ORONO — Sixteen players in red jerseys dotted the football field at the University of Maine on Saturday morning.

The jerseys stand for “no contact” and are worn by team members not yet fully cleared to be hit or tackled during the three weeks of spring football.

Maine has a record 76 players this spring, and will take no chances with the season less than five months away.

“These guys are excited to be whole again,” said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove. “But we’re trying to be prudent with everything we do. We don’t want to take unnecessary risks.”

This year’s spring football opened at 5:45 a.m. Thursday, the first of 15 practices that end with the Jeff Cole spring scrimmage May 1.

Among the players in red is quarterback Warren Smith, who had two bones in his left foot fused together in November.

He moved well Saturday and said he expects to be cleared for full contact by mid-June.

“I’m about 80 percent. My left foot is still not as strong as my right,” said Smith. “Basically they won’t let me do QB runs. Other than that they let the leash go. I can throw. Make reads.”

Smith’s rehab process has taken him from being fully laid up, to a gradual introduction to working out, to running on an underwater treadmill, and now just about everything but contact.

He said the ball of his foot remains stiff, and he’s been told to work toward getting into a full lunge to limber up the bone.

“At times its frustrating to see your team going full out,” said Smith. “But a lot of us are taking mental reps. It’s just good to be back on the football field. Our defense is flying. Our offense is flying.”

Fullback Jared Turcotte was in a red jersey without shoulder pads and is among the players most limited at practice.

Turcotte, who had a breakout 2008, underwent two lower abdominal surgeries during the 2009 season. His mission now is to work on loosening up scar tissue that accumulated during his rehab.

“Walking around, I feel fine. Even jogging,” he said. “What I’m really concentrating on is being healthy for the summer so I can get ready for camp. I want to get stronger and faster.”

Turcotte is coming up on a year from his initial injury.

“This is probably the most frustrating thing I’ve ever gone through,” he said. “But as a team we’re really excited to be back out here. What I’m most excited to see is 70 leaders. I think it’s a good experience for the team to go through.”

Having so many key players only partially involved in spring practice can be a challenge.

“It limits what we can do as a team,” said quarterback Chris Treister. “But it opens up an opportunity for guys behind on the depth chart.”

Treister, a former Portland High quarterback, had two strong performances to end the year after Smith’s injury, and is spending his spring working on a few particulars in his game.

“I’m working on throwing on the run and making quick reads,” said Treister. “We’ve had some really good quarterback meetings.”

Mark Masterson, a linebacker, was also in a red jersey. Masterson was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA after getting injured in early September, and will return for his final year of eligibility.

He injured his foot during the season, and also had surgery to repair his labrum in December.

He’s cleared to go full contact by the middle of May.

“I’m so excited to be playing football again,” said Masterson. “This year we’re really coming together. I can feel that sense of togetherness already.”

Defensive back Trevor Costan and running back Derek Session also were in red jerseys. Each is recovering from shoulder surgery.

Holding some players back, said Cosgrove, is a lesson in managing down excitement. Many had surgery almost six months ago and are raring to go, but still need time to avoid setting themselves up for a setback.

“Oh, they’re mad at me,” said Cosgrove. “Costan is champing at the bit to get out there. But we need to be prudent. We can get a lot of quality reps for some younger players.”

Cosgrove said he’s liked what he’s seen.

“Our practice habits have been good. We don’t make it easy for them. And they’re responding,” he said. “I like that.”

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

jmenendez@pressherald.com