With 16 starters returning on offense and defense from last year’s national semifinal team, new University of Maine football head coach Nick Charlton has a pretty good idea of what to expect from his team.

Now he starts to find out who’s going to fill in the holes.

The Black Bears will play the 15th annual Jeff Cole Memorial Spring Game at noon Saturday at Orono’s Alfond Stadium. Unlike in years past, when the final day of spring practice was more of a controlled scrimmage, this one will be played out like a game.

The team will be split into Blue and White squads. The coaching staff, also split into two sides, drafted players onto each team. Some players, such as quarterbacks Chris Ferguson, Ryan Walsh and Grant Hartley and center Chris Mulvey, will play on both teams.

“I think it’s a fun, different way to go about the spring game,” said Charlton. “The guys are excited about it, the coaches are excited about it. The kids are taking some pride in their teams. It’s cool.”

Maine is coming off a 10-4 season, winning the Colonial Athletic Association championship and advancing to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision semifinals for the first time in program history. Head coach Joe Harasymiak left to become an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota days after the season ended. Charlton, last year’s offensive coordinator, was quickly named head coach.

Charlton knows what the returning starters can do. Saturday’s intrasquad game will help determine who steps into the open positions. “I think our (first-team players) are really good on both sides,” said Charlton. “It’s about the younger players and guys who haven’t played much stepping up and playing new roles. They’ve been getting a lot of team reps and their energy has been good.”

Several key players will not participate because of injuries. Running back Joe Fitzpatrick of North Yarmouth and Cheverus High is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, as is offensive lineman Michael Gerace. Linebacker Jaron Grayer has been out with a knee issue this spring. Kicker Kenny Doak is recovering from surgery to repair a slight labrum tear in his right hip. Wide receiver Earnest Edwards and offensive lineman Migel Garcia will also sit out.

Charlton said all will be ready for the start of training camp.

In the meantime, players such as tight end Shawn Bowman, a redshirt freshman from Bear, Delaware, and defensive lineman Josh Lezin, a redshirt freshman from Jackson, New Jersey, have impressed Charlton this spring. Now he wants to see how the young players perform in game situations.

“We want to see developed fundamentals and technique,” said Charlton. “The identity of this team is starting to be formed right now. We’re starting to get an idea of who we are.”

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