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Patriot League Media Day: Coen Talks Lehigh Offense

I remember head coach Andy Coen's first Patriot League media day at the Green Pond Country Club.  Oddly enough, in many ways it was very similar to last week's turn at the annual media event.

Then as now, he thinks of the beginning of August as "like Christmastime", when he starts to see what sort of a football team he's going to have in the fall.

Coaches are expected to be excited about their teams going into August.  Last week - just as he did in 2006 - coach Coen was, as expected, looking forward to fall practice. But he did add something that he didn't say in previous years - that he had a "great group coming back" that "would be hard at work building on what was accomplished in spring ball."

In 2006, Coen inherited a program was, in many ways, really former head coach Pete Lembo's team. Now that the tiny football class of 2010 has graduated, this program is now filled with experienced players that all have Andy Coen's signature. It's going to be a group completely on board with coach Coen's philosophy and way of doing things. The big question for the 2010 season is: will it be enough to get back to Lehigh's old winning ways?  (more)

"Things have been going well," coach Coen told me at Media day this past Tuesday.  "Coaches have been working hard, kids have been working really hard.  We're excited to get going."

In a way, it's not too hard to see why he's excited.  Based on the official Lehigh Sports wrapup of media day, Coen said it was "a lot earlier than summer" when he was happy that players like former Holy Cross QB Dominc Randolph, former Colgate WR Pat Simonds and former Fordham QB John Skelton wouldn't be suiting up against his football team this year.

In addition to that, he was also thrilled by his team's reaction to what could be the most challenging Lehigh football schedule ever.  Faced with going against teams like defending FCS national champion Villanova, perennial FBS-killer New Hampshire, and preseason Ivy Title favorite Harvard, Keith Groller's report for the Morning Call said that:

"The test to me was how the kids reacted when the schedule came out," Coach Coen said. "They were excited about it, and to me, that says we got the right guys. We've got guys who want to compete against Villanova, New Hampshire and the rest of the good teams we'll play."
The enthusiasm, however, is tempered by some sobering numbers.  Groller does mention that Lehigh is coming off of three straight losing seasons, and "many diehards are just hoping the team survives a brutal non-league schedule that includes defending national champ Villanova, New Hampshire and Harvard and three road trips to New England in total."  For good measure, he adds in his blog that "Lehigh has to play better football this year - and it has to start on Labor Day weekend at Drake, or else the vultures will be circling before the leaves start to change color."

There are some encouraging numbers, too, however.  One of them is 17 - the number of starters returning, despite the fact that Lehigh loses OL Frank Giacalone and defensive player of the year LB Matt Cohen.  The other is 2 - the number of consecutive wins against Lafayette, and arguably a large reason why the Lehigh faithful have continued to stand by coach Coen despite the record.

There's also the feeling that now - with offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini returning to South Mountain, and so much talent and experience returning - that this might, just might, be the year that everything all comes together again.

"One of the things we can really help ourselves in is not turning over the football," coach Coen said.  "We did that way too much, particularly early in the season last year.  That was a big emphasis in the spring.  Dave [Cecchini] has made an immediate impact with our football program.  I think the kids have taken to him right away.  I think he's going to make a strong impact on our program."

"This is the first year that we've had such a large returning group of guys," coach Coen told me.  "The caveat to that is we're coming off a 4-7 season.  These guys need to improve, they've heard that and they know that.  I thought they did a great job in the springtime, adapting to coach Cecchini's offense."

In addition to that, coach Coen told me another area of emphasis for him in August.  "We feel really good about our first team [offensive linemen],  but we'd like to develop some more depth. I think we've got some kids to do that in the program.  And I'm really excited about the group of freshmen that we've brought in - they're the biggest, most physical looking group of freshmen offensive linemen we've brought in since I've been here.  There may be an opportunity for those guys to get into the mix."

"People can expect us to build on what we did last year and do it with more efficiency," senior OL William Rackley told Keith Groller. "The biggest difference is that we're going to be in a huddle much more this year. I like that because you can get in the huddle and regroup and refocus."

The centerpiece of that efficiency, however, is still up in the air. From the Morning Call article:

"It's probably the biggest question and challenge we face entering training camp," Coen said. "We've got two guys who have proven they can do some good things out there. It's just going to be a matter of finding the one who's going to be the most consistent.

"I don't think the quarterback battle will be a problem for this team," Coen said. "I talked to the seniors at length in the spring and it didn't bother them then. You'd love as a coach to have a proven kid coming in who does all of the right things, but I think last year proved we don't have that person yet. I certainly think any of the guys in the mix are capable of being that guy."

And Coen made clear it was a three-man discussion.

"What sophomore QB Mike Colvin did last year prior to getting injured probably merits him a look," Coen said. "He's the most versatile of those guys in terms of what he can do running the football. It could be a challenge in itself to get three guys enough reps in camp to make a fair evaluation. We'll see."
"I think we're in a good situation now [at QB]," coach Coen told me.  "I think the kids will be comfortable with whomever is in there, which is the most important thing."

In addition, senior RB Jay Campbell looks like he's going to be the feature back, and coach Coen told me again how well sophomore WR Ryan Spadola did last spring, perhaps meaning we'll see him with junior WR Jake Drwal, senior WR Craig "Braveheart" Zurn and junior WR De'Vaughn Gordon in the receiving corps mix.  He also had good things to say about the tight ends as well - he expects real good things for them as well.


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