ORONO - Justin Perillo, a senior tight end for the University of Maine, figures to be one the primary targets for senior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski this fall as the Black Bears attempt to return to the national playoff picture.
Perillo is the only player from Maine to receive preseason all-conference honors in the Colonial Athletic Association, but he remained on the sidelines during Tuesday afternoon’s second and final intrasquad scrimmage. Joining him were half a dozen other players with minor injuries or ailments, a simple fact of football life.
“As much as we’ve suffered some pain and some injuries in guys not being able to be out there, we’ve developed some depth as a result of it,” said Coach Jack Cosgrove, who enters his 21st season at the helm when the Black Bears travel to Virginia for the Aug. 31 opener against Norfolk State.
With Perillo temporarily out, Cosgrove and his staff got a close look at a pair of up-and-coming tight ends who spent last year practicing, observing and preparing for their chance to contribute. Sophomore Sean Reuss and red-shirt freshman Max Andrews (a John Bapst graduate from Holden) filled in for Perillo in the scrimmage.
“It was good to be able to put them in some of those high-intensity situations where they were forced to breathe heavy and think fast and make plays,” Cosgrove said. “They were good in some cases and they weren’t so good in some others, but that’s why we coach.”
Maine is coming off a 5-6 season in which the Black Bears won three of their final four games, including victories of 51-7 over Georgia State and 55-6 over Rhode Island. They return Wasilewski, who ranked among the top three in the CAA in passing yardage, completions and passing touchdowns.
They also welcome back senior defensive end Michael Cole, the 2012 CAA sacks leader with seven despite missing the final six games because of a knee injury. Cole saw his first live action Tuesday after being held out of the team’s Aug. 12 scrimmage and missing all of spring practice.
“I was obviously a little nervous coming out, but I’m glad I got a bunch of reps under my belt,” said Cole, who played for 35 snaps and twice sacked Wasilewski. “It felt good pretty much the whole time, so it was very encouraging.”
Senior Erwin Roach returns at the other defensive end, but sophomore Mike Kozlakowski, who saw significant playing time last season, is out for the year with a torn biceps muscle. Also lost for the season are sophomore offensive tackle Calvert Schaefer (leg) and freshman defensive back Tayvon Hall (foot).
Graduation claimed five defensive starters and four on offense, including linemen Josh Spearin, Garrett Williamson and Chris Howley. The interior line in Tuesday’s scrimmage consisted of veterans Joe Hook (tackle) and Jeff Gakos (guard) alongside senior Tyler Patterson (of Owls Head and Rockland High), sophomore Benedict Wezel (a 6-foot-8 native of Germany) and junior Bruce Johnson.
Cosgrove was happier with the performance of his running backs – Rickey Stevens, Nigel Jones, Terrel Walker, Zedric Joseph — than his receivers.
“Maybe I’m guilty of having expectations that are higher than they should be,” Cosgrove said, “but I don’t think so. I think we have some talented guys (at wide receiver) who need to be more consistent.”
One of the freshman receivers — none of whom are likely to see any time this season — is Cosgrove’s son, Matt, a Bangor High graduate.
“Just having him in the program is something that as a dad, you like to see,” Jack Cosgrove said. “I think most parents, when their son goes off to college, they want some structure in his life. I just don’t know what the regular students do with all the free time they have, knowing the college life like I do. It’s just way too much spare time.”
A defense that allowed a CAA-low 19.5 points per game once again appears formidable. Red-shirt freshmen Darius Greene and Patrick Ricard have emerged as capable run-stoppers along with veteran Matt Wilson on the interior line.
Westbrook’s Trevor Bates, who prepared in spring practice to become a middle linebacker, has returned to defensive end after Kozlakowski was lost.
“Sudden change is part of the game,” said Bates, who wore a walking boot because of an ankle sprain and missed Tuesday’s scrimmage. “I was definitely excited about (middle linebacker), but I’ve played D-end and that’s where the team needs me, so I’m all for that.”
Bates is still likely to see time at linebacker in passing situations. Steady Troy Eastman and veteran Aaron Achey will be joined by red-shirt freshman Christophe Mulumba and sophomore Cabrinni Goncalves among a deep linebacking crew.
In the secondary, cornerback Kendall James and safeties Khari Al-Mateen and Jamal Clay return as starters, with Axel Ofori completing the quartet.
Punter Jeffrey Ondish and sophomore Sean Decloux will handle kicking duties, although Ondish dropped a snap and Decloux booted a kickoff out of bounds Tuesday.
“For the most part, we’ve made real good progress,” Cosgrove said. “The attitude has been very good. We’ve had a great number of high-quality practices.”
With a 12-game schedule (up from the usual 11 because of a calendar quirk resulting in 13 weeks between Labor Day and Thanksgiving) and two Football Bowl Subdivision opponents in UMass and Northwestern, the Black Bears are going to need that depth.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: