Quick talk with UMass coach Walt Bell

With the days counting down to the UMass opener at Rutgers, coach Walt Bell is starting to get a better sense of what his team might look like in his first game leading the Minutemen.

We caught up with Bell over the phone on Thursday to get his thoughts on a few topics, including a quarterback battle that is still very much under wraps.

Here is what he said.

(On the excitement for the opener)

WB: Yeah, it's starting to come close. I'll put it this way: it's starting to feel real. Not that you're any more urgent in preparation. Every day you're coaching like your life is on the line. But just starting to feel real. Starting to get excited, getting ready to turn these guys loose and go hit somebody else.

(On any other guys starting to pop and show something in practice)

WB: I think now that we're winding down in the fall camp before we start game prep, I think (wide receivers) Sadiq Palmer and Zak Simon have had really good fall camps. I think (wide receiver) Cam Roberson in multiple roles had a good fall camp. (Offensive linemen) Larnel (Coleman), Ray (Thomas-Ishman), we've had some guys offensively that have had some really nice fall camps.

Defensively, (cornerback) Isaiah (Rodgers) has been really solid, really steady. Then, I think (linebackers) Cole McCubrey, Chinedu Ogbonna, (defensive linemen Jake) Byczko, Shannon Junior (have played well). As of right now, knock on wood, we're healthy, as well. Excited to see these guys go.

(On the younger defensive linemen coming along)

WB: I think for really young guys they're doing a great job. It will be really interesting. We all know the difference. The difference is when you're out there on your own. When you have to go play, you have to get reps. You've got to not only take the significant reps you're going to take in a game, but the physical pounding that also comes with that. I'm interested to see how those guys go.

(On any separation for the starting quarterback position)

WB: You know what, we're close. We're close. I think we'll have a guy announced sometime before game time, but I think we're really close. I think those guys, all three of them (Randall West, Michael Curtis, and Andrew Brito), have done a great job competing. We'll be excited to give a guy a go.

(On the overall understanding of the offense)

WB: Yeah, I think our kids have done a really nice job of trying to learn the system. I think we're pretty on par for where most first years are. First years are always a struggle. The second year in the system is usually when the thing turns over and clicks. Our kids are doing a really nice job of doing everything to learn, trying to learn how to play fast. Again, just trying to see how these guys play.

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