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Lehigh Position Analysis: Defensive Backs

Spotlight On: S Sam McCloskey

Lehigh Sports issued a release Friday evening that announced Lehigh's team captains for the 2017 season.

Some of the names, senior OL Zach Duffy and senior OL Brandon Short, were hardly surprises - after all, they were team captains last year.

Another, senior DL Jimmy Mitchell, is a steadying leadership force on the defensive line - again, not much of a surprise.

But the presence of junior S Sam McCloskey as the fourth team captain raised some eyebrows.  It's unusual to be a junior team captain, though QB Nick Shafnisky and LB Colton Caslow had been team captains as juniors.

As head coach Andy Coen explained, "What's really impressive is that in our ballots contain only seniors with the ability to write-in people. A lot of our guys obviously had to write in Sam, so that was really interesting to see. Our coaching staff feels he's ready right now to be a strong captain and his peers obviously feel the same way."


Perhaps one of the reasons the team is so comfortable with him is that, unusually for a junior, Sam has seen a lot of time as a starter.

Midway through his freshman year, the Altoona, PA native stepped in as a starter at safety and never looked back, starting 18 of 19 possible games.

McCloskey had 54 tackles last season, which was the most of any returning starter behind senior DL Tyler Cavenas' 55, and Sam will be expected to perhaps expand on that number in 2017 to further become an elite Patriot League player in regards to that side of his game.

But he's had a great nose for the ball, and that was a huge, sometimes unsung, factor in Lehigh's championship drive last season.

He tied for the team lead in interceptions last season, with three, with one of them coming in the playoff loss to New Hampshire.  On a Wildcat fourth down, he stepped in front of the passing route, and gave the Mountain Hawks the ball back early in the game.

He also had what might have been the most critical moment in the Colgate game last season, forcing a fumble at the beginning of the second half that got the fans up out of their seats and got Lehigh's tremendous second half kickstarted.

It's clear that McCloskey has been no ordinary underclassman the last two years - which goes a long way towards explaining why he was selected with the honor of being a team captain.

McCloskey was humbled by the honor.

"It's a great honor," he told me after the announcement.  "It is a vote by my peers and I'm glad they felt comfortable with me in this position.  There are a lot of guys worthy of this position and that is great for our team."

S Riley O'Neil
Returning Veterans Abound In Secondary

One of the bigger stories in camp is the return of senior DB Quentin Jones, who came all the way back from a scary injury in the Yale game but has been doing great in scrimmages and practice.

McCloskey said that it was exciting that he's back.

"The defense has been working solid as one unit," he told me.  "No one puts themselves before anyone else and we fly to the ball and look to make turnovers."

The top line defensive backfield includes returning starters Jones, sophomore S Riley O'Neil, and junior CB Donavon Harris.  Junior CB Kareem Montgomery saw plenty of time backing up Laquan Lambert at Rover last season, and steps in at corner.  Jones will step in at Rover.

"The DBs are looking sharp, there's a lot of guys that can play," McCloskey told me.  "Riley and I have good chemistry after playing beside each other for a year.  Q Jones is back and he looks great right now."

LB/ROV Jon Seighman
What's the depth look like?

Some questions remain over depth in the secondary, some of whom might be in the mix for starting roles.

Sophomore LB Jon Seighman is a name that has been talked about in terms of the two-deep for linebacker, but could also be in the conversation at rover if Jones is not 100%.  It's possible that there might be rotation at Rover and Seighman might be in that mix, or Seighman might be over at linebacker full-time.

Sophomore CB Marquis Wilson is another name to watch as well.  Primarily playing on special teams last year, he appeared on the depth chart behind Harris and is also a good candidate to get some playing time in the secondary this season.

Junior S Mike Gies is a veteran hand that has seen a lot of time as well, starting in place of McCloskey in the one game he's missed in the last eighteen games.  He'll be backing up O'Neil, and may also step in at Rover as well.  It's clear that he'll be involved as a sort of "sixth man" in the secondary, to borrow a basketball term.

Finally, it will be interesting to see if junior DB Devan Polanis and sophomore DB Alex Duke, who played this spring, will be on the opening two-deep.  They played well in the spring and have a chance to be on the two-deep this fall.


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