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LFN's Look at the Spring Offense and Special Teams

(Photo Credit: The Morning Call)

Going to practice this Wednesday, I wondered how things were going with the Mountain Hawks this spring.

You never really know what to expect until you go, and on a surprisingly chilly evening, I arrived up at Lehigh's practice fields.

A lot of times at practice you hear jeremiads from the coaching staff on "spirited competition" and competing for positions.  But you don't always see it on the practice field.

On Wednesday, though, it was there.  I saw it.

Maybe it's a product of a lot of players knowing where they fit on the team, and that's certainly what is my impression in regards to the Lehigh offense.

When you have returning all-Patriot League players at running back, wide receiver, and the offensive line, that's one level of comfort.  When you have a returning quarterback that started three games, including an FCS playoff game, and led an 63-35 win over Yale with 524 yards passing, that's yet another level of comfort.

Perhaps that's why it was an entertaining scene of players jawing at one another and competing against each other.


Again, with a huge thank-you from Lehigh's spring football prospectus, let's dive right into the offensive preview.

Offensive Line
A few offensive linemen have been dinged up over the spring season, but that's not expected to slow down the action at the spring game this weekend, starting at 11:00 AM at Murray Goodman Stadium.  Last year, there was genuine doubt as to whether there would be enough healthy linemen to have a scored scrimmage.  This year, there are no such doubts, though again, some guys will not be scrimmaging.

Senior OL Zach Duffy is out, and though senior OL Brandon Short is healthy, as the 5th year guy penciled in at center, it's unlikely we'll see much of him on Saturday.  Junior OL Aidan O'Carroll, sophomore OL Thomas Zuewsky and sophomore OL Taylor Curlin are also out.

Senior OL Tim O'Hara and junior OL Liborio Ricottilli, the other two returning starters, will be suiting up and playing, but it's all the positions behind them on the two deep that are the interesting battles to contemplate.  You can be certain there will be a lot of reps this weekend for sophomore OL Alex Motley, junior C/OL Tim Wagner, and junior C/OL Eric Hawkinson, who returns this spring after being injured all of last season, as well as action for all the linemen on the roster.

LFN's Projected Two Deep (unofficial)
OT1: Tim O'Hara (Sr.), OG1: Eric Hawkinson (Jr.), C1: Brandon Short (5th) OG1: Liborio Ricottilli (Jr.), OT1: Alex Motley (So.)
OT2: Ryan Oneidas (So.), OG2: Derek Lomax (So.) C2: Tim Wagner (Jr.)  OG2: Nick Rosen (So.), OT2: Ryan Oneidas (So.)


Tight Ends
With the graduation of TE Zach Bucklin, the interesting part of this spring's positional battle is whom among the five returning tight ends might emerge as a pass-catching threat alongside returning starter senior TE Drew Paulsen (157 yards, 1 TD).

All the TEs will certainly get some action.   Senior TE Mike Baur and converted D lineman junior TE Jimmy Schultz can be thought of mostly as competing for top-line blocker duties, while sophomore TE Stephen Puhl and junior TE Dan Scassera will get looks in the passing game.  

LFN's Projected Two Deep (unofficial)
TE1: Drew Paulsen (Sr.), TE1: Mike Baur (Sr.)
TE2: Stephen Puhl (So.)/Dan Scassera (Jr), TE2: Jimmy Schultz (Jr.)


Running Backs
A recurring theme in this spring preview is, and shall be, returning starters.  Junior RB Dominick Bragalone, junior RB Micco Brisker and senior RB Nana Amankwah-Ayeh are the stable of backs that return from last year, while a converted defensive back, senior RB Marc Raye-Redmond, join them.

The three starters already have clearly defined roles.  Bragalone, already a two-time 1,000 yard rusher for the Mountain Hawks, is the workhorse.  Brisker, the next leading rusher, is the spark plug that give Brags a rest.   And Amankwah-Ayeh is the Lehigh football equivalent of Mariano Rivera, the guy that gets the sixty yards and the end of the game to crush an opponent's spirit.

Where a Raye-Redmond might fit in is in the pass-catching area, and that's something I'll be looking for on Saturday.

