University of Massachusetts graduate tight end/wide receiver Ricardo Miller practices Wednesday, August 7, at McGuirk Stadium. KEVIN GUTTING
AMHERST — After playing most of his career at Michigan, Ricardo Miller had to transfer to the University of Massachusetts to play a game at Wisconsin.
“When the (Big Ten) expanded, we got split. Unfortunately I never played them,” said UMass’ senior tight end/wide receiver. “I’m looking forward to a little Big Ten action on August 31. It’ll be exciting. It’s a little ironic that the first game is Wisconsin. I’m preparing for it now and I think I’ll be ready.”
The Minutemen open the season against the Badgers in Madison at 11 a.m. Michigan last played at Camp Randall Stadium in 2009 when Miller was redshirting and not traveling with the squad. The teams played in Ann Arbor in 2010 but did not meet in 2011 and 2012.
Miller figures to have a larger role against the Badgers with UMass than he did against anyone playing for the Wolverines.
“I felt like I definitely should have been on the field, but for whatever reason I wasn’t. It wasn’t in God’s plan for me to be there,” he said. “So I’m here now and making the most of it.”
UMass coach Charley Molnar has been playing Miller at tight end and wide receiver to create more opportunities for him to be involved in the offense. He’s behind No. 1 tight end Rob Blanchflower, but the two could play together. There also figures to be plenty of playing time available at receiver.
“He’s been back and forth. He’s got so many skills. It’s hard to pigeon hole him right now,” Molnar said. “We don’t have a lot of depth at wide receiver. We certainly have who our tight end is right now with Blanch. The second tight end is up for grabs. With Ricardo, not only is he a passing game threat, but he blocks pretty well. We can utilize him a lot of different ways.”
Miller is glad to be utilized at all.
“I feel like I’m back in high school,” said the Orlando, Fla., native. “I’m just playing the game, not worrying about my position, not trying to impress anybody. I’m just out there like a kid having fun. It’s been great. The offense is really fast paced, but I’m picking it up nicely. Everything I’ve wanted coming to UMass, I’ve gotten: the opportunity, the leadership and chance to be a mentor to the young guys on the team. It’s been everything I could ask for and it’s only going to get better.”
INJURIES — UMass was thin at tight end Wednesday as Blanchflower and Brandon Howard sat out with undisclosed injuries. Freshman running back Lorenzo Woodley had his foot in a protective boot. Molnar said none of the injuries were serious.
Blanchflower “was general soreness. I’d rather keep him out of this stuff at this point,” Molnar said. “I’d like to get Woodley going by the end of the week. But if not, we’re going to give the players Sunday off and I would think by Monday he’d be good to go. Brandon Howard may go Friday or I may wait until Monday for him too. At the end of next week we’re going to be starting game preparation. We have to make sure we have all of our guys ready to go.”
Jordan Broadnax, who was shaken up with a shoulder injury Tuesday, had his knee looked at late in practice. Molnar didn’t expect him to miss time.
Tajae Sharpe (shoulder) and Anthony Dima (blisters), who were both sidelined with minor injuries, were back in practice Wednesday. Sharpe showed no signs of wear making a leaping catch to extend a drive during a 2-minute drill simulation.
“When (Sharpe) came down, I caught my breath,” Molnar said. “When he got right up I was a little relieved.”
WEDNESDAY SCRIMMAGE — Molnar thought his offense made strides in Wednesday’s scrimmage, the day’s second practice.
“I thought the No. 1 offense was able to sustain drives today. They were able to protect the football. The No. 2 offense had a little bit of a harder time with so many new guys out there. All in all, both offenses made plays today,” Molnar said. “I was pleased on both sides of the ball with the minimum amount of in-game corrections we had to meet.”
With two tight ends out, sophomore Derek Beck had a breakout day, including two touchdown catches.
“He seemed to step up in the passing game,” Molnar said. “That’s good because sometimes Blanch will have to come out or we’ll have two tight ends in the game. It’s good to know we have a more capable backup.”
MORE POTATO — ESPN purchased the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, which is annually played in Boise and reached a six-year agreement to remain affiliated with the Mid-American Conference. The MAC representative will play a team from the Mountain West.
MISCELLANEOUS — UMass is asking fans, who attend future open practices, to sit on what’s normally the visitor’s side of the field for safety precautions. The removal of the press box is scheduled to begin Thursday.
DuVaughn Beckford, a junior defensive back, who transferred from Assumption, has been ruled eligible.