KINGSTON — Elijah Saintfleur has plenty of time to earn a starting spot on the Rhode Island offense, but he isn’t wasting any of it.
The red-shirt freshman tight end from West Warwick was one of the stars of the off-season training program who also had a superb spring game. Saintfleur impressed coach Joe Trainer to the point that Saintfleur started Saturday’s first scrimmage of camp playing with the first unit.
Saintfleur had two unproductive series with quarterback Bob Bentsen and the first-team offense, but he did perform well with the second team and appears headed toward a significant role for the team when it opens up the 2013 season on Aug. 29 on the road against Fordham.
“I’m just fighting for a starting spot,” Saintfleur said after the first of three scrimmages URI will have during camp. “We had an 0-11 season last year and we’re all trying to get better. Whoever is the best Y (tight end) and whoever is the best quarterback or the best whatever is going to be out on the field.”
Saintfleur’s biggest challenge since coming to Rhode Island has been learning the team’s zone-read attack. In high school, Saintfleur was a dominating defensive end who also dabbled at tight end, but because he entered college barely above 200 pounds, his future wasn’t on the defensive side of the ball.
Saintfleur has gained at least 20 pounds in the last year and he’s starting to pick up the offense. He caught a number of passes in the spring game, but he didn’t make a catch Saturday as the offense opted for a ground-and-pound strategy to move the ball against the URI defense.
“I’ve had some pretty good weeks of practice. I just need to turn those weeks into good scrimmages,” Saintfleur said. “I don’t think this was the greatest scrimmage for me. We’re going to go back, look at film and try to push ahead.”
“He’s still figuring the whole thing out,” Trainer said. “He’s so young and so raw. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do in the weight room. He’s athletic and he still has to become more physical in the run game. He wants to become a good player and I think he’s going to be a star here.”
After Rhode Island’s first-team offense couldn’t muster a first down on the first two drives of the scrimmage, changes were made and one of the changes was at tight end where Tulane transfer Andrew Siden replaced Saintfleur. Siden wasn’t a target for Bentsen either, but URI did score a few touchdowns.
Saintfleur and the second-team offense, which was quarterbacked by Kolt Peavey, also scored a few touchdowns as the offense dominated the defense in the second half of the scrimmage.
Saintfleur will have two more scrimmages to impress the offensive coaches and Trainer said the former Wizard should be a part of the team’s offense this season.
“We’re expecting him to be one of those one and a halves and we’re going to go look at the tape right now,” Trainer said. “I’d be disappointed if he wasn’t making plays for this team.”