ORONO — It was baptism under fire for University of Maine quarterbacks Dan Collins and Drew Belcher last fall.
They were trying to fill the void left by the departed Marcus Wasilewski, who quarterbacked the Black Bears to the 2013 Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title and a first-time host berth for an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision game against New Hampshire.
Collins, who appeared in two games in 2013, won the job and started the first six games before a shoulder injury suffered in a 19-7 loss to Stony Brook sidelined him for the season. Belcher, a true freshman, replaced him for the final five games.
Collins completed 77 of 143 passes (53.8 percent) for 908 yards and nine touchdowns. He threw just two interceptions.
Belcher also completed 77 passes among his 152 throws (50.7 percent) for 740 yards and three TDs. He was intercepted three times. Belcher also finished as the team’s second-leading rusher with 312 yards on 115 carries. He ran for two TDs.
Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove said the starting job is up for grabs.
“They are both good athletes,” Cosgrove said. “(The starting job) will come down to moving the chains and being a solid quarterback. You’ve got to complete passes and make the right decisions … down and distance decisions on third and three or third and eight. You have to be able to put us in the right (pass) protection or make the right run call.”
“They are both very capable of running our offense. They each won CAA games last year. Danny has a very strong arm, there’s no mistake about that. Danny can do all the things Drew does and Drew can do all the things Danny does,” Cosgrove added. “They are both progressing.”
The quarterbacks said they benefited from last year’s playing time and are ready to bring their games to the next level.
“Coming from high school right into the college game is a lot different experience, especially the first couple of games,” Belcher said. “The more experience you’re able to get makes it a lot easier. I got better as the season went along.”
Collins, a junior, said he is completely healed after surgery on his throwing shoulder.
“I feel better than I did last year,” Collins said. “I’m ready to go.
“I’ve been focusing on pre-snap stuff like reading defenses. You can always get better at it. Our defense is one of a kind and when you see that every day in practice, it’s something special. It makes you a lot better as a player,” Collins added.
Collins said one aspect of the game being emphasized is third-down conversions.
Maine earned first downs on third-down plays just 28 percent of the time in 2014 en route to its 5-6 record (4-4 in CAA).
“We didn’t do a good job on third down last year. That has been one of the key points in camp. It’s always in the back of our minds. We have to get better at it,” Collins said.
Sophomore Belcher said he has been working on improving physical aspects of his game like footwork and echoed Collins’ thoughts about sharpening up the mental side of the game.
“Defenses at this level do a lot more things. You’ve got to be able to read blitzes and coverages. You have to look at a ton of film,” Belcher said.
They both feel having a more experienced offensive line is a big plus.
“That’s going to be a big help. We had a lot of really young guys and guys playing for the first time in the line last year,” said Belcher, who added that the line of communication between the quarterbacks and interior line is improved.
“I feel great about those guys. I trust that they will do the right thing on every snap,” Collins said. “Because the communication between the quarterbacks and the offensive line is a lot better, we’ll be able to pick up blitzes and things like that. If we keep doing that, we’re going to have a good year.”
Senior center Bruce Johnson said he and his teammates have confidence in their quarterbacks.
“They both bring similar things to the table. They both have pretty good arms and they can both run. Belcher has a little bit of a bigger body and can take more hits. Collins has a very strong arm,” Johnson said.
Even though they are competing for the starting job, they are friends.
“The healthy competition makes each of us better,” Collins said.
Jack Walsh, a freshman from Waldwick, New Jersey, is the third-string quarterback and Cosgrove’s son, Matt, a sophomore, has been converted from wide receiver to serve as the team’s fourth quarterback. Cosgrove is also taking snaps as a wide receiver.
Quarterbacks Kellen Croce and Daniel Hoffer transferred.
Jack Cosgrove said a lot of teams go with just three quarterbacks but he likes to have four.
Matt Cosgrove, who sat out last season with a broken middle finger that required surgery, said he hasn’t played quarterback since his middle-school days in Bangor. He was a wide receiver/defensive back at Bangor High School.
“I found out about the move a month ago. I’ll do anything I can to help the team out,” the younger Cosgrove said. “I was a little rusty but I’m getting more used to it and am having a lot of fun doing it, too. It’s very interesting.
“As a quarterback, you’ve got to learn what everybody else on offense is doing. It’s good for me to learn that,” said Cosgrove who admitted that he has thrown the ball better than he anticipated.
“I’ve surprised myself. I didn’t think I could throw,” Cosgrove said.
Maine opens the season at Boston College on Sept. 5.