously, Blake’s going to be the guy and I want to do anything I can to help this team.”

“I just want to finish my degree right now,” Doyle said later. “And I love these guys. We’ve been through so much stuff the past three years that I want to see it through. I want to graduate from here and hopefully I get my fifth year (of eligibility) and hopefully we do some special things.”

According to Mark Whipple, Doyle will still work with the quarterbacks and is an option as a backup. But the opportunity to shift to tight end is the best scenario to maximize Doyle’s contribution on the field.

Doyle said he believes the transition will be difficult but he’s looking forward to it. Before Friday’s game, he had participated in only three practices at tight end, one of which was a scrimmage.

But Doyle said he looked into it — he even placed a call to former UMass tight end and close friend Rob Blanchflower, who currently plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers — and believes it’s something he’s capable of handling, despite never practicing running a passing pattern before.

“When coach Whipple approached me about playing tight end I knew it was something I could do,” Doyle said.

The reason? He believes he fits the part, both physically and mentally.

“I’m big, I can move,” Doyle said. “Being a quarterback, I know where the right end is supposed to be on every play and know what routes they’re supposed to run, what types of conversions they have on different routes. It’s easy but at the same time it’s difficult because it’s a new position and a new thing.”

Currently, only Brandon Howard (eight career catches) has caught a pass for UMass at tight end. The team lists Rodney Mills as a tight end, but at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Mills is more of a receiver/H-back than a traditional tight end.

Behind them is Sharif Custis (redshirt freshman), Shaquille Harris (a converted receiver), Jon Lucier (freshman, injured) and Todd Stafford (a converted quarterback). When asked whether Doyle could learn from Stafford, he said the two were in different situations.

“I’ve still been working some at quarterback,” he said. “It’s just getting a mix of both so I can get on the field. That way, if Blake goes down my name’s up to be able to go in for Blake if the coaches choose so. And if they want me to stay at tight end, that’s what I’m going to do.

“I want to do whatever I can to help this team win.”

It’s unclear whether Doyle will stick at tight end, as he has roughly three months to learn a brand new position. The team also has two tight end recruits in Travis Reynolds and Artayvious Lynn entering next semester.

For now, Doyle’s just taking it all in stride.

“I think so far it’s been a lot of fun and it’s been pretty easy,” he said. “(The coaches) haven’t put too much on my plate.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.

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