Tomorrow, Lehigh will start with split squad practices for the first few days, followed by the first "two-a-days" in full pads starting next week up through August 24th (one day before classes begin). This year, they will have a tiny bit of overlap with Eagles camp - the Big Birds break camp on August 12th, while full two-a-days start a couple of days later for the 'Hawks.
Last year, optimism abounded with coach Coen and the Lehigh troops when camp started. There were some things to work on - notably, "O" and "D"-line depth - but Lehigh had an exciting incoming class, a preseason Player of the Year on offense returning (QB Sedale Threatt), and it looked like there were going to be some real dividends with the new emphasis on being more physical.
A frustrating injury-plagued year later, the mood entering this camp is markedly different. Priorities #1, #2 and #3 appear to be: injury prevention.
“We spent a lot of time with our strength and conditioning staff and our medical staff throughout the off season and looked at ways to not only prevent injury, but also to speed up recovery time.” He continued, “We’re going to do a few things different this year as compared to last with hopes of keeping everyone on the field. The big thing is the injury prevention. Last year I thought the kids gave great effort, but it was tough some days with the injuries we had. The way our camp schedule lays out, it will allow for us to take some time off and let the kids recover.”
Without making excuses, coach Coen is wisely taking steps to help prevent injuries this year that were devastating last year. For example, senior RB Matt McGowan's injury last year in the third day of camp last year was a real blow to this team, as were lingering injuries to the defensive backs and wide receiving crew, including senior WR Sekou Yansane who didn't seem 100% all year.
That's to go with the offseason strength and conditioning program, where there were "40-45 kids working out the other day," coach Coen told me during Media Day. That's a very good number considering that many of the kids playing football need to get summer jobs to be able to make ends meet during the year. "We have a challenge every year with the kids coming here," he said. "They need the summer to work. Some of them get jobs here, but some get great jobs at home. It's a lot easier to get a summer internship in a big city than it is in Bethlehem."
Despite the frustration of 2007, there were some marked areas of improvement last year with coach Coen. Notably, going into the 2007 season two of the big goals were developing depth in the defensive line and depth in the secondary, and coach Coen has been pleased with the results:
A major question mark throughout spring practice was how Lehigh would replace its entire crop of corner backs from 2007. But Coen said he’s pleased with the progress shown by that group. “I’m comfortable with where we’re at right now with them. Throughout the spring, John Kennedy, Jarard Cribbs, Casey Eldemire and Femi Ajewole worked extremely hard to improve themselves and they showed a lot of growth.” He added, “I’m very comfortable with our safeties, Brendan Van Ackeren and Quadir Carter, and know they’ll do a great job mentoring those younger guys.
“I feel very good about our starting defensive line and the depth that we’ve developed there. Every one of those guys who is back saw plenty of time last season.”
There are still big question marks on this team, which has been picked fifth in the preseason pretty much everywhere. But it's worth mentioning and noting that two big holes in this team were filled extremely well - and the coaching staff deserves a boatload of credit for that.
And I happen to believe that the filling of those holes will pay big dividends for us this year - as long as that injury bug stays away. Since it was such a big problem with last year's camp, it's something, I think, that Lehigh fans will have their eyes on over the next couple of weeks.