ORONO — In recent years, the University of Maine defensive front has featured talents such as tackle Mike DeVito (now of the NFL’s New York Jets) and end Jovan Belcher (Kansas City Chiefs).
This season, the Black Bears will instead rely on a handful of players to get the job done.
“We don’t have a guy that’s really got that kind of resume, but we’ve got a number of guys, and especially some guys that are in their early years here, that we’re excited about,” UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove said Wednesday after the Black Bears’ second preseason scrimmage at Alfond Stadium.
Now, Raibonne Charles of Windham, Doug Alston, Ryan Nani, Kevin Phanor, Kris Enslen and Spencer Wood and others hope to make names for themselves and re-establish the UMaine defensive front as a force in the Colonial Athletic Association.
“We all came together and said, look, we’ve got to make this the way the D-lines back here used to be: A lot of pride and stopping the run and being known as dominant and that’s kind of the mindset we have,” said Charles, a sophomore tackle.
Charles, who is coming off spring surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, explained the defensive linemen realize they have the responsibility of setting the tone for the entire defense.
“We have to create a new line of scrimmage on every play,” he said. “When they [opponents] have to do unconventional things, we’re going to make plays.”
Alston, a sophomore end, said the focus must be on shutting down opponents’ ground attacks.
“As a group, we’re a very fast and talented D-line,” Alston said. “We love to rush the quarterback, but in order for that to happen we have to stop the run. If we stop the run, everything will take care of itself.”
Charles and Phanor will be in the mix at tackle, while nose tackle Nani is the line’s top returning tackler with 30 in 11 games last season. Alston is expected to start at one end while Enslen is working his way back from knee surgery.
They’re backed at end by Erwin Roach, Craig Capella and Wood, who is out with a wrist injury.
Throw in senior tackle Omar Jacobs, a transfer from Hofstra, and a handful of other young players and the Bears have plenty of potential.
“They bring great intensity to the field, they like the game and they’re learning and getting better as we go along here,” Cosgrove said.
He explained while no star has yet emerged, the coaching staff can mix and match the players’ abilities to meet their situational needs.
“We might be able to have thoughts of using pass-rush guys versus run-stop guys and that can be a good thing, because it spreads out the reps and allows for you to play fast and use your personnel,” Cosgrove said.
The Bears’ defensive linemen also know that they have plenty of help at linebacker and defensive back. Those groups include proven seniors in Mark Masterson, Dom Cusano and Steven Barker and talents such as Donte Dennis, Jerron McMillian and Trevor Coston.
“If we don’t make the tackle at the first level, they’re going to be able to come up and make the tackle at the line of scrimmage,” Charles said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in that.”
UMaine offense making gains
The offense didn’t make a great impression last Saturday during UMaine’s first preseason scrimmage.
Turnovers and 11 penalties meant the group needed to clean things up. The unit showed improvement during Wednesday’s scrimmage.
“I thought we performed better and challenged our defense better offensively,” Cosgrove said.
Two tailbacks lost fumbles and Warren Smith had a pass intercepted by Donte Dennis, but the unit was whistled for only three, 5-yard penalties among 70 plays.
“Ball security and penalties were a concern on that side of the ball,” Cosgrove said. “In this league, if you’ve got that as part of your repertoire, it’s going to cost you.”
The Bears continued working on re-establishing the run, giving significant work to tailbacks Derek Session (10 carries, 48 yards) and Pushaun Brown (15 carries, 47 yards). Fullback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston managed only one yard on five attempts and sat out half the scrimmage after incurring a personal foul penalty.
“We’re trying to get our run back in action. We’re trying to be more diversified,” Cosgrove said.
Smith, working with the first unit, completed nine of 14 passes for 170 yards. Fellow junior Chris Treister of Cape Elizabeth, who took snaps mostly with the second team, was 7-for-13 for 88 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown toss to wideout Jeremy Kelley.
“We moved the ball a lot better,” Smith said. “We ran the ball well, threw the ball a little better.”
‘Meet the Black Bears’ set today
The UMaine football team invites fans to Alfond Stadium Thursday evening for its “Meet the Black Bears” event.
The session, scheduled from 6-8 p.m., will include a barbecue with the team, a free youth clinic and an autograph session.
To register, contact Jeff Wildey at 581-4849 or email@example.com.