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A Peek at Lehigh's Spring Offense

(Photo Credit: Matt Smith/The Express-Times)

Senior QB Chris Lum has found himself in a very unfamiliar place this spring - the unquestioned starter as signalcaller.

It's been a long road for Lum, who competed hard for the position against QB J.B. Clark, the quarterback that broke Lafayette's four game winning streak.

As a freshman, he was MVP of the scout team.  As a sophomore, he worked his way to backup, and when Clark struggled, Lum came in.  And last spring, he was faced with an open tryout with the senior Clark for the starting nod.

Now, he's probably the one position on the field where he's the unquestioned starter. And with targets like senior WR Jake Drwal and junior WR Ryan Spadola to throw to, he's looking to this spring to allow him to have a breakout senior year. (more)

"It feels good; there's a comfort level there," Lum told Steve Lomangino of LehighSports.com. "Nonetheless I want to keep that competitive edge I have. I'll never be satisfied. I want to be the best that I can be, and we have a lot of work to do.

"I can't be content. I have big team goals and I also have big individual goals for myself," Lum told Michael LoRe of the Express-Times. I'm not being satisfied at all."

"There's a great sense of confidence in Chris," Coen told LoRe. "He goes about everything he does the right way. Anytime you come back with a proven winner at quarterback it makes everyone -- offense, defense -- feel better about where we're at."

It's hard to read into the psyche of the team with only a couple of interviews and a few practices, but even with that small sample it's easy to see that Lum is in a good place with this offense, with a lot of confidence without coming off as cocky.

And even though he's the starter, it's clear that his expectations of himself are extremely high, as he checked off a laundry list of improvements he wants to make for next year.

"I had too many interceptions last year (13 in 13 games), my completion percentage (58%) wasn't as high as I'd like it to be, and as an offense, just put up more points, so our defense doesn't have to bail us out sometimes."

"Without a doubt, Chris is much more confident than he was a year ago," Coen said in a Lehighsports.com interview. "He knows he's the guy. There's an air of confidence around the offense, and that's often the case when you have a proven quarterback."

Along with Lum, junior QB Mike Colvin returns as a "Wildcat" option out of the backfield (490 yards, 3 TDs), who can run, pass, or catch the ball.  He'll be Lum's every-down backup, of course, but he will also get a good number of snaps in certain situations.  Colvin is a strong athlete who was limited after a bad injury freshman year, but recovered in 2010 to have a solid campaign.  While all eyes will be on Lum, it's worth looking to see how Colvin has improved as well.

Backing up Lum/Colvin is sophomore QB Brandon Bialkowski, the "QB of the future". It will be interesting to see what the kid from Gilbert, Arizona can do in the spring game.

*****

One thing he'll definitely have at his disposal is an extremely solid - and physically stronger - receiving corps.

On Day One of practice, many Mountain Hawks were sleeveless, including senior WR Jake Drwal. Sporting a tattoo of his home state of Nebraska on his upper arm with a Bible verse written inside, Jake and other members of the team were just demonstrating some of the "hard work they did in the weight room", he told me.

Drwal (622 yards, 3 TDs) and junior WR Ryan Spadola (1130 yards, 9 TDs) started every game for the Mountain Hawks last year as Lehigh's passing offense had its most productive output of the Coen era. If Drwal's efforts in the weight room are any indication, they could be even better - and stronger - in 2011.

"Getting stronger allows me to get involved with interior blocking for the run game more," Drwal mentioned to me, "and also be physical with safeties trying to play the run. It also helps me punch off a corner trying to jam me at the line of scrimmage.

"Personally I am looking to refine my routes," he also mentioned to me as a personal goal for this spring. "I have a lot of new routes that I have to learn now in terms of different steps and coverage reads from there. That will hopefully maximize our catches."

With WR Craig Zurn graduating in May, after Spadola and Drwal there's - you guessed it - a big competition for playing time. Senior WR Matt Fitz, who played at running back for three years, has converted to slot receiver and is a prime candidate to compete for Zurn's spot in the starting lineup. (His ability as a running back could also be an interesting wrinkle in the offense.

Senior WR De'Vaugn Gordon, senior WR Jimmy Jefferson, senior WR Preston Soeprasetyo, sophomore WR Lee Kurfis and sophomore WR Sergio Fernandez-Soto also seem like prime candidates to compete for catches.

