Monday, April 23, 2007

Brown/White Game: Coach Coen's Thoughts, And Mine

This Saturday, in front of 1,100 sun-drenched (and vocal) souls, Lehigh held it's final spring practice in the form of the Brown/White game. There was plenty to get excited about, from senior QB Sedale Threatt's 50-yard bombs to junior WR Sekou Yansane and junior WR Nick Johnson, junior DB Brendan VanAckeren's great interception of backup senior QB Kevin Marshall, and senior FS (and defensive co-captain) Ernie Moore's crushing hit on junior TE Troy Healion that caused a a fumble (and an appreciative "oooh!" from the crowd). If there's a theme to the production on the day, it was "big plays" on both sides of the ball.

You can see the full album of pictures I took of the Brown/White game here. Also, I caught up with coach Coen after the game, and this is what he told me.

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LFN: What were your impressions on the day?

Coach Coen: I was pleased. I thought both sides of the lines played pretty well, which was my big concern all spring. The first group came out and protected the passer pretty well, the first "D" line made some plays, got in the backfield, made some tackles for loss and they stepped up and did some good things. I really like the execution of the offense - they seemed pretty clean, the first unit. They looked like they had some consistency, they made a couple big plays, Sekou [Yansane] made a nice catch, Sedale [Threatt] threw some nice balls. So I feel pretty good about that, but we've got a lot of work to do, at every position.

LFN: Defense had some pretty good hits, and some turnovers.

Coach: They did. I get mad when the offense turns the ball over, but great job by Ernie Moore causing the fumble, and Brendan [VanAckeren] made a great play on that interception. We're not going to be strong enough on one side of the ball to have one side really carry the other, we're going to have to play well as a team like we did towards the end of last season. We're going to need to keep getting better at all positions, and I'm glad we've got 29 practices until we play our first game. Camp will be big.

LFN: It didn't seem like defense really dominated over offense, or vice versa.

Coach: Yeah, it's what you like to see. I think we've got some good football players, we've just got to make sure we're getting the right ones out there.

LFN: What's next for the team?

Coach: The kids have a couple of weeks off, they finish up classes this week and then have finals. We don't have any real involvement with them then. They can start back up in June with our strength & conditioning coaches, they'll get right back in the weight room, lifting hard, a lot of them will be on campus here. The coaching staff will be back in the office this week, reviewing the spring, and then we'll be right back on the road recruiting next week.

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My impressions? They are below.

1. Our opponents next year better like getting hit. I'm a defensive snob, and I really like what coach Kotulski has brought to Lehigh with his 3-4 and an aggressive attitude. The beginning of last year, you got a feeling from some of the squad a bit of a tentativeness as we adjusted to the 3-4. This year, it's clear the unit has come together very quickly and have a good grasp of their assignments. Senior FS Ernie Moore shined, doing a good job leading from the secondary and hitting gaps very well, and junior DB Bredan VanAckeren made not only good hits but also made a great interception as well. Also of note was junior LB Tim Diamond's nose for the ball, and a nice job as well from sophomore DT B.J. Benning, senior DL Paul Bode, and senior LB Travis Stinson. Overall, I'm very excited about how well this defense could come together if they continue this aggressive attitude to go with hard offseason work.

2. "O" Line Depth. Our "O" line needed kids to step up, and they did. You know senior C John Reese and senior T Jimmy Kehs would be good, but the "big boys" also did well in junior OLs Kevin Bayani and Patrick Casey with the first team. The second line, with sophomore OL Frank Giacalone, showed some flashes of ability as well, showing some more depth there than folks might have thought. Still a bit green, but nice flashes of potential, too.

3. Goal Line situations. What was such a problem last year ended up being very promising this spring. I don't have the statistics but I believe White went 2-for-3 or 3-for-4 at the goal line, with the line getting pretty good push against the hard-hitting defense that didn't give up much. Coach Coen wanted to work on this aspect of the Mountain Hawk game, and early on it looks like they're making some headway.

