ORONO, Maine — University of Maine quarterbacks Dan Collins and Drew Belcher are both seasoned veterans but still have something to prove as they vie for the starting position for the third-straight season.
They shared the snaps a year ago as the Black Bears struggled through a 3-8 campaign, 3-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association.
They have a new coach in former UMaine defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak and a first-year offensive coordinator in Liam Coen, who owns the career records at UMass for passing yards (11,031) and touchdown passes (90).
“I want someone to take the job and run with it,” said Harasymiak Monday during UMaine’s third preseason practice. “It’s hard when one guy doesn’t elevate himself. Now you’re stuck guessing.”
Harasymiak said they are “grading everything they do” in order to select a starter for the season-opener on Thursday, Sept. 1, at the University of Connecticut.
“The most important factor is getting the kids to believe in them,” he added.
The two quarterbacks are used to competing against each other, and Belcher said “the competition makes everyone better at the end of the day.”
Coen, who has introduced a new pro-style offense, has been impressed with them and their commitment.
“I can’t say enough about them and their adjustment to the new offense. They have done a tremendous job picking the offense up and working at it. They have gotten everyone else involved,” said Coen.
“They’re two different kinds of guys. They’re very similar in terms of their personalities and leadership qualities. They’re doing the right things,” he added.
Last season, UMaine averaged 29.7 points in its three victories but just 9.4 in its eight losses.
Belcher, a junior, completed 78 of 120 passes for 728 yards and four touchdowns. He was intercepted twice. He also was the team’s second-leading rusher for the second-straight year as he ran for 314 yards on 88 carries.
Collins, a senior, threw for 1,542 yards as he completed 135 of 273 passes. He tossed six touchdown passes and was intercepted 10 times.
Coen stated that one of the most important aspects of their jobs in his offense is not trying to do too much and developing a “[basketball] point-guard mentality.”
“They don’t have to be Michael Jordan. They aren’t going to be the ones always making the big plays. We have talented players. They have to get the ball to our talented players and let them make plays in space,” said Coen. “They have to be better decision-makers and distributors.”
Collins and Belcher know what is expected of them, and they know what they need to improve in order to win the job.
“I need to get better all-around,” said Collins. “I hold myself accountable for everything I’ve done the past two years.
“I’ve forced some balls, I’ve tended to settle back on my arm strength and stuff like that. I’ve got to concentrate more on accuracy, and I also have to work on pre-snap stuff. I have to know what the defense is doing so I’ll be able to make checks [audibles],” he said.
Belcher said he need to keep improving as a passer.
“We have a new offense, so I have to master it and work on my footwork so I can become a better passer,” he said.
Both quarterbacks said the Black Bears will be less predictable on offense this season.
“We’re definitely going to be more imaginative,” said Collins.
That could help the Black Bears in several areas.
UMaine was last in the 12-team conference in red zone touchdown conversion and mustered just 13 touchdowns in 33 forays into the red zone (inside the opponents’ 20-yard line).
“That has been our No. 1 focus this spring and in training camp,” said Coen. “We have to think touchdowns. We need to be explosive. We need to be special with the ball in our hands.
“We can’t just catch a hitch pass and fall down. That’s not good enough. My little cousin can do that. After we catch a hitch, we need to go score. That will come with confidence,” said Coen.
A hitch pass is when a receiver takes a some quick steps downfield before abruptly stopping and turning back, facing the quarterback, who delivers him the ball.
“And we need to game plan in those situations better,” said Coen, who intends to use a variety of different looks in the red zone to confuse the defense.
“We need to put more points on the board in those situations,” said Collins. “We will demand more of ourselves.”
The quarterbacks will benefit from a more experienced offensive line and receiver corps.
Wide receivers Micah Wright and Jordan Dunn said the team feels both of them can get the job done.
“We’re definitely confident with either one of them,” said Wright.
“We’re comfortable with either one,” said Dunn.