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Six Practices Down, Nine To Go

Spring football is going along well, even when the temperature outside seems more like a mid-summers' day than early April.  Viewed in that light, it seems pretty apropos that Lehigh's theme for this year involves the heat - or, as head coach Andy Coen explained to Keith Groller of the Morning Call, 212 degrees:

'That's the boiling point of water,'' Coen said. ''The thought is that you want to heat up and when you get to 212 degrees, you boil and you can do some special things. I think they picked up a good theme because we have been close the last couple of years. We have been playing at 210, 211 degrees in a lot of games. This year we need to get to 212.''

It's been an incredibly busy month for Lehigh athletics - two NCAA tournament appearances, an EIWA and NCAA Wrestling championship, and another appearance on CBS College Sports this weekend - this time for men's lacrosse, where they head up to Hamilton to engage in their own springtime version of "Hate the 'Gate" week.  That unfortunately has obscured some interesting coverage of this springs' practices, which I hope to rectify today with a fact-packed posting on everything that's been happening football-wise. (more)

Start with the print press reports on spring practice so far, who understandably have been focused on the presence of Dave Cecchini as the new offensive coordinator and the QB situation:

Morning Call: Lehigh Seeking A Heat Wave This Fall

''The quarterback position is open right now,''Coen said. ''Those kids were told that at the end of last year. They have got to step up and play. We'll look at spring and all of the opportunities we're going to give them. I don't think you can look at it any other way after all the inconsistency we had last year.

''Offensively, we need to be better than we were a year ago. Dave [Cecchini] is our offensive coordinator and he's got some new ideas and we're going to take a look at them and find some good things for us.''

Groller's Corner: Air of Confidence at Lehigh

There's a sense, however, that something good is going to happen. The players, for the most part, love Coen. They are glad he and most of the staff is back.

And they're glad to have back Dave Cecchini, who played a major part as coach during Lehigh's golden era from 1998-2001, a four-year stretch in which the Mountain Hawks went 45-5 and won three NCAA I-AA playoff games. Cecchini, in his old role as offensive coordinator, seemed right at home on Friday.

As for how things are working out between old friends Coen and Cecchini, who everybody knows went for the same job back in late 2005, well, it seems like old times.

"We have a lot of respect for each other and are good friends," Coen said. "I knew it would be a seamless transition. We've been through this together before. Dave and I saw how things could turn around when we were on Kevin Higgins' staff. We won a league championship in Kevin's second year [1995] and then went through a 5-6 and 4-7 season before we took off [12-1 in 1998].

"Dave and I have always stayed in touch. We're excited to get him back here and I think he's excited to be here."
Easton Express-Times: Football Team Adjusting to New Offensive Coordinator

Offensively, the players have to get used to a new coordinator in Dave Cecchini, who returns to his alma mater as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach this season.

Senior RB Jay Campbell said the transition isn't hard to catch on to.

"It’s pretty much the same system, but a couple different tweaks here and there," Campbell said. "It’s a little more streamlined. I wouldn’t say simplified, but more streamlined. It hasn’t been hard to process or anything."

Coen said he's letting Cecchini "put his stamp on things," much like the assistant did in successful stints at Harvard and The Citadel before returning to Lehigh.

"The kids are comfortable with that," Coen said. "We’re doing some different things in the pass game and I think they’re going to be positive and I think our quarterbacks enjoy learning those things. If you're a casual observer it’s not going to look a whole lot different. I’m really happy that he’s here."
From these reports, it's not hard to see that there is a great consistency there: that there hasn't been that much of a learning curve from last year to this year, which has to be an advantage.  Hearing quotes like "seamless transition" from coach Coen can only be positive going into the spring.

The QB battle - between senior QB J.B. Clark and junior QB Chris Lum - is still raging, and undoubtedly the only real time those questions will have a chance of being answered is in the spring game at 10:00 AM on April 21st (which is free, and open to the public).  It will also be interesting to see if Cecchini's presence will have both QBs looking any different, too, in the spring game.

