This past year, the NCAA mandated that two-a-day practices would no longer be allowed, which naturally has changed the way Lehigh has been camping this August. "A single day may include a single, three-hour, on-field practice session and a walk-through. During walk-throughs, protective equipment such as helmets and pads can’t be worn, and contact is prohibited," the NCAA said.
“The guys like the new procedure, the new process we have in place here,” head coach Andy Coen said. “The guys are more fresh not having the two-a-days. [Sunday] was the first day we went full pads and had live tackling and the kids were fired up about that. We didn’t do a lot, just enough to get our feet wet.”
With no contact during the two-hour walkthrough session, pads and contact are a more rare occurrence. To senior DE Tyler Cavenas, though, what did that mean?
"I [still] feel like we can push ourselves," he told LehighSports.com. "It's weird, we have these walkthroughs now, but I think when we do go out, we'll be more intense out here and we'll be getting after it more. We're only going to be out here one practice a day, so we'll have to give it all we have."
Knowing Tyler, he does.
Intensity on the football field is the modus operandi of Cavenas, a management major who hails from nearby Mahanoy City, PA. In the spring 2016, right after the Brown/White game, Tyler led the defensive line in running drills right afterwards, saying "if we're not running to the ball after every single play, it counts as a lack of effort and we need to run after practice."
It's hard to imagine the rules holding back the 6'5, 280 lb senior in fall camp this time around, but instead it's been focused on the times when the teams do put on the pads and go up against the offensive line.
5th year senior NG Jimmy Mitchell also gives an intensity to the defensive line, but it's more of a quiet intensity that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. The 6'2, 275 finance major is a stabilizing force in the middle that stands as a contrast to Cavenas' feeling of abandon when he rushes the quarterback.
“We’ve been building this for years now,” he told Keith Groller of The Morning Call. “We went 3-8 in 2014 and it was our senior class and the class above us that played a big part in rebuilding the culture on the team. So, I wanted to come back and finish up my eligibility and keep going to school. You can’t beat the environment here.”
When Mitchell announced that he was returning for his final year of eligibility, nobody was happier than Tyler.
"It's huge that Jimmy's back," Cavenas said after the spring game. "He adds a leadership aspect, and he's a great defensive lineman that does his job to a T. We need that leadership to keep us all together."
With Cavenas and Mitchell manning the front, it looks like that area will be another source of strength going into the fall.
|DL Harrison Kauffman|
With Cavenas and Mitchell returning, every single player on the two-deep from last year's playoff game vs. New Hampshire returns on the defensive line, giving Lehigh a truckload of experience at that position.
In addition, Lehigh will be switching to a 4-2-5 look on defense to further utilize that core of experience on every down.
Senior DL Harrison Johnson has done a good job getting free when offenses spend an inordinate amount of time doubling up Cavenas, and he could be a great beneficiary in Lehigh's new alignment, along with junior DL Harrison Kauffman.
They're not the only guys back there with game experience, either, Junior DL Juwon Morrow, junior DL Julian Lynn and sophomore NG Colin Nace all spent time in the defensive line rotation, giving the Mountain Hawks an extraordinary mix of depth and experience. Big things are expected from this group.
Who Will Start At Linebacker?
The flipside to the experience on the defensive line is that at linebacker, the Mountain Hawks graduated three seniors that were the heart and soul of the defense, LB Colton Caslow, LB Pierce Ripanti, and LB Evan Harvey. This has created a question that has come a long way towards being answered, but it won't be final most likely until the two deep for Villanova is posted.
Sophomore LB Keith Woetzel had the edge for one of the spots coming out of spring ball, and it seems like he might be one of the starters. After Woetzel are junior LB Mark Walker and junior LB Jake Buskirk, who look like they could be on the depth chart - or possibly a freshman might work his way into the mix, like freshman LB Nate Norris or freshman LB Pete Haffner. If there's a place on the roster where a true freshman can get on the field and play, linebacker is probably that position.