ORONO — Spring football may not be the time when jobs are won, but it’s certainly the time when impressions are made.

And for the University of Maine football team, that time is now.

The Black Bears open their spring season Monday, a five-week stretch of practices and scrimmages that will start to determine who will play pivotal roles as Maine attempts to build off its bounce-back 6-5 season in 2016.

“It’s going to be an exciting time,” said Joe Harasymiak, settled into his second year as head coach. “I think we’re going to try to create as much competition as we can every day.”

Maine traditionally has had a four-week spring football season. But Harasymiak switched to five this year with only three days a week: two practices and a scrimmage on Saturdays. “We’re really trying to hit on rest and recovery,” said Harasymiak, “and take advantage of not overtaxing the guys.”

The team will practice on Monday and Wednesday nights and have scrimmages Saturday mornings, culminating in the Jeff Cole Spring Game on May 6.

There are a lot of key positional battles to watch, including quarterback, where returnees Drew Belcher and Chris Ferguson – both of whom redshirted last year – will compete with transfer Max Staver and incoming freshman Isaiah Robinson. Jack Walsh, who was on the roster last year, has transferred.

Here’s a look at four areas to watch in Maine’s spring practices.

Quarterback

Harasymiak and offensive coordinator Liam Coen expect the fight to be competitive again. The three quarterbacks on campus have been leading off-season workouts in the weight room and organizing voluntary workouts with their receivers.

“None of them are taking the back seat, that’s for sure,” said Coen. “Right now they are all competing, working hard in the weight room. I have no qualms about these guys right now. They’ve taken their level of competition to another level this spring.”

Maine knows what it has with Belcher – who has started nine games – and Ferguson because they’ve been in the program. Staver is the unknown. The coaches have seen him play on film only. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, he’s a pocket passer. He’s previously played at Houston Baptist, Florida and Tyler Junior College and has one year of eligibility remaining.

“The thing about Max is that he’s been to a couple of places and seen some things,” said Coen. “Although he doesn’t have a ton of playing experience, he knows what it’s like to be in a college program. Obviously he’s an older kid, so the maturity level is there. We’re looking to him for maturity, consistency, efficiency. Those things an older kid ought to know.”

Harasymiak said all three will be in the running, but he also expects Robinson to compete for the job.

“The quarterback position is the most important position we recruit, there’s not any doubt about that,” said Harasymiak. “So we have to create as much competition as we can at all times at that position because you live or die by your Q.”

Harasymiak and Coen know exactly what they will be looking for: a leader to take control. The offense has some good skill players, like wide receivers Micah Wright, Earnest Edwards and Jaleel Reed and running back Josh Mack, along with four returning offensive linemen.

Harsymiak said the quarterback competition will continue into the fall.

“I want to get a feel for everyone,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to go out this spring and try to throw for a million yards and not make a mistake, because that’s what spring ball is about – making mistakes and getting better from them.”

Kicker

The Black Bears converted only 1 of 7 field-goal attempts last year, which sometimes forced the Black Bears to make unusual play calls close to the goal line. They also missed several point-after kicks.

Is it any wonder Maine recruited a kicker? Meet Kenny Doak out of Perkasie, Pennsylvania. He’s rated a five-star kicker, and he is being brought in to compete with Derek Deoul, Patrick Leonard (who had the only successful field goal last year), Brandon Briggs and Sam Lenson.

“Off last season, as a head coach, you have to fix it,” said Harasymiak. “I’m not saying one of these guys (on the roster) won’t get better. But we had to create as much competition on staff as we can, so we made the decision to offer a scholarship.

“We’re carrying four (kickers) right now; we probably won’t go into next year carrying five. These guys have to do a good job in spring ball.”

Defensive line

Pat Ricard and Darius Greene had been starters or major contributors on defense for four years. Knowing they won’t be there next fall, Harasymiak admitted, “is a little scary.”

If Maine’s defense is going to be strong, it needs to be stout up front. In the middle, that means senior Schuyler Huntington, junior Andrew Stevens, sophomore Charles Mitchell and redshirt freshman Skylar Bowman have to step up. The first three have all played.

“We have guys who have played, but now it’s different, going from 18 to 25 reps to now taking 45 to 50 reps, potentially,” said Harasymiak. “This is a chance to really create some competition.”

Defensive end, even with the starters returning, could be a fight as well. Senior Dakota Tarbox and junior Connor Walsh rotated at one end, with junior Uchenna Egwuonwu at the other. They’ll be pushed by junior Alejandro Oregon and sophomore Kayon Whitaker (whom Harasymiak singled out for his offseason work).

Safety

When you have all your safeties returning, it might not seem like a problem.

“The safety position is the most wide-open position we have,” he said. “Top to bottom, everyone has started and/or played (except) one guy, redshirt freshman Demian Thomas.”

Senior Jason Matovu (23 career games, 10 starts), redshirt junior Darrius Hart (19 games, three starts), senior DeAndre Scott (eight games last fall after transferring from Arizona State), and juniors Jeffrey DeVaughn (22 games) and Sinmisola Demuren (18 games, eight starts) rotated through the position last year. Matovu was second on the team with 67 tackles, while Hart was fifth in tackles and had a team-high three interceptions. Scott, who battled injuries, had 44 tackles.

“Someone has got to emerge from that group,” said Harasymiak.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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