ORONO — Quarterback is the ultimate alpha male position in team sports.

Coaches want someone to bark orders; players are eager to follow someone who commands respect.

The University of Maine football team is going through spring practices with two players still trying to become the top dog.

Dan Collins and Drew Belcher both gained experience last year, but neither distinguished themselves in a 5-6 season. They are taking equal repetitions this spring with the Black Bears’ starting offense.

“If neither one of them separate themselves, then in my opinion that’s not good for our football program because we don’t have a No. 1 guy. I would like to see it as one guy,” offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin said Tuesday.

“In our offense, you’ve got to be a great manager. You’ve got to be consistent, you’ve got to make smart decisions. I’m not looking for a flamethrower that’s got a strong arm, that can throw the football down the field. That’s not what’s going to win football games for you. It’s a guy that can move the ball down the field. When it’s obvious and it’s ‘the’ guy, you know.”

Collins will be a junior in the fall. He started the first six games last year and was starting to come into his own as a passer when he injured his throwing shoulder in a loss at Stony Brook, had surgery and missed the rest of the season.

In stepped Belcher, a freshman who had seen some action in four games before starting the final five. The 235-pounder struggled with his passes and was quick to take off and run, piling up 312 yards on the ground to rank second on the team.

Both had their moments, but there wasn’t enough in an offense that generated only 20 touchdowns.

Both enter spring camp, which concludes May 2, with a clearer picture of what went wrong.

“I’ve been working on my footwork and just getting through my reads faster,” Belcher said. “I definitely can be more vocal, be a louder leader, show more of a grasp of the playbook. It’s comforting to know that I’m able to go out there and do it. I’ve gained the respect of some of the older guys, so that’s big for me.”

Belcher threw for 740 yards and three touchdowns, leading Maine to three wins in its last four games against the softer portion of its schedule.

Bourgoin said Belcher needs to be confident enough to stay in the pocket longer and try to make passes, rather than giving up on the play and reverting to a run-first style that suited him well at Reading High in Massachusetts. Belcher said getting to spend the winter watching film of himself and putting on muscle in the weight room makes him better-suited to run the offense rather than merely trying to run over opposing tacklers.

Collins passed for 908 yards and nine touchdowns. He had his best game in a victory at Towson, but injury struck two weeks later at Stony Brook. He rolled out of the pocket and prepared to launch a pass back across the field when a defensive tackle hauled him down and he landed heavily on his shoulder.

“I could tell as soon as I fell,” he said. “My shoulder pad was down. I knew it was bad.”

Doctors inserted two permanent copper plates in the shoulder to keep it aligned. Collins spent nearly five months rehabilitating, working out with medicine balls to regain the strength and mobility he needs.

Once he started throwing again, his first passes traveled 10 yards. Then he added 5 yards at a time until he pronounced himself fully healthy as spring practices began last Thursday.

“It feels just like I was last spring,” Collins said.

Watching his games on film – particularly a sluggish outing in a Week 3 loss at Bryant – is what pains him now.

“I should have been doing so much more. I expect a lot more out of myself,” Collins said. “I feel like last year I got to the point where I could throw the ball well, but I didn’t make the right reads sometimes. I wasn’t really taking the throws they were giving me sometimes.

“I think I need to be that guy that takes the sure throw and make sure we’re moving the chains..”

Maine has scrimmages each of the next three Saturdays. The final one, on May 2, will be the biggest test for the quarterbacks. Last spring, Collins and the offense were stuck in place trying to maneuver against a stout Black Bears defense. Belcher was still in high school.

This year, Collins promises a different outcome.

“We’re going to move the ball, I can tell you that much,” he said. “The first practices have been physical, have been a show. We get after each other.”

It’s doubtful Coach Jack Cosgrove will name a starting quarterback this spring. Collins and Belcher battled last August all the way to the week of the opening game before Collins was elevated to the top of the depth chart.

This year, Bourgoin has higher hopes.

“I think that position is going to go from inexperience … to be a strength for us,” he said.

“We’re waiting for someone to emerge.”


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