Thursday, March 23, 2006

Spring Football Starts This Saturday

Are you ready for some spring football? Today's press release makes it official - spring football practice is here, and we'll get our first glimpse of Lehigh's 2006 football team! (And not just of senior TE Pete Morelli, pictured here!)

Spring practice starts this Saturday and runs all the way through the Brown/White game on April 22nd. Practices are generally not open to the public on the Whitehead practice fields, but the Brown/White game is free and open to everyone.

Over the coming weeks we'll get a glimpse of how the starting teams will look, of course, but with Andy Coen coming into his first spring and (for the most part) a new offensive and defensive staff, we may see some interesting and unexpected changes and tweaks to the team. Questions abound. Will there be change in offensive or defensive philosiphies? Will "Air Lehigh" be tempered by more running? Will our defense see some different looks? Those questions may start to be answered during the next four weeks.

With the start of practice, I think it's worthwhile to look at "losses, locks, battles, and surprises". It's one crazy fan's opinion, of course, but it's what I'm going to be looking at the most.

Losses
Let's not mince words - we have a lot of extremely talented starters to replace, especially on offense. Two starting wideouts with Kevin Zebluim and Gerran "G" Walker. Last year's starting QB Mark Borda. Two all-league offensive linemen in Tom Toth and Adam Selmasska. The workhorse running the ball, RB Eric "TNT" Rath.

But the three losses that could be the biggest holes to fill are on defense. LB Anthony "Graz" Graziani, the monster in the middle, FS Kaloma Cardwell, the punisher in the back, and CB Drew Nelson, our best cover corner, all need replacing with new go-to guys.

Locks
Lest we get too upset at the number of new faces this spring, there are four standout players that you can chalk up in the starting lineup in September (barring injury).

QB Sedale Threatt
, who pitched fantastic relief for QB Mark Borda after his season-ending injury, will undoubtedly by snapping the ball for the Engineers. Watching his development as the leader of the offense - and how coach Coen will use his gifts - is one of the exciting things to look forward to in 2006.

Coach Coen is a guy who loves both trenches, offensive and defensive, and with fifth-year senior DT Royce Morgan on defense and T Jim Petrucelli on offense, he will have some great talent to work with. A constant source of double-teaming, Morgan's 41 tackles and 6 sacks could easily be exceeded if new defensive coordinator David Kotulski has his way. Petrucelli, a 10-game starter last year, should be called upon to protect Threatt's blind side, and with his skill and experience should be a lock for the starting "O" line.

Finally, he doesn't always get the headlines, but the big guy from Tennessee, FB Greg Fay, is a hard hitter, a hard worker, and barring injury is a lock for the starting FB position. Much of what he does isn't reflected in the stat sheet, but - and I'm playing a hunch here - we're going to see a lot more of him in 2006 than last year, where he scored 5 TDs and 134 all-purpose yards.

Battles
Wide Receiver. With (basically) the entire senior crew of receivers graduating, it will be interesting to see who of this deep bunch will be Threatt's true go-to guy. Lee Thomas? Frank Trovato? Pete Donchez? Ben Ivester? Sekou Yansane? All talented, but all except Thomas are largely unproven.

Linebacker. The void of "Graz" will be felt - because, who will take his place? One of the experienced guys in Micah Greene, Calvin LaMont and Travis Stinson? Or will Beau Goodhart, LaShaun Gasaway, Tim Diamond or Ben Pravata break into a starting role?

Kick Returner. Last year it was easy - just have Gregg Petrosky return punts and Gerran "G" Walker and Eric "TNT" Rath return kicks. This year, who fills those roles? RB Matt McGowan? RB Marques Thompson? DB Jarvis Lewis? DB LaQuan Gasaway? Or maybe even a dark horse?

Surprises
Here's my predictions for the biggest surprises in spring football:

Safety. Sophomore SS Brendan VanAckeren won't just be challenging for Cardwell's spot by the Brown/White game - he'll be starting. Secondary will be the deepest and toughest it's been in years, but VanAckeren finds a way to make the starting lineup.

Running Back. Don't take away RB Marques Thompson's spot on the starting team, but transfer RB Josh Pastore, from Kent St. will push for time and be an interesting counterpunch to Thompson's slashing speed.

"O" Line. Don't be surprised to see rising sophomore Patrick Casey - recently bulked up to 300 lbs - starting at guard before all is said and done.

You'll want to tune in here for all the latest during the spring season. Let spring football begin!
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