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Lehigh Spring Football - The Offense

Can it be already that half of spring practice is already in the books?

While many of us were watching the NCAA Tournament, ripping up our office pools while watching Louisville upend Michigan in the championship, the Lehigh football team was getting better.

"We're just trying to learn and get better each day," head coach Andy Coen said in Lehigh's mid-season spring report.  "We've got so many young, young players... I think we have a lot of talented players here, but a lot of the guys haven't had the type of opportunity that they're getting now."

"I think this team is lacking experience," Coen told me, "but I don't believe we are lacking talent. We have been fortunate over the past three years to have some very talented players and they have kept some other guys off the field."

As we take a peek at the offense today, we see some of the players that have impressed the coaching staff thus far - and, what has to be top on Lehigh fans' list of wonder, how the battle for quarterback is shaping up.

It's unusual for preseason training camps to always have a battle for the top signalcalling job every single year.  But for the class of 2014, this has been the case three out of their four seasons.

Last year, in his senior year, QB Michael Colvin took over the top spot at quarterback in the spring to replace QB Chris Lum, and two years prior, Lum battled QB J.B. Clark to take over starting duties, so this group is no stranger to the need to battle for their starting jobs.

So far, with the spring season about half over, senior QB Brandon Bialkowski seems to - for now, anyway - have the inside track for the starting position.  The lefty from Arizona has shown good arm strength and very strong accuracy at times and continues to develop.

"[Brandon]'s done a nice job," Coen said.  "He's got a nice knowledge of our offense, he's a really bright kid, and now he's getting an opportunity to get a real foothold on being the starting quarterback."

In a bit of a surprise, the next player on the depth chart midway through the spring, is a former sprint team quarterback and former walk-on, junior QB Matt McHale.  He's a 6'3, 220 lb junior who came from Madison High School in New Jersey, where his coach was none other than Lehigh football hall of fame QB Marty Horn.  He's starting to get more comfortable with the offense, and it's showing.

Athletic, tough, and hard to bring down, if Bialkowski more resembles Chris Lum, McHale more resembles Mike Colvin, which makes the duo an interesting pair battling for the top spot.

Right behind them are junior QB Gerard Poutier, from Agoura Hills, California, and another athletic walk-on, junior QB A.J. Visconti out of Monmouth Regional, who will also be working to show what they can do with the opportunity the rest of this spring.

Poutier's accuracy has been really starting to step up as well, who went 6 for 6 in last weekend's scrimmage, showing very much that he's in the mix in the battle for the starting spot in September.  Visconti, who appeared several times in the mid-season video, showed good burst and, like McHale, seems like a strong all-around athlete who will also certainly be heard from.

"It's great to see guys out here to compete, that's what it's all about." Kurfis, looking and sounding very much like a leader on this offense, told Lehighsports.com.  "If the third-string quarterback is pushing the second-string quarterback, it just makes the team even better."

Offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini is pleased with the progress of the QBs, and the offense in general thus far, but still acknowledges that there is plenty of work left to be done.  Ball security, and consistency, were his watchwords from the early part of practice.

*****

When I asked about the rest of the position players, two really stood out in the early part of camp to coach Coen: junior RB Rich Sodeke and sophomore WR Stephen Sansone.

Sodeke, out of Florham Park, NJ, got some playing time last season alongside returning senior RB Keith Sherman and RB Zach Barket (who graduates this May).  This spring, he has impressed with his speed and his progression from the end of last season - and they've needed it, because injuries has, at times, "left us with only one healthy tailback", Coen said.

Senior FB Sean Farrell and junior FB Zach Hayden will be on the depth chart in the fall alongside Sherman and Sodeke.  Senior RB Cody Haupt might also work his way into the mix at tailback as well.

Sansone, who had a "solid camp", according to Coen, joins a group that will be seen by many as the strength of the 2013 Mountain Hawk offense.

Senior WR Lee Kurfis (778 yards, 5 TDs) is the leading returning receiver from last year, who "only" has to step into the shoes of WR Ryan Spadola, a guy who will be listening during the NFL draft to see if his name is called.

With him are speedster senior WR Sergio Fernandez-Soto (370, yards, 1 TD), and Palisades High School's junior WR Josh Parris (296 yards), along with a slew of other talented receivers in sophomore WR Derek Knott, junior WR Derek Gaul, and junior WR Alex Buford.

One of the more underreported battles in training camp has been at tight end, where TE Jamel Haggins, who also could find his way into an NFL Training Camp, needs to be replaced.

Three players have experience at tight end, and should all be in the mix for playing time - senior TE Max Anderson, junior TE Tyler Coyle, and junior TE Dylan Colgate.  There's also another talented backup, sophomore TE Chris Ruhl, in the mix.  Who will end up at the No. 1, though?  Coen seemed to think that it would be a real battle there and he didn't know who would end up on top.

Most seasons, the offensive line has been seen as being the last unit to get up to the speed required to compete for Patriot League championships and FCS national championships.  But Coen and Kurfis, interviewed by Lehighsports.com, both heaped praise on the "hogs" so far this spring.

"It's great to see a lot of experience on the offensive line," Kurfis said, "I'd say they're probably the pride of our offense right now."

Senior OL Matt Lippincott, junior OL Ned Daryoush, senior OL A.J. Hood, senior OL Shane Rugg and junior OL Kyle Moore all spend time in the offensive trench last season and by all accounts have had a good spring thus far.

Still, though, the buzzword on the offense this season so far has been "youth", "young" and "leadership", with the production of Barket, Spadola, Colvin and Haggins needing to be replaced.

"Leaders leave, and it's up to guys to step up and fill in the roles," Kurfis said.  "When you come in here as a freshman, you learn from the leaders that were ahead of you.  We've been able to see a lot of kids come in and do that.

On offense, things are starting to come together.

"This is a critical time for a lot of these guys out here," Coen said.  "Some guys are going to earn a spot here in the spring.  If guys aren't progressing the way they need to be, they fall behind.  Maybe they're not winning or losing a job out here, but definitely setting the table for when we get back here in August."

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