AMHERST — Aside from the scheme installation, player evaluation, and other aspects to spring practice, most coaches at this time of year are also looking at tempo, energy, and conditioning.
For UMass coach Walt Bell and his young staff, some of those qualities were evident on Thursday. It was a crisp practice, there was not a lot of loafing between stations, and the Minutemen generally looked up to the workouts Bell and Co. ran them through.
Still, just a handful practices into his tenure at Amherst, Bell knows there are improvements to be made in those respects..
"We're a lot better on Day Five than Day One, but we're nowhere close to where we need to be," Bell said. "The good news is we've got all the way until Friday night the end of August. So we've got a while, but it takes a while just to understand how we want to practice, the tempo we want to practice, the amount of reps, the amount of volume that we're going to accrue, especially our skill kids. So we've got a long way to go."
We may have seen Bell's first diamond-in-the-rough recruit from the 2019 class begin to show himself.
Kevin Brown, a former University of Rhode Island commit from the 2018 class who ended up signing with the Minutemen a year later, looks the part at running back. At 6-feet, 225 pounds, he may be the biggest and most well-put together player at that position already.
The former Everett High star runs with power, good contact balance, and light feet. He also has soft hands, and all those traits were on display on two particular 7-on-7 plays.
On the first, he took a swing pass to the left, absorbed a hit around his thighs, powered through that, then trucked a second tackler trying to get him down. On the second, he caught the same pass, this time to the right side, planted his right leg to set up a cut to the left, and juked a defender out of his shoes to gain an extra few yards.
"Big, thick, downhill. When he gets squared behind his pads, I can see him being a really good player for us," Bell said of Brown. "His best is yet to come. He's still coming off an injury. He's still not in the shape he wants to be in yet, but you can see a really bright future for him."
That swing pass could be particularly effective once Brown gets rolling when you have a player of his size going up against a smaller perimeter defender.
"Absolutely. That's the goal," Bell said. "Get our guy in a 5-by-5-yard box with yours, and hopefully you can't tackle him."
Penn State transfer Jarvis Miller appears like he could be a real difference-maker once he gets comfortable in the system.
The linebacker is 6-2, 223 with nice length, agility, and play strength. So long as he picks up everything he's taught, Miller should be an asset both in run support and pass coverage.
Bell has already picked up two commitments from local products for his 2020 class over the last two days.
On Wednesday, it was Lawrence Academy quarterback Brady Martin, a Leominster native. Thursday, it was North Attleboro offensive lineman Ethan Mottinger.
Both players fit in quite nicely with what Bell's offense needs. Martin has one of the strongest arms we've seen from a local quarterback in years, and his deep ball accuracy is exceptional. Bell's offense features a lot of shots downfield, and Martin can make every throw that will be asked of him.
With Mottinger, you're looking at a 6-foot-6, 290-pound mauler with room to add weight. Bell wants road graders, and Mottinger fits that description well.