ORONO, Maine — Liam Coen, the University of Maine’s offensive coordinator, knew redshirt junior quarterback Drew Belcher had the potential to play H-back, a hybrid tight end-fullback position.
When Belcher was beaten out for the quarterback job by redshirt freshman Chris Ferguson three weeks ago, it proved to be the perfect time to try a switch.
Belcher had a solid debut in the season-opening 24-23 loss at New Hampshire last Thursday as he caught four passes for 67 yards.
“I didn’t think he was going to be one of our leading receivers, but it didn’t surprise me,” Coen said. “He played at a fast pace and showed the ability to catch the ball and get up the field right away. Chris loves throwing to him because he knows he’s going to be in the right spot. Drew understands the game from the quarterback perspective and knows how to get open.”
Belcher was pleased to contribute again after sitting out last season as a redshirt.
“It went well,” Belcher, a redshirt junior, said. “The biggest thing is even the mistakes that I made, I learned a lot from them. I want to take a big step forward this week.”
It took him a couple of series to adapt, but he said “being a quarterback, you have to know everyone’s position and that made the transition a lot easier.”
He developed an instant rapport with Ferguson. They hooked up on several completions in their first practice, including a TD.
“He played great against New Hampshire. I knew the first day they moved him to tight end that he would be an important part of the offense,” Ferguson said. “Being on the same page as quarterbacks, we both know what we’re seeing. … We’re seeing the same things. I know where he’ll be.
“And it’s kind of comfortable having him out there. It’s something else to calm me down. He’s experienced and knows what he’s doing,” Ferguson said.
Belcher, a native of Reading, Massachusetts, said he wasn’t surprised he had productive debut.
“It was something I thought I would be able to do. I have to work on the blocking stuff a little bit more. That’s the hardest stuff to do. I’ve never done that,” Belcher said.
“He has had the ability to do those things,” Coen, a former quarterback at Massachusetts, said. “It was a position he had never played before in his life, but we all knew he could do it. It was just a matter of him trusting us.”
Belcher’s athleticism has always stood out.
“He’s 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, and he runs a mid 4.7 40-(yard dash). Pound for pound, he’s one of the strongest guys on our team,” Coen said.
Coen also pointed out that Belcher has exhibited the ability to make one-handed catches with both hands off the Jugs football gun and that he has an “extremely high catch radius.
“He can catch the ball outside of his body. He can extend and catch balls behind him,” Coen said.
In his two seasons as quarterback, Belcher completed 155 of 272 passes for 1,468 yards. He was also the team’s No. 2 rusher each year.
Belcher could help the Black Bears to expand their arsenal.
Last season, tight ends and H-backs combined for only 13 receptions good for 144 yards.
“Our tight ends are going to be huge in our offense,” Ferguson said. “The wide receivers are our primaries on most reads. But when we do checkdowns with our second and third reads, we’ll be counting on them for sure.”
“We have a great group of receivers on the outside and teams are going to have to figure out a way to cover them,” Belcher said. “And the more energy and time they spend covering them will open up stuff over the middle for me. That could definitely help our offense.”
Coen said in addition to running routes, Belcher has shown a willingness to block, which has been a nice surprise.
The Black Bears play 1-0 Bryant University in their home opener at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium.