Joe Colton expected to see action at both safety and linebacker in 2015

By Andrew Cyr

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

Joe Colton isn’t the kind of guy who backs down from challenges, no matter how big or small.

Listed at just 5-foot-10, 196-pounds on the roster, Colton made himself a staple in the Massachusetts football team’s secondary at strong safety with his ability to not only cover downfield, but to come up and make tackles in the run game as well.

Now with added depth to the secondary with newcomer Kelton Brackett at cornerback, and Trey Dudley-Giles moving back to safety, Colton will face a new test this season making a transition to playing some outside linebacker in Whipple’s 3-4 defense.

Colton, along with Zeke Edmonds, will be playing more of a “rover” position this season, which is a term used for a player that will play either safety or linebacker depending on the formation or play. Some teams will even use a rover as a player solely responsible for marking up the opponent’s best player.

“I’ve always felt like I’ve been a box player anyway,” Colton said. “If coach wants to put me down there and go with some bigger guys then I’m down for that. I love that kind of stuff.”

Colton finished the 2014 season third on the team with 98 tackles and one sack. Cornerback Randall Jette was second amongst the defensive backs in tackles (67) with 31 fewer tackles than Colton.

Colton has appeared in 33 career games at UMass, all of which had come at safety. In those 33 games he has recorded a total of 212 tackles, 11.5 of which were for losses.

“He’s played a lot of football so he can play in the back end and we can move him down,” head coach Mark Whipple said.

Whipple praised Colton’s versatility and said that this move something the team experimented with in the spring.

“He’s the key to our defense. He’s played safety, he can play on the line of scrimmage and is a good blitzer so we can move him around.”

The Minutemen will be moving a lot of different players around this season, as Colton is replacing Trey Seals’ spot at outside linebacker, who will play more of a hybrid defensive end and linebacker.

Whipple credited the ability to move guys around to the added depth UMass has this season. The additions of Brackett and Larry Franklin, with Shane Huber and John Robinson-Woodget expected to play much bigger roles this season, the Minutemen will have a much bigger array of defenses to choose from.

He also mentioned that with injuries happened left and right throughout the season, having players who can play multiple positions is an added bonus for Whipple this year.

“We didn’t have enough last year. We couldn’t move Jackson Porter. We just didn’t have enough players. It gives you a little bit more flexibility, especially with guys working hard,” Whipple said.

After missing some time in camp and with a bye in week one of the season, Colton’s anticipation and anxiousness to get back on the field is higher than it’s ever been before.

“I can’t stand practice anymore. I just want to go. … You’re going out against the scout team but you just want to go out there against the opponent and that’s how I feel right now,” Colton said.

“I’m sick of camp, I’m sick of hitting our guys and I want to go hit somebody else.”

Colton will see a mixture of snaps both at linebacker and safety in UMass’ season opener at Colorado on Saturday.

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.