After reading the release and pouring over the spring prospectus, here are the things to watch in Spring Practice over the next 3 weeks:
- Replacing Adam Bergen. Anytime you lose a special player (and probable second-day NFL draftee) like TE Adam Bergen, there are huge shoes to fill. Battling for the starting TE position in 2005 are juniors Landon Maggs and Pete Morelli. Morelli was banged up for large portions of last year, while Maggs saw action as the second TE and also caught some passes. It's my impression that Maggs is more of a big blocker, while Morelli is more of a pass-catching type. It will be interesting to see who the starter will end up being - I feel like Maggs and Morelli (if healthy) is an even battle. My pick will be for Morelli to step up and be the starter in 2006.
- The "O" Line. Losing 3 starters to graduation (Justin Terry, Jason Morrell, Rob Sandie), this is arguably the biggest area that Lehigh Football Nation and the coaching staff will be looking at. Locks for 2 starting positions are senior guard Adam Selmasska and senior tackle Tom Toth. At center, junior John Reese would seem to have the inside track. That leaves the final tackle position, with a super battle between junior Jim Petrucelli, junior Jason Russell, and sophomore Jimmy Kehs. I like Kehs to win this battle. He's 6'4 and 300 lbs, got starting time as a true freshman last year, and the coaching staff seems to think he has great potential. Overall, there seems to be an embarassment of riches on the "O" line - I am not worried about Lehigh's ability to reload after graduation.
- Kicking. With sophomore K Matt McNeils leaving the team for "personal reasons", junior K Justin Musilek inherits the full-time kicking duties for 2006. Backing him up will be freshman K/P John Leo (whom we won't see in the next 3 weeks). Musilek will be watched closely to see if he can shore up a position plagued by too many missed FG and out-of-bounds kickoffs in 2004. Further complicating matters is that there will be a new holder on FGs as well, since graduating 1st team All Patriot League punter Kyle Keating was also the holder on FGs. Lehigh Football Nation will also be watching senior P Josh Mann closely to see how he manages to fill Keating's shoes.
- Pass Rushing. DEs Tom Alfsen and Tristan Lawrence graduated in 2004 (along with their 15 sacks). Whereas the DT position seems set with seniors Josh Cooney, Will Mitchell, and (hopefully by August) difference-maker Royce Morgan, at the ends there should be a spirited battle between junior Tyrell Jenkins, junior Matt Mohler, junior Paul Fabre, sophomore Mike Murawinski, and sophomore Joel Kriss for the two end spots. This battle is really too close to call, though I really like what I saw from Tyrell Jenkins in the I-AA playoffs versus James Madison. My initial pick is to say that Jenkins and Mohler have the inside track, but I could easily see any of these 5 athletes as the starting end in September, depending on what happens this month. Although he's not featured in the prospectus, look out especially for Kriss - just a hunch.
- Defensive back. CB Neal Boozer-Gallman and SS Karrie Ford are lost to graduation, so there are 2 big voids to fill. Senior FS Kaloma Cardwell is a team captain and lock for a starting position, and (to me) juniors Andrew Nelson and Brannan Thomas are locks for the starting CB jobs - two guys who saw significant playing time as sophomores. That leaves SS, which will be very interesting. Juniors Julian Austin and Courtney Elder saw significant time in 2004, and both make strong cases that they should be starters in 2005. Right now, give the nod to Elder, but don't be surprised if Austin finds himself there by spring's end.
- Backup QB. Senior QB Mark Borda returns as the undisputed starter next year. But the battle for #2 and #3 could be very interesting between a junior and 2 sophomores. Junior QB Mike Probst (a transfer from Delaware) has a lot of heart and game experience, and has to have the inside track at the backup QB position. However, the coaches also seem to like athletic QB Sedale Threatt (who saw some playing time last year) to make a strong challenge to be the first option off the bench. Not to be forgotten is strong-armed sophomore Kevin Marshall. The only thing for sure is there's going to be an extremely talented QB sitting 4th in the depth chart.
Check Lehigh's spring prospectus (at the LehighSports.Com website) for a full schedule of spring practice times and dates. It will be an interesting spring!