LFN's Projected Two Deep (unofficial)
RB1: Dominick Bragalone (Jr.), RB1: Micco Brisker (Jr.)
RB2: Nana Amankwah-Ayeh (Sr.), RB2: Marc Raye-Redmond (Sr.)

Wide Receivers
WR Troy Pelletier (Lehigh Valley Live)
Here's some BREAKING NEWS: The guy that got nominated for the Walter Payton award last season, and was a 1,000 yard receiver will be a returning starter (senior WR Troy Pelletier).

Here's something else that's BREAKING: The electrifying player on his opposite side who also had over 1,000 yards receiving, senior WR Gatlin Casey, will be starting, too.

With that non-drama out of the way comes what is actually a very interesting battle this spring: replacing the tandem of WR Trevor Soccaras and WR Derek Knott that played and made enormous plays all season long out of the slot receiver role.  With Pelletier and Casey getting so much attention from defensive backs, having great slot receivers are critical.

So who might take over at the slot?  Signs point to junior WR Cam Richardson perhaps being that guy, but we'll see him as well as junior WR Luke Cristiano in that role as well.  It will be interesting to see both do this Saturday, as well as sophomore WR Dylan Connolly and sophomore WR Greg Gamble.

At the X and Z receiver, look for Pelletier and Casey to be limited in their action, and to see junior WR Sasha Kelsey, who missed almost all of last year due to injury, get significant reps, with junior WR Connor Bianchini joining him on the other side.  Sophomore WR Dev Bibbens, junior WR Matt Gargano and junior WR Dylan Parsons will also try to impress this Saturday.

LFN's Projected Two Deep (unofficial)
WR1: Troy Pelletier (Sr.), WR1: Gatlin Casey (Sr.), SLOT1: Cam Richardson (Jr.)
WR2: Sasha Kelsey (Jr.), WR2: Connor Bianchini (Sr.), SLOT2: Luke Cristiano (Jr.)
WR3: Matt Gargano (Jr.), WR3: Dylan Parsons (Jr.)/Dev Bibbens (So.), SLOT3: Greg Gamble (So.)/Dylan Connolly (So.)

Quarterback
QB Brad Mayes (The Morning Call)
The question every Lehigh fan is asking: Who will be the quarterback on opening day?

Just kidding.

Junior QB Brad Mayes has the job to lose, which is what he's earned after filling in for QB Nick Shafnisky last season during times when he was unable to go.

To say he made the most of those opportunities is an understatement: he started two regular-season games, both wins, and played almost all of a third, also a win.

With over 1,000 yards passing in those games, 13 TDs and only 3 INTs - one of which came against New Hampshire, at the hands of a possible NFL player, DB Casey DeAndrade - he's the starter.

"I've really liked what Brad (Mayes) has done, for two reasons," head coach Andy Coen stated in a Lehigh release. "He's performed at a high level but he's done a much better job as a leader and the guys are starting to gravitate to him. As a guy that has played quite a bit, but not a ton, and he hasn't been the full-time starter, it's important that he has some leadership qualities and he's on his way to doing that.

For those of us who chanted his name last year, the emergence of senior QB Matt Timochenko as the primary backup to Mayes was also a welcome announcement.

"Matt has solidified himself as the backup quarterback," Andy said.  "That was good for him to do. The good thing about Matt is that his body doesn't show it but he's a pretty good runner so if he's in there he has the capability of pulling the ball and making big plays that way."

LFN's Projected Two Deep (unofficial)
QB1: Brad Mayes (Jr.)
QB2: Matt Timochenko (Sr.)
QB3: Brendan Craven (Sr.)/Tyler Monaco (So.)

Punter/Kicker
Finally, there's another area where there's not much doubt: junior P/K Ed Mish will, I confidently predict, have a prominent role in the Mountain Hawk kicking game.

What is interesting, though, is the emergence of another specialist that may allow Mish to specialize in field goals.

Sophomore P/K Austin Henning seems to have solidified his place as the backup to Mish in kicking - at the practice I saw, he booted several field goals.  He may have a place, though, as the 1st string punter.

With Mish limited this spring, Henning will get some chances to show his kicking skills this Saturday.

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