Defensive backs dominating early at UMass spring practice


Staff Writer

Published: 04-19-2022 4:33 PM

AMHERST – The UMass defensive backs group would spend a lot of time in the principal’s office, because they have bullied the Minutemen’s offense this spring.

Few catches occur uncontested, and those that do require a perfect route from the receiver. The defensive sideline erupts for every interception, celebrating like it’s in a game to halt the opponents’ possession.

Frankly, they’re mean.

“(It’s coming from) the head coach with his motto, solve problems with aggression,” said UMass cornerback Josh Wallace, referencing Don Brown’s mantra. “It carries to the whole team.”

Even as UMass has added talent and refinement to its receiver group, the defensive backfield has stood out in spring practice. A dozen Minutemen return from a unit that held together UMass’ defense last season. Though they only picked off two passes (both against UConn in the team’s only win) – the fewest in the country – they kept teams under 250 passing yards per game and under 65 percent completion, marks worsened by how much time the unit spent on the field.

Two key contributors have departed from that unit: Bryce Watts declared his eligibility for the NFL Draft, which will take place next week, and Bryson Richardson graduated. 

But UMass’ back end won't be bereft of talent. Wallace will provide stability at corner, while former Notre Dame safety Noah Boykin brings range to the safety position. Penn State transfer Tyler Rudolph and Rutgers transfer Darius Gooden both bring Big 10 experience.

“We’re all holding each other accountable, so it helps a lot,” Wallace said.

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They’ll be under the direction of Darrell Perkins, the defensive backs coach in his first year at UMass. He was at UConn since 2019 and coached with Brown there during Brown’s prior stint with the Huskies. They built a defense that ranked in the top five nationally in 2012 and went to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010.

“We were able to accomplish some great things together. When I got the phone call with him, it was a no brainer, it was ‘yes’ immediately,” Perkins said. “He allows you to coach. You know your expectations. As a coach, you love the scheme and his style that he likes to play defense in.”

He’s taught the defensive backs to be competitive, aggressive and physical. The Minutemen are embracing that spirit.

“We’re climbing the ladder. We’ve got a long way to go, but I think we’re in a good place right now,” Perkins said. “We want guys that love the game, guys that love to be in one-on-one situations. Those are the things that help make us a great group in the secondary.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.