Apr 30, 2013, 10:30 AM EST
Editor’s Note: Over the course of April and early May, CAA Football will check in with local journalists and bloggers covering our 11 schools to get their take on their respective teams’ spring practices and spring games. Today we talk Rhode Island with Bill Koch of the South County Independent. For more on the Rams’ spring, including recaps, video and more, visit our CAA Football Spring Ball Central page.
CAAFB: You’ve followed the Rams over the course of the spring. What were some of your observations and questions heading into the spring?
BK: The primary question had to be how they would bounce back after an 0-11 season. Head coach Joe Trainer and his players were in good spirits on Saturday. He said practices have had a different feel and have been at a different tempo than at the end of last season. One thing this staff has never lacked is enthusiasm, and the players seem to respond well to it.
CAAFB: You were on hand for Saturday’s spring game. How would you describe the atmosphere at Meade Stadium?
BK: The spring game at URI doesn’t usually generate that much buzz. It was a gorgeous day, which resulted in a few more people than usual making the trip out to the game. I think the program is at a point now where they’ll have to give fans a reason to come out before it starts to happen again.
CAAFB: What were your general impressions of Saturday’s Blue-White Game?
BK: The defense was well ahead of the offense. Rondell Lane had an interception return for a touchdown and forced a fumble, and he’s listed second on the depth chart at safety. Andre’ Scott, the starter at that position, made his presence felt with a couple of big hits. The linebacker position is deep and experienced with Dave Zocco (undisclosed injury) back in action after missing all of 2012 and Doug Johnson (right shoulder) returning for a fifth season after a medical redshirt in 2012. Johnson didn’t play for precautionary reasons, but he said after the game he’s itching to get back out there this fall.
URI still needs to find some balance on offense. The Rams struggled mightily to run the ball in 2012 and still haven’t appeared to settle on a primary running back – they averaged 2.5 yards per carry as a team on 45 attempts in the spring game. Robbie Delgado is listed as the backup on the depth chart and had 18 carries to starter Jordan Sebastian’s 14. They’re trying to speed up the pace to force mismatches and have quarterback Bob Bentsen back in the shotgun where he’s more comfortable after putting him under center at times in 2012.
CAAFB: The Rams return their 2012 starting QB in rising senior Bob Bentsen. I’m assuming there’s not much of a battle at quarterback?
BK: No controversy at quarterback – Bentsen is the starter and a team captain. He took the bulk of the snaps on Saturday and will do so throughout the season.
CAAFB: One major loss was WR Brandon Johnson-Farrell, so who should we expect to step in to fill that void at wideout?
BK: Rutgers transfer Jawaun Wynn will be the primary target. URI’s opening drive on Saturday was a crisp one that ended in a touchdown and the key play was when Bentsen went up top to Wynn down the right sideline to bring the ball inside the 5. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, he has the size to be a matchup problem. Senior Robbie Jackson will be on the other side – health has been his primary concern throughout his URI career. He has the ability to make a difference.
CAAFB: What are some other position battles we should keep an eye on?
BK: Look for some competition at running back. Sebastian was voted the team’s Most Improved Player on offense this spring, but that doesn’t mean he has a lock on the job. Delgado will push him. Also look for the rotation at linebacker – Johnson and Zocco should take the most snaps, but Bose and Connor Caponegro gained plenty of experience in 2012. And the tight end spot is wide open with the graduations of Joe Migliarese and Alex Frazier. Sophomore Elijah Saintfluer looks like the early leader – he had a team-high eight catches on Saturday – but junior Andrew Siden is listed in the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.
CAAFB: Looking across the positions, then, what do you anticipate as some of the Rams’ strengths and weaknesses coming out of the spring?
BK: The secondary is deep with at least eight players who have significant experience. Their linebackers are solid. The questions will be primarily on offense – there is no clear No. 1 running back and no tight end with significant experience. The receivers will have to develop a connection with Bentsen. They have three returning starters on the offensive line in Andrew Bellizaire, Andrew Kestenbaum and Kevin Mustac – all three started all 11 games last season. That’s a plus.
CAAFB: You spoke to this back in February, but what role do you now see Rhody’s sizeable incoming class having on the team?
BK: They need more players. It’s that simple. The U-turn from potentially leaving for the Northeast Conference to staying in the CAA left URI shorthanded, and they had 40 players start at least one game in 2012 – they didn’t have enough depth to handle that sort of adversity. Wynn should make an immediate impact along with Ohio University transfer Blake Jones at defensive end. Aside from those two, URI just needs to build some depth.
CAAFB: After a tough season in which the Rams finished the season winless, where are expectations now with the team’s spring schedule now behind us?
BK: Just to get better. Going from 0-11 to 7-4 or 8-3 is unlikely, but URI wasn’t competitive in most of its games last year – they lost nine of 11 by 21 points or more. That’s unacceptable and they know it, but they feel like just getting healthy in some key positions, speeding up the offense and having more talented, able bodies will help close the gap.
CAAFB: What have you heard from Coach Trainer this spring? Can you give us some insight into his take on his team’s spring?
BK: Trainer is one of the most positive coaches I’ve had the pleasure of covering. He’s always talking about how his team can improve and about the steps URI needs to take to become a winning program. He’s never going to be accused of getting ahead of himself. He understands that 0-11 doesn’t just become 8-3 or even the 5-6 overall and 4-4 in the CAA the Rams put up in 2010 – you need to build to that point. He feels like with the extra scholarships, some improved health and better performances by players with more experience that URI can start to move forward.
CAAFB: What questions still remain in your mind moving forward?
BK: What happens when this group faces adversity for the first time? How do they acquit themselves playing three of their first four games on the road? What happens if they go down 17-3 to William and Mary in the second quarter of the fourth game of the season? Do they let that game – and the season – get away from them? Do they stand up and fight?
It’s very difficult to change the mindset of players once they’ve gotten used to having only bad things happen to them. The staff needs to work extremely hard to change that culture immediately. The players not only have to expect good things to happen but have to make them happen. That’s a pretty stiff challenge. How URI approaches it will likely dictate how competitive they’ll be in 2013.