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Coach Coen Makes Things (More) Crystal-Clear

This weekend saw a lot of interesting updates on how preseason practice is going for the Mountain Hawks. A tantalizing picture of the 2008 Lehigh football team is now taking shape.

The Morning Call's Keith Groller started things off on Sunday with an extensive official report on progress at practice and tons of juicy tidbits as well in his blog entry. As if that weren't enough, the official Lehigh site also filed an update after Sunday's practice as well. From this buffet of different information, only tasty speculation can ensue.

Let's get right to the good stuff, and what it seems to be what's on every Lehigh fan's mind: the QB situation. Who's ahead in the race? Is a decision being made?

With Threatt gone, Coen has a chance to start over, and build an offense around a quarterback he can mold.

The competition for Threatt's old job is the most intriguing aspect of Lehigh's preseason camp. Junior Chris Bokosky, who played when Threatt went to the sidelines, is competing with sophomores J.B. Clark and Trace Cisneros.

The quarterback competition is close, but Coen is adamant about picking one guy -- it will be made after Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage -- and sticking with him. There will be no shuttling in and out of QBs.

Junior Chris Bokosky and sophomore J.B. Clark each had their moments under center on Sunday, as the pair of quarterbacks worked versus the Lehigh defense. Bokosky led the Mountain Hawk “O” on a long drive that resulted in a touchdown, while Clark showed off his arm with several impressive throws that moved the chains. “They’re both progressing,” Coen explained. “Chris had his moments out here today and so did J.B.”

Highly touted freshman Chris Lum, a Michigan product, has looked good, but is not ready for a starting spot just yet.

Coen knows that whoever starts Sept. 6 against Drake at Goodman Stadium must have job security.

"I will definitely not have a short leash with this guy," Coen said. "I will not name him the starting quarterback and then pull him if he throws two interceptions. The guy will have my support and the support of the coaching staff and the rest of the team."

LFN's take: Although it's being billed as a wide-open battle at QB, it was very interesting that junior QB Chris Bokosky and sophomore QB J.B. Clark were singled out for praise after Sunday's practice. I'm speculating that the starting nod will go to either Clark or Bokosky (sorry, fans of sophomore QB Trace Cisneros). And dare I bring up a possibility (that I happen to really dislike) of having a two-headed QB - Bokosky and Clark - coming in the game in different situations?

As for who will win the QB race, I'm not only putting up a brand-new poll to feed the speculation: the decision will come to a head on Saturday. That day won't just be about Lehigh breaking camp, it just became an event: after the scrimmage, coach Coen will announce the starting QB for Drake.

Next up: what about the injury bug that helped decimate Lehigh's chances last year?

Coen said the general health of the team is very good. Through the first nine practices, the team has been been healthier than it was at the same point last year. Senior wide receiver Ben Ivester did break his forearm and will be out six weeks, but the team, as a whole, is in much better shape.

Matt McGowan, one of 2007's most injured guys, is running better than ever and the receivers are doing a better job of catching the ball than they did last year.

LFN's Take: This can be partially attributable to better offseason conditioning, but again (so far, and knocking furiously on wood as I say it) hearing that senior RB Matt McGowan and senior WR Sekou Yansane aren't injured is making me very happy. Having said that, losing senior WR Ben Ivester for 6 weeks with a broken arm means that there is a new spot opening up: that of holder on field goals. (Big deal, I hear you sneer: think again.)

What about the secondary, and special teams? What about a freshman who is making noise early on?

Coen then singled out a pair of Mountain Hawks that caught his eye during the scrimmage. “Freshman WR De’Vaughn Gordon did some good things on our kick-off return unit as we search for a back-up to sophomore DB/KR John Kennedy. Senior P/K Jason Leo punted the ball very well and had nice ‘pop’ on his field goal attempts.” He went onto say, “The defense ran to the ball well, they played very strong against the run; there were a few missed tackles, some things we need to improve, but we’ll keep working.”

The defense, which dominated the spring game, is looking sharp, especially in the secondary.

Kennedy gave his thoughts on how the scrimmage unfolded. "I thought it went pretty good. Both sides of the ball made plays. On defense, I thought we played physical and really ran to the ball." He then commented on how preseason camp has gone up to this point. "It's gone well. Everyday we're getting better, we're building the chemistry of the team, and we're excited about what is still to come."
LFN's Take: If you haven't already, pencil in sophomore DB John Kennedy at cornerback in 2008. Think about this a second: a year ago, we had four seniors in the defensive backfield and a concern about having a defensive backfield in 2008 with little or no experience. Now? The secondary almost doesn't seem like a point of concern even though we have four new starters - and now is getting mentioned as a strength of the team. That's pretty remarkable.

Another point to mention: could something special be brewing on special teams as well? We know John "Fear Itself" Kennedy is a good kick returner: could Gordon make things very tough on opposing kickoff teams as well?

What about team chemistry - something everyone tells me is important to "develop" in the preseason? And what's the work ethic out there?

The coaches really like the attitude of this team and feel the players worked harder in this offseason than they did last year. "The attitude and effort has been great," [offensive coordinator Trey] Brown said. "It started with the winter conditioning and it continued in the spring and moved right through the summer. They realize the sour taste that goes along with 5-6. We haven't questioned the commitment of this football team one time."

The team is bothered by the low expectations others have for them, including the fifth-place preseason ranking in the Patriot League.

This is a team that has quiet confidence and will not be shooting off its mouth. After losing to everybody in the league but Bucknell and Georgetown last year the Mountain Hawks definitely shouldn't have a swagger among them entering this season. They should and will let their actions speak for themselves.

LFN's Take: Although it's nice to hear that a team has "quiet confidence" and are upset that they were picked 5th in the conference, it really doesn't mean much until there are notches in the win column. Having said that, the signs are encouraging that the team appears better conditioned - and, dare I say, humble - than in years past. (Of course, losing to "that school in Easton" four straight years has a way of making a team humble, or so I would hope.)

Finally, though, there's the most important aspect to this preseason:

Coen said he has learned a lot about being a head coach over the past two years and may delegate authority more this year and not get so wrapped up in the offense.

It's this last statement which strikes me the most: not so much about the delegation of authority on offense (which seems like a smart move, by the way) but the fact that he's learned a lot and has been learning from his mistakes from last year. I'll deal with this on my first "Sunday Word" of the year this week in more detail, but it looks like the lessons coach Coen has learned has already had some real, tangible benefits for 2008 and beyond.

Programming Note: Look tomorrow for the start of the ever-popular "Patriot League Offseason 2008" series, where I look closely at every team in the Patriot League this year and break down exactly what is going on with them in the offseason.

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