4. WR, FB and RB depth. Like you, I was trying to remember who sophomore RB Sean Parrott was. With junior RB Josh Pastore out with an bang-up injury, Parrott made an immediate impression with two rushing TDs on the day. Not to neglect, however, the contributions of junior WR Nick Johnson, sophomore RB Eric Moore, and junior FB Adam Watson. All give the impression that we could have really great depth at running back, and even at wideout as well. Watson left me wondering if we might see more of him next season, too.

5. Jason Leo's leg. Near the end of practice, junior P/K Jason Leo had a field goal drill which started with a 30 yarder. Nailed. 35. Nailed. 40. Nailed. He was really, really on. Maybe you had to be there to appreciate it, but his punts and kicks were really strong.

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Just in case you didn't get enough of my impressions, the interview with Coach, and the pictures, there's also the writeups from the game from Lehighsports.Com, the Allentown Morning Call, and Easton Express-Times.

"The biggest thing I'm trying to do is get some fight out of them. 'Fight like champions' is our slogan this year," Lehigh coach Andy Coen said.

“Overall I’m happy with how it went out here today. The execution for the most part was good; we still have things to clean up, but I’m happy with the effort the kids showed throughout the entire spring. We had a few fumbled snaps so that needs to get fixed, but I think at this point of the year, no team in the country is satisfied with where it’s at. We saw some very promising things out there today on both sides of the ball. I think certain guys stepped up, such as Nick Johnson who had a very nice catch to open things up, Sean (Parrott), I’ve been on him all spring long to run hard and he did that today. So we’ll go back and watch the film and I’m sure we’ll address what needs addressing.”

Lehigh is clearly a step ahead of where it was on both sides of the ball at this point last year and showed enough flashes in its intrasquad game to create excitement for the season that begins in 20 weeks -- Sept. 8 against Villanova.

"It felt good," said Threatt, a rising senior. "There was a comfort level coming into today. It felt good to be back in the stadium. Coach [Coen] came up to me about that first play and I said, 'Let's go with it.' The brain [Coen] over there is cooking. I don't know if we need to open it more, because we have a sound offense right now."

"We were just getting to know each other last spring," Threatt said. "Until the Albany [season-opener], I was never in a game with Coach Coen before. Now, everybody has a sound grasp of what we're doing and where they need to be."

"The coaches have been preaching to us to run hard and hit the holes," Parrott said. "There's still work to be done, but I think we did pretty good. [On the TD run] I was just running hard and all of a sudden it opened up. I was like 'What's going on?' Coaches have been looking for us to step up and a few guys did that today."

"We were flying around and excited to make plays," Moore said. "Today was the day we needed to showcase what we have. We could have done a little bit better, but everyone was happy to play. We made some mistakes today, but we have the whole summer to get ready for camp and Sept. 8."

"Last year at this time, I was just trying to get my position down [under the new 3-4 scheme]," Moore said. "Now, I know much more about the whole defense and can piece the whole thing together. I can tell guys where they need to be and play chess a little bit."

The defense wanted to start anew and begin to bury images of its last performance -- the disastrous 49-27 loss at Lafayette that cost the Mountain Hawks sole possession of the Patriot League title and an NCAA playoff berth.

"I'm not going to make excuses for last year because football is football and in rain, sleet, snow, or whatever, you have to go out and play," Threatt said. "But I think this year we're a step ahead of the game."

"I'd say a day hasn't gone by this offseason without us thinking about that or hearing about that from the coaches," said VanAckeren, a junior defensive back. "Every day in the weight room, during morning runs, in spring practice, we've been conscious of that, just trying to get bigger, faster, stronger."

"We didn't play well on defense at all in that game," Coen said. "The kids who are coming back understand that, the defensive coaches understand it, I understand it. That's been somewhat of a rallying cry, for these guys to step up in big games."

Lehigh lines: VanAckeren, a junior, was presented with the first Jimmy Gum Memorial Scholarship, a presentation made on behalf of the former Pen Argyl High and Lehigh star who died last year after a battle with ALS. The award goes to a Lehigh Valley player at Lehigh who excels on and off the field. … In addition to Moore and Threatt, fifth-year returnees John Reese and Brannan Thomas were named co-captains. … Preseason camp begins Aug. 10.
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