ORONO — On Friday, University of Maine head football coach Jack Cosgrove praised his team’s offseason work. The tone of a season can be set by what happens during the spring and summer, Cosgrove said, and two of the players who made the most of the offseason are John McCabe and Spencer Carey.

McCabe, a junior linebacker from Winslow, and Carey, a redshirt freshman strong safety from Fairfield, each showed improvement in the offseason, and could contribute to the Black Bears’ defense this season.

Maine opens the season Aug. 30 in Orono against Norfolk State. The defending Colonial Athletic Association champions, the Black Bears open conference play Sept. 27 at Towson.

McCabe played in two games last season, making one tackle. His offseason work caught the attention of Cosgrove and the coaching staff.

“He’s been so tuned in since he’s been here. He and I have had conversations over the years about keep plugging, and he just does. He’s a real good, I don’t want to say surprise, because I think we saw it in the spring building. He was playing better,” Cosgrove said. “He’s turning himself into a CAA football player here in the last year, and he’s just helping us get better.”

McCabe saw improvement across the board, in his speed, strength, and on-field knowledge. McCabe always had a high football IQ. Now his body has caught up.

“I saw the best numbers that I’ve ever had. I’m just feeling really good right now, explosive,” McCabe said. “Spring ball was the first time I’ve gotten a good amount of reps at linebacker and at special teams. It’s just getting comfortable with the positions and learning everything. That’s helped make everything easier.”

Carey spent last season, his first at Maine, as a redshirt, meaning he has four year of eligibility remaining.

“Camp’s completely different. You know what you’re looking for. Freshmen year, you’ve got the jitters,” Carey said. “Second year, you’ve got more confidence. You’ve got more confidence in everything that you’re doing.”

Cosgrove said he saw a lot of improvement from Carey in the spring, and that’s carried over into the first week of training camp. Carey could be in the mix for playing time soon.

“That’s just a matter of time and continued work. I would say Spencer’s ahead of schedule. He had a really good spring. He seems to be in the right place at the right time. He had three or four interceptions this spring,” Cosgrove said.

Added Carey: “On the field, I’ve noticed that I can make my calls quicker, and all my reads come more naturally to me…You’ve got to have your eyes on the right spot, because if you’re looking at the wrong spot, where in high school you can recover, here if you’re one step off, that guy’s by you.”

Carey saw time in the spring on Maine’s goal line defense.

“We put in goal line this spring. I really enjoy that, because you’ve got three yards, and you can’t allow that guy to get in the end zone,” Carey said. “As a defense, I think that’s when we play our best.”

Carey also has worked at long snapper, where he’s second on the depth chart. Carey started long snapping when he played back yard football as a child, and improved at it enough to handle the job at Lawrence High School.

“I kind of came up with my own technique. The coaches really helped me here, putting some effort into it,” Carey said.

“He’s really gotten better at (long snapping). He was OK last year, and right now he looks like a guy who could go in,” Cosgrove said.

Maine went 10-3 in 2013, hosting a Football Championship Subdivision playoff game for the first time in school history. The Black Bears lost that game to rival New Hampshire, 41-27. Maine was ranked No. 20 in the country in the opening FCS coaches poll.

“We can’t get outside of ourselves. We can’t think we’re too great. Nothing’s going to be handed to us,” McCabe said. “Hopefully I can get on the field as much as possible. I’ll do whatever is needed.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]entralmaine.com

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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