While one might naturally start one's focus on Lehigh's spring season on the offense, and the reps that rising sophomore QB Nick Shafnisky will be taking, I'd argue that it's equally as important to focus on the battles happening in the Mountain Hawk secondary.
For the first time in a long time, it's not a foregone conclusion as to whom will be starting come September.
Gone is longtime secondary coach Gerard Wilcher, with head coach Andy Coen hiring a former defensive coordinator at Franklin and Marshall, Craig Sutyak, to coach the defensive backs.
"I was very impressed by all the candidates I spoke with during the search but I really enjoyed Coach Sutyak's approach to coaching the secondary and his philosophy of coaching in general," Andy told me. "He is a technician, and I already see our guys taking to his style."
A former defensive back coach for Ed Foley at Fordham, he's very familiar with the Patriot League.
In 2004, his defense had 29 takeaways, including 16 interceptions. Eight of them came from DB Tad Kornegay, a two-time All-Patriot League selection, first team FCS all-American, and professional CFL player.
More recently, he pushed Franklin and Marshall to have the second best pass defense in the Centennial League, where he worked under John Troxell, a former Lafayette player. This year they beat Del Val in the ECAC Southeast Bowl to close the season, capping a 7-4 record.
"Craig has been a coordinator and will bring good ideas forward each week as the staff prepares the defense for each week," Coen said. "Craig stresses accountability, and he is constantly communicating to his players about what they are doing right and what and how they can correct the things they are doing incorrectly."
Sutyak takes over a secondary that has talent, but is fairly inexperienced.
All four secondary starters in the final game of last year, FS Tyler Ward, SS Rickie Hill, CB Courtney Jarvis, and CB Damien Brown, are not returning this year, making it a wide-open battle for starting positions.
"Through a few practices junior CB Olivier Rigaud and sophomore CB Brandon Leaks look good at corner, and senior S Steve Wilmington, senior S Jamil Robinson and junior S Laquan Lambert are competing very well and making each other better," Coen said. "Sophomore S Brian Githens and sophomore S Joe Barrett are also receiving a lot of reps this spring, so they will have the chance to compete in August. Unforunately we have had some injuries that have kept some guys from practicing nothing serious but unfortunate to miss time in the spring."
Senior CB Jason Suggs looks like he'll be in the mix as well at corner, as well as junior CB Randall Lawson, but it still looks wide-open as to who might end up starting against James Madison.
"I am looking for an athletic group of kids to understand very clearly what their assignments are," Coen said, "and they need to master their techniques. I expect this group to challenge throws and I want to see this group create turnovers. I think we are on the way to accomplishing this."
LFN's Take on the Opening Spring Two-Deep:
1st: Rigaud, Robinson, Wilmington, Leaks
2nd: Suggs, Lambert, Githens, Lawson