UNH spring football game

University of New Hampshire defenders Nelson Thomas, left, and J. J. Jerome, right, move in on running back Evan Gray during the annual spring football game in Durham on Saturday, May 4, 2019.

FIVE THINGS we learned at the University of New Hampshire Blue-White spring game on Saturday:

1. Phil Estes is not on the UNH coaching staff.

Yes, that was Estes roaming the sidelines during Saturday’s game, but he was there as a volunteer assistant. Estes, who grew up in Laconia and played offensive line at UNH from 1976 to 1979, served as Brown’s head coach from 1998 to 2018. He has helped UNH at times during spring practice, but has no official position on the staff. It remains to be seen where Estes will land for the 2019 season.

2. The Wildcats aren’t lacking quality running backs.

UNH had three running backs average more than 5 yards per carry Saturday.

— Sophomore Carlos Washington Jr. led the way with 102 yards on five attempts (20.4 per carry), which included a 54-yard touchdown run. Washington led the team in rushing yards (609), rushing attempts (99) and rushing touchdowns (six) last season.

— Senior Evan Gray gained 75 yards on 13 carries (5.8 per carry) and had a 7-yard TD run.

— Redshirt freshman Dylan Laube rushed for 64 yards on six attempts (10.7 per carry).

“I think we’re probably going to have an opportunity to run the football,” UNH coach Sean McDonnell said. “I really thought Carlos, at the end of last year, was a very good football player and a very good running back. I feel good about Evan Gray when he’s healthy. He’s a really good player who’s been banged up for two years. Dylan Laube is gonna add something, so you got three guys who can really play at that position. If we can keep our offensive line healthy, keep who we think are going to be our top five, six guys (healthy), I think we’re gonna be alright there.”

3. UNH appears to be better off at defensive tackle than many thought.

Juniors Elijah Lewis and Jacob Bradshaw, and sophomore Niko Kvietkus are the key players on the interior of the defensive line. It’s a group being coached by former NFL defensive lineman Kendall Reyes, a Nashua North graduate.

Lewis played as a true freshman, missed the 2017 season with an injury and started all 11 games last season. He’s the leading tackler (32) among the returning linemen.

Kvietkus enrolled at UNH in January of last year, played in nine games as a true freshman and recorded eight tackles. The Wildcats also have a run-stuffer in Bradshaw, who is 6-foot-1 and 300 pounds.

How important is stopping the run? The Wildcats allowed an average of 186 rushing yards per game through their first six contests last season (five losses), but surrendered an average of 60 rushing yards per game over their last five (three wins).

4. Wide receiver Malik Love looked better Saturday than he did for most of last season.

A hamstring injury limited Love to two games last season, when he caught two passes for 15 yards. He made a team-high 59 catches as a freshman, and caught 70 passes as a sophomore. He has 1,268 receiving yards and four TD catches during his collegiate career.

Love’s troublesome hamstring bothered him for much of the spring as well, but he caught three passes for 56 yards Saturday. That included a 48-yard TD reception. More will be needed from him this season since Neil O’Connor and Keiran Presley both graduated. O’Connor and Presley accounted for 104 of UNH’s 183 receptions and five of the team’s nine TD catches last season.

“Malik is slowly getting healthy again,” McDonnell said. “He had a hamstring injury that really bothered him all of last year. In the early spring we were having some very tough talks because he wasn’t exploding and playing full speed, and then the last five or six practices he started playing like that and (Saturday) he carried it on. He’s getting confidence back. Look at the catches he had his freshman and sophomore year. He’s a good football player. He’s a known commodity.”

5. Regardless of what UNH gets out of the quarterback position, the Wildcats will rely heavily on its defense this season.

“We’re gonna have to be good on defense for us to win football games,” McDonnell said. “I think the back half, obviously, is the most important part of this defense right now. Starting with Pop (Lacey) and Evan (Horn) at the safety positions. Then you drop it down to Pop Bush at the other (safety) position and then you go to the two linebackers in (Michael) Balsamo and (Quinlen) Dean. The five guys are going to be the five guys who anchor the defense and stop the run. And then you have to hope that your corners, (Isiah) Perkins and (Prince) Smith Jr., hold up, stay healthy and go because those are two pretty good football players.

“We’re excited about the defense. They’ve got to lead us. They’re gonna have to be the ones who get us to where we got to go.”