UMass football: Minutemen back to work, ‘good feeling to be back’ for Don Brown as spring practice opens

UMass redshirt junior defensive end Louce Julien navigates through a pass-rushing drill during the Minutemen’s first spring practice of the season on Tuesday morning in Amherst.

UMass redshirt junior defensive end Louce Julien navigates through a pass-rushing drill during the Minutemen’s first spring practice of the season on Tuesday morning in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/GARRETT COTE

UMass senior wide receiver Anthony Simpson bursts through the line with a quick release during the Minutemen’s first spring practice of the season on Tuesday morning in Amherst.

UMass senior wide receiver Anthony Simpson bursts through the line with a quick release during the Minutemen’s first spring practice of the season on Tuesday morning in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/GARRETT COTE

UMass redshirt junior running back Jalen John catches a pass from an assistant coach during the Minutemen’s first spring practice of the season on Tuesday morning in Amherst.

UMass redshirt junior running back Jalen John catches a pass from an assistant coach during the Minutemen’s first spring practice of the season on Tuesday morning in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/GARRETT COTE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-26-2024 5:18 PM

AMHERST — Prior to the UMass football team’s first spring practice of the season on Tuesday morning, head coach Don Brown addressed his team regarding the Minutemen’s current standing with the Mid-American Conference.

Brown looked at his players and asked how many of them were in their final year of college football. With a handful raising their hand, his point was made. UMass isn’t going to the MAC until after next season, so it needs to worry about what’s on its plate during the upcoming one.

And considering the Minutemen play three of their final six games against SEC opponents, they are going to have to be playing their best football from the get-go.

“Some of them won’t care about what’s going on other than being an interested alum,” Brown said. “You just worry about taking care of your business right here, and right now. We’ve got certainly a healthy schedule paced with three SEC teams. Obviously those are challenges… The schedule itself, there are some MAC teams there. We’re gonna have to make our mark early and be playing at a quality level early.”

The Minutemen wasted no time getting right to work on Tuesday.

Both units – offense and defense – took plenty away from the spring opener. Highlight plays were made on each side of the ball. The offense moved the ball well in some instances, and the defense buckled down and held the offense in check during others.

Following a tough year in the secondary in 2023, that position group stood out on Tuesday.

“There’s some give and take that both units can walk away and feel pretty good about,” Brown said. “You need that… It’s always an indicator. If one unit is just flat out dominating the other, that’s not a good sign. When there’s give and take and there’s things both units can walk away from and then go coach off the tape – the bottom line is we’ll get better. You’re looking for energy, guys running to the ball.”

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The first practice of every season is always upbeat. Each player comes in with an unmatched energy and eagerness to play hard after having the winter off. And although the Minutemen didn’t practice with pads on Tuesday, they still brought a high level of intensity that pleased Brown.

Yes, there was no question it felt good to be back, but it was equally as satisfying to see the team compete the way it did.

The tone has been set for what’s to come this season.

“You’re like a high school guy in your first practice,” Brown said. “It’s just a good feeling to be back out there playing football… The thing I felt good about today is, that was not an easy practice. I thought our winter workouts prepared us for day one. And I think day one helped us because it defined how we’re gonna go about our business on the practice field… You’re in no pads, but you get velocity like we had today, guys taking care of one another but at the same time playing fast – that’s a good indicator of how your team is gonna practice week-to-week.”

One player who missed out on the fun Tuesday was starting quarterback Taisun Phommachanh. The redshirt senior missed time last year dealing with a knee injury, but returned toward the end of the year to finish it out under center. After a small surgery to clean up the damage, Phommachanh feels healthy right now.

The plan for the spring is to keep him sidelined as a precautionary measure while he works on rehabbing and strengthening his leg.

“We’re bringing him along real slow and being smart,” Brown said. “I’m not a doctor I just do what [the trainers] tell me to do. Obviously we’re taking all the precautions necessary to make sure we got a healthy Phommachanh come the fall.”

Several other quarterbacks impressed with the increased reps, especially redshirt freshman Ahmad Haston – who appeared in three games last year for UMass. Brown said he saw “six or seven throws” that really stood out to him among the five quarterbacks who threw on Tuesday.

Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams is back after rushing for over 1,000 yards, as is fellow tailback Greg Desrosiers Jr., who Brown is very high on this year. Leading wide-out and big-play threat Anthony Simpson leads a talented, experienced receiving corps.

New offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery has plenty at his disposal in his first year calling plays, and the Minutemen have high hopes on the offensive side of the ball.

“[Lynch-Adams is] a great kid, works hard and he has talent. He rushed for over 1,000 yards last year,” Brown said. “And the other guy, Desrosiers, he’s gonna have a huge year. It’s nice when you’ve got two of them. I think the [wide receiving corps] is gonna be surprisingly good, I just don’t wanna put too much pressure on them.”