The University of Rhode Island spring football practice is now underway and here are some notable takeaways:
First Down: Â Mack Lowrie is the clear No. Â 1, with James Caparell firmly set as the backup quarterback. However, despite that, neither quarterback looked particularly sharp with Lowrie struggling with accuracy, throwing three interceptions that the Rhode Island defense returned for touchdowns. Caparell also had his share of problems as he was unable to connect on most of his intermediate to deep passes. Head coach Jim Fleming spent a good portion of practice working with all the quarterbacks on their mechanics and delivering the ball on short passes.
Second Down: Â The defensive secondary has a chance to make some plays, with senior leader Tim Wienclaw playing single-high safety at times. The defense had numerous pass deflections, as well as the aforementioned pick-sixes thrown from Lowrie. Defensive back Nasir Jones also made some notable plays coming up with two of the three interceptions, as well as playing solidly in coverage.
“We have a lot of confidence right now,” Wienclaw said. “We learned from the film and from last year, and this offseason we came together as a team and worked harder. We definitely feel a lot more confident with another year in the system and the same coaches in place.”
Third Down: The special teams units are a clear work in progress. The kicker and punter jobs seem to be a competition to this point with Dylan Smith and Connor McHugh both practicing reps at each position and neither looking very impressive. In addition the Rams’ punt unit struggled as they had two bad snaps, some very poor punts and allowed one to be blocked. On the other side, the punt returners for Rhode Island fumbled two of the chances they had.
Fourth Down: Replacing Lyle McCombs may not be easy, as he is turning heads at combines and looking at potentially latching on with an NFL team at the end of the draft or as a priority free agent, but it looks as though Harold Cooper will get the first crack at it. Cooper was very elusive, caught the ball well and showed good instincts, but did put the rock on the ground twice during the team portion of the drills. He will be important to an offense that spent a majority of practice working on screens and read option.
Coach Fleming seemed happy with the depth at offensive line in particular, but noted it is early. “I think our offensive line is a pretty solid group,” he said. “Again though, anytime you play football in the spring there is a drop off from the starters to the backups, but you try to improve that.”
An area of strength Fleming sees is the defensive secondary, thinking it could be a big part of their team. “I think the secondary built on what they established last year” he said. “I am pleased with their progress. I don’t know if we have any superstars out there, but we are going to put eleven out there that will play aggressive and together and will help us win football games.”
Extra Point: Replacing Lyle McCombs and Andrew Bose
“Andrew Bose was a big part of our defense last year,” Wienclaw said. “I think this year we have a couple guys who have taken a bigger leadership and we feel good about our team right now.
“It is huge trying to replace Lyle,” Fleming said. “I think he is the difference in a few of those games, and maybe our offensive and defensive MVP’s, but there will be guys who step up and fill those roles.”