Questions like: who's the starting quarterback? Will the offense change with the presence of Dave Cecchini as offensive coordinator? And perhaps the biggest question of all: Does Lehigh have the tools to compete for a Patriot League championship?
This year's spring game, Cecchini's second as offensive coordinator and the first where a senior, senior QB Chris Lum, was the unquestioned field general, had none of that same drama. Matter of fact, rainy weather and a depleted "O" line meant that the already-basic spring playbook was probably closed even further.
All of that made the Spring Scrimmage a showcase for the Brown team defense. (more)
“I’m pleased that we were able to keep our focus and get a lot of good work done,” head coach Andy Coen told Lehighsports.com shortly after the end of the game. “Most of the time the defense will be ahead of the offense in the spring. We have a veteran group, especially in the front seven. They had a very strong spring so I’m confident in that group. Our secondary is a little young but I was pleased with how they played today. They didn’t give up many big plays and they came up with some turnovers, including a couple of big interceptions in the red zone."
Before the game, the senior captains were announced, and for the first time since 2007 (when QB Sedale Threatt led the offense) another quarterback was named a captain for the 2011 season. Senior QB Chris Lum came out with fifth-year senior OL Keith Schauder, and the duo will lead the offense as voted on by other members of the offense.
"The big thing right now as a leader is we have to make sure the freshmen and younger guys don’t get complacent," Schauder told Michael LoRe of the Express-Times after the game. "We went through some rougher years, we know what the other side of things are like. Some of these guys come in, help us win a championship first year they’re here, you can understand (how) some might get complacent and think they’re going to do this all the time.
"It takes a lot of work and that’s where the senior leadership and captains come in -- keep everyone focused, eye on the prize and stay hungry. As soon as you get complacent, you start losing."
On defense, it came as no surprise that senior LB Mike Groome was anointed one of the captains' letters before the game. Senior LB Colin Newton got the other one as he chest-bumped Groome at midfield.
Once the ceremony was over, the defense got to work, stopping the White team on four straight possessions to start the scrimmage.
While the weather or the holdout of key players didn't help (notably first team all-Patriot League receiver junior WR Ryan Spadola), some rifle throws by Lum and junior QB/RB Michael Colvin - and some big drops - didn't help matters either. Some good gains - notably, a nice scramble by Lum out of pressure to find senior FB Bryce Arruda as a safety valve - was called back for holding.
The fifth series featured a nice interception by senior DB Kenyatta Drake, where a long out pattern by Lum was well anticipated by the senior. Along with another interception of Lum later in the scrimmage - and a nice, long return, almost making it a pick six - the emergence of Drake was a big highlight for the Brown team in the game - it's easy to see him, with his 6'0 frame, get a serious look come the fall.
That the Brown team would put good pressure on the quarterbacks was to be expected - after all, they return six of seven seniors, and almost all of them were on the field for the Brown team. What may have come as a surprise, however, was how well the secondary did on downfield coverage with Drake, junior CB Bryan Andrews (who added a nice interception to stop a drive as well), and sophomore DB Damien Brown. Also with a variety of holdouts with injuries, notably junior CB Gabe Johnson and senior FS John Littlejohn, the secondary really shined.
On passing plays, Lum and Colvin had to frequently go to their safety-valve options, to the secondary's large credit. Also of note was a defense that seemed to get stronger as the practice went on, with two sacks from sophomore LB Nigel Muhammed. Tackles were made by a variety of linebackers, with junior LB Sam Loughery (4 tackles, 1 sack) and junior LB Billy Boyko (4 tackles) standing out.
"I am pleased with where we're at, but I am not content," Groome said after the game. "There's always room for improvement, but we've got a great group of guys here and we're going to keep working hard. I thought everyone was really competitive out there, making plays, stepping up when they needed to. People filling in for the graduates did a great job. They had some time last year and we know they can do their thing. They did a great job today eliminating big plays.
"It was a little slippery and sloppy at the beginning and people were falling down, but we got it together and stuck it to them."
Boyko had a little more, too, to celebrate at the conclusion to the Spring Practice: at halftime, he received the Jim Gum memorial scholarship award which will help pay part of his way at Lehigh.
Boyko said it was a honor to receive something from someone who cared so much about Lehigh. "I met his family and they're great people," Boyko said. "I didn't know him, but I know he made a big impact in the community."
While the defense dominated, that wasn't to say the offense didn't have its share of bright spots. Even with Spadola not playing, there was a lot to like at the running back position.
Junior RB Zach Barket had 41 yards on 9 carries, while sophomore RB Keith Sherman added 16 tough yards and a couple brought back on holding penalties.
The biggest surprise, though, could have been the emergence of 5'6 junior RB Marcus Dormevil, a waterbug that led all backs with 62 yards on 6 carries, including a 25 yard gain where he showed some real explosiveness hitting the corner on the left side. He followed that up with a stutter step where he left his linebacker like a statue and made another nice run down the right side.
"It was a little disappointing for the offense today because we all know we could have done a lot better," Barket told the Morning Call's Keith Groller after the game. "But luckily it was the spring and we can learn from it. It's better to do bad now when you have time to fix things."
It's going to be interesting how Cecchini and Coen use something that they haven't had in a long time - a true stable of running backs, with varying styles of running. "They all did some nice things out there," Coen told Taylor Boyd of Lehighsports.com. "We've been working on having them be a bit more patient running the ball sometimes - sometimes they run downhill so fast, they don't see all the reads. Marcus really opened up some eyes this springtime - he's small, but he's really, really quick."
With Dormevil's speed bursts, Sherman's tough yards and deceptive speed, and Barket's combination of power, speed, and football sense, running back looks real interesting for the 2011 season.
On the receiving end, junior TE Jamel Haggins was led off the field with an ankle injury where he was helped off the field on one foot. Senior WR Preston Soeprasetyo scored the only touchdown on the afternoon for the offense, late in the scrimmage, on a 7 yard pass from Colvin, who ended the scrimmage with 7-for-15 passing with 67 yards. Sophomore WR Lee Kurfis (2 catches, 36 yards, and a third called back on a penalty) and junior WR Tony Kablan (2 catches, 16 yards) stood out on Lehigh's depleted receiving corps.
The bad weather didn't make punting much fun for new punter sophomore P Tim Divers, and one snap sailing over Divers' head means that the battle for long snapper - oft overlooked, but crucial - will rage on once the team reconvenes in the summer. When he did connect, he got some nice boots - that weren't returned for much yardage. That meant another question wasn't answered this spring - namely, who will replace CB Jarard "Main Man" Cribbs as the top punt returner.
There was one FG attempt by junior K Jake Peery sailed left, no good.