UMass football spring notebook: Alex Miller honing finer points with large returning O-line group

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 04-07-2022 1:38 PM

AMHERST – Even when he was UMass’ acting head coach at the end of last season, Alex Miller never stopped coaching offensive linemen.

The former UMass center took the helm of the program after Walt Bell’s firing in early November. He was head coach Don Brown’s first hire when Brown took over in December as UMass’ associate head coach and offensive line coach.

It taught him about the expanse of a football program and everything that goes into running one.

“There’s schedule and academics, just all those things fall across your desk. Luckily we have great guys to help with that transition,” Miller said. “That’s the biggest thing, you’re looking at it as a whole instead of your side of the ball or your position.”

Now he’s back in his wheelhouse dialed in on helping prepare UMass’ offensive line for the fall season.

“I never really lost them even when I was doing that but it is good to just be back with them,” Miller said. “A lot of those guys are back, so we didn’t have to shake off too much rust. We can just keep building instead of starting over.”

There are 10 returning linemen from the fall. UMass also added early enrollee freshman Tyler Leinberger, a 6-foot-5, 310-pound tackle from Virginia, and former defensive lineman Josh Atwood is delivering snaps at center.

“It's one of those things where you got to take a look at your roster – it might be a little bit from growing up in the FCS world where you only got 63 scholarships – you just gotta find the best fit and knowing that he's a pretty good D tackle, but he might be a really good center for what we're doing running the football,” Miller said. “He’s added a good element to it right now.”

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Having so much continuity allows Miller and the line to grow and expand beyond basics without abandoning fundamentals. They break every meeting with the phrase “five strong,” an acknowledgement that a weak spot anywhere along the line threatens the whole group.

Those fundamentals become essential when facing the exotic blitzes and fronts that Brown and his defensive staff concoct.

“There’s going to be something we didn’t cover, and you’ve got to rely on your core fundamentals to get you through that play or that call,” Miller said. “That’s what we’re doing, building the toolbox. Whatever they put at us, if we didn’t cover it, we can handle it with a call or technique.”

Facing the Minutemen’s defensive line has been an education over the past two weeks.

“It helps us a lot not only on the field but in the film room to watch them and the different moves that they do,” UMass guard Max Longman said. “Winning and losing, it’s good to learn at the end of the day.”

SPRING GAME TIME – UMass will host its spring game at noon April 30 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. Admission is free, and the game will be broadcast on NESN.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>