ORONO – Tight end Derek Buttles turned to teammate Maurice McDonald and praised his work this spring at wide receiver for the University of Maine.

“I think the player who most stepped up this spring was Mo,” said Buttles, calling him by his nickname. “I think he ended up with the most catches and really did a good job.”

For Maine’s offense to spread out again next fall, they’ll need both of those players to produce.

The Black Bears played a pared-down version of their annual Jeff Cole Spring Scrimmage on Saturday, minus full pads, referees and lengthy drives because of significant injuries this spring.

The practice was less run-oriented than expected and showcased some improvement at receiver, a key need for Maine.

“It helps us open up the playbook when our quarterback has options,” said McDonald, who will be a junior. “We really tried to emphasize the (depth) this spring. It’s not just about me but also the players at the bottom of the depth chart, too.”

Quarterback Warren Smith wound up relying on a trio of tight ends significantly last fall: Buttles, Jeff Falvey (knee injury) and Justin Perillo.

His outside options were more limited, and with the loss of Tyrell Jones, he will turn to McDonald and a pair of redshirt freshmen: Damarr Aultman and Arthur Williams.

“The tight ends and I had a pretty good connection going,” said Smith. “But it makes your life easier when you have some guys like McDonald and younger guys learning.”

Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove said he was impressed with McDonald’s progress this spring. He’ll be a junior next fall.

“He’s probably the most improved guy without a doubt at that position,” said Cosgrove. “His route running jumped up, his competitiveness.”

Falvey tore his anterior cruciate ligament during spring practice and with an eight-month recovery period is a possibility for a medical redshirt year.

Smith said he had better agility on the field after lingering problems in his foot, and his teammates corroborated that.

“I trust Warren’s heart more than his foot,” said McDonald. “But when he tells me he’s good, he’s good.”

Smith said he saw improvement as a team.

“I thought we made a lot of strides this spring,” he said. “Last year we didn’t play the way we wanted to and this league will spit you out real quick. We have a ways to go still, but it was a productive spring.”

In all, Cosgrove said he wishes the spring scrimmage was more productive.

“Our goal was to come out and do a little bit more than we did,” said Cosgrove. “We didn’t get into the physical part of the game because, with the injuries we’ve had, you get a bit paranoid.”

Maine was down five linebackers at one time this spring, along with an offensive lineman, a tight end and a running back.

Cosgrove said the spring season, however, was strong for a pair of defensive backs who demonstrated an ability to be corners at this level: Kendall James, who will be a sophomore, and Darlos James, who will be a junior.

Cosgrove also noted significant progress by young offensive lineman Josh Spearin and Joe Hook, both of whom were starters last season and will be sophomores next year.

 

NOTES: Cosgrove and his coaching staff handed out spring awards at a picnic after practice. Defensive lineman Raibonne Charles was awarded the Maine Man award for the most improvement in the weight room. Perillo, the tight end, won the offensive standout award, linebacker Troy Eastman was singled out on defense and Jamal Clay was named the most improved player on special teams. … Former running back Jhamal Fluellen and receiver Landis Williams were in attendance, along with Zack Magliaro, a former offensive tackle from Maine’s 2001 Atlantic-10 championship season.

 

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

[email protected]