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Brown, Bryant and URI Have Spring Practice
Darren Rizzi is looking for starters to implement his new system at the University of Rhode Island. Phil Estes is looking for reserves to back up his starters at Brown. And Marty Fine has found a quarterback to replace the best one ever to play for Bryant.
Welcome to Spring Football, 2008.
Rizzi’s Rams will wrap up their first week of practice with a scrimmage tomorrow in Kingston. He and his assistants have been moving players around all week, trying to find the best fit. The new spread offense is so different from the triple-option spread of the Tim Stowers years that the offensive linemen have had to forget everything they knew and learn new footwork and techniques.
“Everything is constant evaluation, every minute of practice. Even after four days, we’re switching the depth chart around. We’re trying to create as much competition as we can,” the new head coach said Wednesday.
Rhody fans will be thrilled to learn that Rizzi’s wide-open attack will feature multiple formations, some with five receivers, others with two tight ends. He is looking at three quarterbacks on the current roster: senior Derek Cassidy, the incumbent starter; junior D.J. Stefkowich, a highly regarded high-school QB who has played in spots for the Rams, and Kurt Wicks, a redshirt sophomore. They worked on the short passing game during the first three practices, and Wednesday started throwing the ball downfield.
“One thing that will look different is our passing game. When it’s first and 10, we’re not automatically going to run the ball. They’re throwing better than I expected,” he said.
Stefkowich and Wicks are better pure passers, Rizzi said, but Cassidy is the best athlete of three QBs.
“Does that mean he’s the best quarterback? That remains to be seen,” the coach said.
Rizzi plans to give incoming freshmen Kyle Elliot and Marc Lucarini ample opportunity in training camp because they ran a similar offense in high school in New Jersey. He has shifted backup QB John Butler, a junior, to linebacker and redshirt freshman Terry Glenn to cornerback with the comment that Glenn “is going to be outstanding.”
Rizzi expects the offensive line, even the fifth-year seniors, to experience growing pains. He wants them to forget the cut blocking they did in the triple option and keep their feet, whether run blocking or pass blocking.
The Rams are embracing Rizzi’s changes, as they should. The program has endured six consecutive losing seasons. And they are excited to be outside “after a long winter of lifting weights and working out.”
“The enthusiasm and effort we haven’t had to coach at all. That’s the best part of it. I’ve been some places we had to do that. There’s a lot of excitement about being out there,”
Estes has had his Brown players doing conditioning and agility drills on the Berylson Family Fields since February, if only to get out of the crowded Olney Margolies Athletic Center. The Bears will put on their helmets for three workouts this weekend and their pads for the remaining nine sessions, starting Wednesday.
Thirteen starters, including quarterback Michael Dougherty, flanker Bobby Sewall, wide receiver Buddy Farnham and tight end Colin Cloherty, return. Estes wants to build depth at those positions, so the reserves will get most of the snaps this month. Seven offensive linemen have started at least one game, and the defensive line is physically stronger than a year ago.
Tailback Dereck Knight, of Pawtucket, who missed most of last season with a torn ligament in his great toe, is healthy and cleared to play and intends to rejoin the team in August. He is taking this semester off so he can play in the fall. Nkosi Still, who did not play in 2007, has returned to his outside-linebacker spot, allowing Miles Craigwell to move to free safety.
“That’s a bonus for us,” Estes said.
The Bears will play their spring game on the FieldTurf Berylson Family Fields on April 26.
Fine is preparing his Bulldogs for their first season of Division I football. He spent the first part of the winter arranging a schedule and hiring assistants to replace those who left for other opportunities. The schedule highlight is a road trip to UMass, perennial Colonial Athletic Conference contender and NCAA Tournament participant.
“If we want to make the move and become the best college football team in Rhode Island, we have to compete against the high end of I-AA. Right now we don’t know what we’re aiming at. It’s important to have someone like UMass on the schedule. We need a high-water mark,” he said.
For the first time in four years, Bryant will have a new quarterback. Charlie Granatell, who started as a freshman and kept the job through last season as a senior, will graduate in May. Jay Graber, who will attend graduate school in the fall, will take over the position for a year.
“There’ll be some growing pains,” Fine said. “Managing the team and managing the game is something Charlie did awfully well. We need to replace that more than his passing and running.”
Bryant’s defense got bigger and faster during the winter and is the most improved unit on the field.
Fine’s new assistants include secondary coach Chad Walker, who worked with Nick Saban at LSU and the Miami Dolphins; defensive line coach Chris Woods, former head coach at Stonehill and assistant coach at Harvard; offensive line coach Joel Rodriguez, an academic All-America at the University of Miami, Tennessee Titans center and graduate assistant at Mississippi, and receivers coach Mark DeBrito, former Bentley All-America wide receiver, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Several Bulldogs have suffered knee and shoulder injuries, and lineman Peter Gauthier of Woonsocket fractured his leg. Most should be ready for August training camp.
Bryant’s spring game is set for April 12.
Three R.I. universities aim to build their football squads at spring practice
By Mike Szostak, Providence Journal