For the first time in years it feels like there is genuinely a "stable" of wideouts.

"I'm very happy with our group of wide receivers on campus," Coen said. "I think our perimeter skill will be as good as it's been at Lehigh in a long time."

In the backfield, Lehigh sees workhorse RB Jay Campbell graduate (670 all-purpose yards, 5 TDs), but hopes are high that junior RB Zach Barket will be able to build on a promising sophomore season (167 yards, 3 TDs) to become a go-to sort of back, especially in short yardage situations. Even in limited time last year Barket showed flashes of potential stardom - and seemed to make some big plays when his number was called.

Sophomore RB Keith Sherman continues to get accolades from coach Coen as a guy to watch in the backfield as well. Like Barket, he had limited time in the backfield but also showed flashes of great potential. Over the offseason he gained the "freshman 15" but in a good way, adding strength and size to complement his good speed and running instincts.

Other intriguing options in the backfield include bruiser sophomore RB Cody Haupt and "shifty" junior RB Marcus Dormevil, a former walk-on, as change-of-pace backs. Coen has described this as a "competition", and it looks like an area to watch in the spring game on April 22nd at 10:00 AM.

At fullback, sophomore FB Sean Farrell returns after getting significant time when senior senior FB Bryce Arruda got hurt last year. Intriguingly, Farrell is listed as a TE/FB, meaning we might see more of the Marlton, NJ native there. Sophomore FB/TE Zach Hayden seems to be listed as the backup to Arruda and Farrell should one go down with an injury.

The reason why Hayden and Farrell might be listed at tight end is that with TE Alex Wojdowski graduating (20 catches, 249 yards, 5 TDs), there is an open competition for the primary TE spot in the spring. Senior TE Mark Wickware and junior TE Jamel Haggins, who played well through several injuries last year, are both prime candidates for his spot. Two rising freshmen - sophomore TE Max Anderson and sophomore TE Brett Barber - also could find themselves in the mix as well.

*****

On the offensive line, it's been said before that "you don't replace a OL Will Rackley". With a lot of returning seniors on the 2011 Mountain Hawk offense, the biggest question mark is probably: who will be the players that will attempt to fill Rackley's, and OL Ricky Clerge's, ample shoes?

Early on, fans of the Lehigh football program got some great news this offseason that 295 lb senior OL Keith Schauder would be returning for his final year of eligibility. And according to coach Coen, he will Rackley's replacement at left tackle.

Along with 280 lb senior OL Troy McKenna at right tackle and senior C Jim Liebler also returns, giving the Mountain Hawks a lot more continuity on the "O" line than some might realize.

"Right now we're working on chemistry," Schauder told Lehighsports.com. "With the upperclassmen, we knew what each other could do. Now, with the new line, we just need to build the trust. Once we have that under wraps, we'll be OK.

"Without Will, we have to become better as a unit. That's what we're focusing on: how we improve as a unit cohesively."

That cohesion could come with a number of bodies competing for starting positions.

Encouragingly, some of these bodies in the mix have apparently had their share of cheeseburgers in the offseason, like junior OL Tom Ruley (270 to 290 lbs), sophomore OL Matt Lippincott (280 to 290), junior OL Mike Vuono (275 to 285), and junior OL Lex Utt (280 to 290).

While it's clearly going to be a competition along the "O" line as to who will be starting against Monmouth in September, it's clear that Lehigh will boast a line with a lot of big bodies. In the spring, the keywords will be "cohesion" and "depth", as the coaching staff finds out which unit works the best.

Interestingly, this spring has seen several players held back due to injury. Sophomore OL Shane Rugg and sophomre OL A.J. Hood are both coming off of surgery, meaning that there are only eight bodies in camp. That also means that come the fall there might be some spots for freshmen - like incoming freshman OL Kyle Moore - to compete for playing time as well.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Bialkowski was excellent in the scrimmage last Saturday, standing out among the QB's. We have a lot to work with there.
rich said…
OL will be the be all and end all for upcoming season. Will we be able to run? Nice to have so many qb's . I would love to trade 1 for a Jean or Pugh. I would not be surprised to see Vinnie, assuming he's now healthy to take a OG spot
ngineer said…
A healthy Vinnie would be huge for the OL. Our backs are more than adequate, the key is getting them some running room.

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