ORONO – The starting tailback fumbled in each of the first two games, both times in the secondary.

The veteran kicker missed two field goals and knuckled two extra-point attempts, missing one.

As a coach, do you reassure your players of your confidence in them, or do you give someone else a chance?

“It’s a fine line, it really is,” said UMaine Coach Jack Cosgrove, who takes a 1-1 record into the home opener and final nonconference game of the season Saturday night at Alfond Stadium against Albany.

“I think the biggest thing you have to do is establish a way of doing business that is consistent,” Cosgrove said. “I’ve never been a fan of handling each case individually. I think you have to have a team philosophy that is comprehensive.”

Cosgrove’s philosophy in his two decades in Orono is that performance dictates playing time. The best 11 play, regardless of tenure or reputation or size or potential.

So even though sophomore tailback David Hood (two TDs and 102 yards rushing against Bryant) and fifth-year senior Brian Harvey (two field goals, six PAT kicks) are Maine’s leading scorers, their starting jobs are in jeopardy.

Junior tailback Rickey Stevens took most of the reps in Wednesday’s practice, while Hood looked on without shoulder pads. A second-year walk-on who transferred to Maine after one season at an NAIA school in suburban Cleveland, Stevens replaced Hood after the latter’s fumble in Saturday’s 51-7 victory over Bryant and wound up with 168 yards on 17 carries.

Aside from a 4-yard reception in the opening 34-3 loss to Boston College, Saturday’s carries marked the first time Stevens had touched the football for Maine.

“That was exciting,” he said. “The O-line did a great job opening up some holes for me and I was blessed enough to have the vision and see those holes and hit them, and run hard.”

His teammates voted Stevens Offensive Player of the Week and Cosgrove asked him to lead the team in singing the celebratory Stein Song.

“If we’re going to turn the ball over, we’re going to lose football games,” Cosgrove said. “David has come out from both games because of the turnover, because we want to make sure we don’t lose sight of the importance of ball security.”

It was the nature of both fumbles that most concerned Cosgrove.

“In both cases, David wasn’t a victim of a blind-side hit or a missed block, he was a victim of poor technique,” he said. “He didn’t have the ball secured the way he needs to have it secured.”

Whereas Hood is new to the starting lineup, Harvey has a long history of success. He won the kicking job as a freshman, sat out his sophomore year as a medical redshirt because of a hip problem, then kicked again as a junior and true senior.

Cosgrove hasn’t forgotten Harvey’s contributions, particularly in such clutch situations as last October at James Madison, where his 34-yard field goal in the final two minutes of regulation allowed the Black Bears to win 25-24 in overtime on Chris Treister’s memorable helicopter 2-point conversion.

Still, a recurrence of Harvey’s hip problem kept him out of action for most of training camp and may have contributed to his slow start.

“I haven’t played well for the first two games,” Harvey said Wednesday. “I guess you could say I was a little rusty.”

Harvey said he feels fine physically and that the missed kicks are “form flaws more than anything.”

Should the flaws persist, freshman Sean Decloux and sophomore Jeff Ondish — who handles punts and kickoffs — are waiting in the wings. Cosgrove said he is giving Decloux more reps in practice this week.

“It raises a concern because we have to be able to make those kicks if we want to win in this league,” Cosgrove said.

That both missed kicks came in lopsided contests rather than critical situations is of small solace to Harvey. The same could be said of Hood’s fumbles.

“It hurts to see them fail, because you know it hurts them,” Cosgrove said. “We like both kids. They’re great program kids. They do everything we ask.”

So will Hood and Harvey still have their jobs come Saturday night when Albany (2-1) visits Orono for the home opener on Parents and Family weekend?

Cosgrove considered the question and paused, raising his eyebrows.

“We’ll see,” he said.

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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