We have not been able to make it out yet to a Boston College or UMass practice or scrimmage, but we have spoken to the coaches, and right now there are not any huge surprises.
As we tweeted out on Saturday, Bell singled out a handful of players when we asked him who has stood out in camp thus far. This was his exact answer:
"I think (wide receiver) Brennon Dingle is having a really good camp. I think (wide receiver) Zak Simon has had some good days. Kyle Horn as a tight end has had a pretty nice camp. Bilal Ally at tailback, he's doing a nice job. Defensively, (defensive lineman) Jake Byczko, (linebacker) Chinedu Ogbonna, (cornerback) Isaiah Rodgers. Those guys are all doing a pretty nice job."
As you can tell from that group, those are players who you'd probably expect to be doing well so far. It is important, in our opinion, the players like Byczko and Ogbonna shine early, as defending the run in general has to be a priority for a defense that was one of the worst in the country in that statistic a year ago.
But going off what we saw in the spring, linebacker was an area we really liked, at least off the hoof, with the Minutemen. It is getting that depth and quality rotation on the defensive line that has to develop for the run defense to take that next step forward.
Now, if you want to go glass half-empty with Bell's answer, he did not name a quarterback who has popped yet. At this stage of the preseason, we don't want to get ahead of ourselves when it comes to projecting who will start at that position.
One thing we do know for sure is that Bell does not want just anyone standing back there and slinging the ball around. His expectations for the position in this offense are pretty high, so if he is not gushing over someone right now, that is also not necessarily a huge surprise.
Another aspect of the team that Bell really stresses is the need for a well-conditioned group that can handle its up-tempo style. We asked him about that, too.
"From a conditioning standpoint, we are much improved," Bell said. "Much improved. From a tempo standpoint, we always kind of have the attitude around here that nothing is ever good enough. We've still got a long way to go in terms of our processing skills, and just our ability to get aligned, get set, go play the next play."
Read between the lines there, and you can maybe say that if you have an experienced quarterback in this system, those problems aren't as evident. For now, UMass fans will have to be patient there, and we may not have any real answers until the opener at Rutgers.
As far as Boston College is concerned, we asked BC defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan about former Everett star Jason Maitre, and how the redshirt freshman is coming along at cornerback.
This was Sheridan's answer: "I'm excited. And he's been practicing. I know you're saying he had been nicked up (an injury shortened his 2018 season), but he's out there right now, and he has talent. No argument there. He's got genetic talent. He's young in all kinds of areas of being young — inexperience on the field. As he matures from the neck up and just volume of playing, he's going to get better and better because he has talent. He'll contribute this year for sure."
Maitre, in practice reports, continues to show well both as a defender and a punt returner, and we are interested to see how the former Crimson Tide star emerges.
As for the tight ends, we wrote about how the Eagles utilize the position, and one name that keeps jumping out is Hunter Long. On Media Day, we asked tight ends coach Frank Leonard about his potential.
"Hunter Long is a special guy," Leonard said. "Hunter is 6-feet-5, 250 pounds. He's a low-4.6 (seconds in the 40-yard dash). He's been timed in the high-4.5. He is a very, very intelligent guy, both in the classroom and on the field. He's developed into a very solid run blocker. And, of course, if you've ever been to spring practice, a lot of the guys, when the scouts come, they'll say, 'Who's No. 80?' And the other guys know it. And Hunter's been great with some of the things that have come his way. He knows he has to continue to develop. He should be a tremendous threat for us this year."
This is a position that has several locals that could see time. Even true freshman Keith Ridley out of Lynn Classical is listed on the roster as a tight end. Here is what Leonard had to say about some of the other players there.
Chris Garrison (Goffstown, N.H./Lawrence Academy): "Christian was a high school wide receiver. He's up to 252 pounds. He's very versatile. He has very, very good speed. He has very, very good hands. We move him around. He can play in-line. He can play off. He has really developed. We're excited about him."
Danny Dalton (Marshfield/Penn State): "When he went into the portal, we were very, very excited. I worked with three of the coaches at Penn State. They had great things to say about him. We're very excited to get him. Over the course of the first four practices, his physicality, believe it or not, has developed each day. He wasn't put in quite that role at Penn State, so he's developing. We're very enthusiastic about what we see so far. Certainly, the first couple non-padded practices, he caught the ball, he ran. But then, the first padded practice, he did some nice things. But then (Monday) he showed the willingness to be even more physical."
Jake Burt (Lynnfield/St. John's Prep): "I've always been, like all of us, a huge Jake Burt fan. He had a very good spring. Of course, last year, he had a great preseason, and he got to play last year. Of course, it's hard to play a lot in front of Tom Sweeney, but he had a great spring practice, and so far he's doing a great job this preseason. He's as mentally broad, intelligent, as he is physically."
And as the season draws closer, there are a lot of key positions to keep an eye on at The Heights, but it will still largely come down to the health of quarterback Anthony Brown and running back AJ Dillon.
Brown's two primary backups from last season — EJ Perry and Matt McDonald — are no longer at BC. There is good depth behind Dillon, especially with Travis Levy and an emerging David Bailey, but you want your darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate to be on the field as much as possible.
That should go without saying, but as BC prepares for Virginia Tech, the health of Brown and Dillon can make or break the Eagles' season.