Sophomore QB Michael Colvin is still recovering from an awful injury he suffered last year, so he's not in the mix - yet.  "If he's not the quarterback, he'll do the Wildcat or a tailback or something," Coen said, confirming that the exciting freshman from last year is looking to be a part of the offense once he recovers.  Colvin, as well as senior DT Phil Winett won't be practicing until the fall as well as senior DE David Brown as they recover from various injuries.  All three could be big difference-makers in the fall.

Lehigh Athletics also released a spring practice update, featuring a video report with Courtney Molinaro, a member of 2009's championship women's basketball team.

She interviewed two teammates that seem to be the frontrunners for team captains: senior RB Jaren Walker ("I'm a senior, but we should all be leaders out here.  I lead by example, and what that expect from me is what I expect from them.  Everybody should be a leader on this team.") and senior LB Al Pierce ("I'm looking to set a good example on and off the field.")

If two of the team captains are indeed Walker and Pierce, it seems like this team could be one with quiet, intense leaders that have their play on the field do the talking, similar to Matt Cohen and B.J. Benning last year.

Coen also talked practice in the official release:

“This past Saturday (April 3) was our first live tackling segment; I like the physicality of the team, however our technique needs to improve which is normal for this time of year.  The kids are so anxious to hit that they forget about technique and fundamentals, but that will come with time.  There were also a few hot days in there that the guys weren’t used to but I thought they handled it well.”

Coen said that both sides of the ball are about where he thought they’d be at this point.  “The offense and defense have been evenly matched during practice and that is good to see.  On offense we’re still installing new concepts; we want our offensive attack to be sophisticated enough that it allows us to be successful, but we don’t want to oversimplify things.” 
In addition, coach Coen singled out some offensive players for praise: junior RB Matt Fitz and sophomore WR Ryan Spadola.  "They're two young guys who have really flashed on more than one occassion," coach Coen told me.  "They both ran extremely well when we timed the 40-yard dash before spring ball and they are playing at that speed on the field."

If there's one item that coach Coen seems to want to work on, it's offensive turnovers.  “You can see the kids learning from their mistakes," Coen said.  "They continue to improve and correct something they did earlier in a particular practice or from the previous day and that’s the goal; we want them getting better each time we’re out there.  As a whole the offense has turned the ball over a little too much for my liking so that will be a focus as we continue to move through the spring.”

When I asked coach Coen for some more standouts, he added, "Offensively I have been impressed by senior OL Keith Schauder, he is playing both guard and center and he has really improved his overall strength and athleticism. On the defensive side of the ball I have been very impressed by our linebackers sophomore LB Sam Loughery.  He has done a very nice job and is about 20 lbs heavier then when he came in last fall. Senior NG Bill Dokouslis has also done a nice job playing nose guard for the first time."

Another real interesting development is that there appears to be a bona-fide battle to compete for the starting spot that Matt Cohen occupied the last three years.  "Junior LB Fred Mihal and sophomore LB Billy Boyko are competing for time at the spot Matt played," Coen mentioned in the official release.  "We want to see kids competing each time we’re out on the field.”  Interestingly, both are Pennsylvania guys - replacing Cohen, who was a star at Allentown Central Catholic.  Boyko comes from nearby Northampton, and Mihal comes from Wyoming (PA that is). 

Senior DT Ben Flizack, a talented player, seems to have finally settled in at defensive tackle, and he was singled out as well for praise on the official release as well.  A converted linebacker, it's good to see him finally get a chance to show what he can do.

Finally, coach Coen shared with me that he thought there was great energy at every practice and that there were some good things going on.  It looks to this observer that the defense may be a shade ahead of the offense at this point, which may be somewhat expected considering the new coach on offense.  But we're really starting to get a sense of what this 2010 football team may be about, and there's lots to be excited about.  It will be interesting to see in two weeks our first real look at this team in the Brown & White game.


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