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August 17, 2012

UMass tight ends prepare for no-huddle, spread offense under Charley Molnar Wednesday, August 15, 2012 AMHERST - Rob Blanchflower realized life was going to change in new University of Massachusetts football coach Charley Molnar's no-huddle spread offense almost immediately in spring practice. "It's much different. We did a lot more running than passing in the past and now it's primarily a passing offense. I've had to work a lot harder to get in shape than I have in the past. I'm basically playing wide receiver right now," he said. "I'm loving it. It was tough the first few days. But now I'm in shape and I'm excited to get going." The Minutemen plan to throw the ball a lot and similar to Gillette Stadium's other football team, the tight ends have a chance to be featured. "They have to run like wide receivers," Molnar said. "On some teams tight ends are like a sixth offensive lineman. For us they're a fourth wide receiver. ... All in all, it's the same skill sets that's necessary to play tight end. No. 1, you have to be able to block or you might as well be a wide receiver. No. 2, is catch the ball and No. 3 is make something happen with it. All of them do all of those phases for us." Last season UMass threw the ball to its tight ends, including former standout and Philadelphia Eagle Emil Igwenagu, almost as much as Notre Dame, where Molnar served as offensive coordinator. But it was the yardage difference that stood out. The Irish tight ends, led by standout Tyler Eifert, caught 66 passes for 826 yards and five touchdowns, while UMass' caught 56 balls for 583 yards and four scores. Of UMass' top three tight ends, Blanchflower is the most experienced with two seasons of regular action under his belt. Redshirt freshman Brandon Howard was a quarterback in high school before switching to tight end during his postgraduate season at Worcester Academy, while true freshman Derek Beck was a wide receiver in the spring. "Our tight ends catch the ball very well. We're a work in progress as blockers. Rob Blanchflower has the most experienced and is a very very capable blocker, at times though sometimes his fundamentals slip," Molnar said. "Brandon Howard catches the ball very well. He's a young guy and he's still learning the art of blocking. Derek Beck is new to the position. He's not afraid to put his face in there and I think he's going to be a very good addition to our tight ends." At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Howard looks like a tight end. He played there briefly as a sophomore at King Philip High School, but moved under center for his junior and senior years because he was the best option. "The transition has been pretty good. Playing quarterback helped me out with the routes. It's definitely different. I have a pretty good grasp of it, but I've got a long way to go," he said. "I've always been looked at as a tight end, but stepped up to play quarterback my junior and senior year. But I've always wanted to play tight end. I'm just working to get better at it." "It's a good offense to play tight end in," Howard continued. "They split us out. We're not always like the oldschool tight ends, hooked to the line. It's nice to have some chances to run around and catch some passes." Tight ends coach Shane Waldron was pleased with his progress.

"He's still learning it and getting better every day," Waldron said. "He's got that good length and that body type you're looking for in a tight end." Molnar said the decision to move Beck, who is 6-4, 205 pounds, was a natural one. "He's so big. He's too big to play wide receiver and maybe a step slow, but he's perfect for tight end," Molnar said. Until junior quarterback Kellen Pagel gets healthy, the tight ends will be catching passes from a new quarterback. Redshirt freshman Mike Wegzyn leads true freshman A.J. Doyle in the competition to start the Aug. 30 opener at Connecticut. Molnar thought capable tight ends might ease a new passer's transition. "They're big targets. They're close to the quarterback and they're short easy throws. Blanch and Brandon Howard have really shown the ability to extend and use their body," Molnar said. "In the short time since he's been playing the position, Derek Beck has shown he can do the same." WEGZYN SEIZING OPPORTUNITY - Tuesday's practice was the second since UMass announced that Pagel wouldn't be available to start the season opener due to post-concussion symptoms. Molnar continued to praise Wegzyn's play with the first string. "We went for three hours and for the first two-and-a-half hours I thought that he was pretty good. In the last half hour he tailed off," Molnar said. "But there are so many factors. The offensive line was tired. The receivers were tired. It affects a quarterback's ability to perform when there's a little more pressure on him and receivers aren't as crisp running the routes. "The great thing about Mike is this: If he makes the worst read or the worst throw of the day, he is so darn positive and gets the guys excited," Molnar continued. "So from that standpoint his leadership is really really good and improves every day. I think the team is going to have no problem embracing him as our quarterback." STARTING RECEIVERS - With no returning starters at receiver, Molnar said sophomores Marken Michel and Brian Dowling, who switched to receiver from running back, and Notre Dame transfer Deion Walker are set to start going into the season. "Those three guys we're really counting on to perform. Obviously their backups are just as critically important because those guys can't play the whole game," Molnar said. "We're looking for six guys to step up and help us. True freshmen Tajae Sharpe and Bernard Davis are currently fourth and fifth on the depth chart. "They're true freshmen but they're outperforming a lot of guys," Molnar said. "We'll have five wide-receiver packages, but I don't want to run five receivers out there if only three of them are capable of getting the job done." Redshirt freshman Elgin Long's strong practice Tuesday gave him the lead for the No. 6 spot. Matt Vautour can be reached at Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at

Tight Ends Prepare for No-Huddle, Spread Offense Under Charley Molnar  
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