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Five Closing Thoughts On The 2018 Spring Session

(Photo Credits: Lehigh Athletics)

Just like that, the 2018 Spring Session comes to a close this week, giving us a taste of what is to come in the late summer and fall.

Here are my quick observations about what I saw at Murray Goodman on Saturday.

1. Improved team "tackling" on defense.  The defensive coaching staff put a big emphasis this spring season on tackling, or at least the techniques of tackling and positioning that may pay dividends this fall. 

All spring practice and during the Brown/White game the players "tackled" by engaging in "thud tackling", something that is done in many NFL training camps and an increasing number of college football practices, most notably Penn State.  "Essentially, players perform most components of a tackle but don't go to the ground. Further, they don't launch themselves at ballcarriers, try to make leg tackles or do much that would send them airborne," Mark Wogenrich of The Morning Call said of the practice when Penn State instituted it.

But it seemed like this Lehigh defense worked with the concept well, because it was notable that the positioning and blitzing on the defense was in mid-season form.  During the 2017 season, there were so many big plays for touchdowns and huge gains.  On Saturday, the longest play from scrimmage against the defense was 28 yards.  The defense as a unit sent a very strong message.

2. Depth at wide receiver.  If Saturday was the the unofficial start of the battle between which of the starting wideouts would be rising senior QB Brad Mayes' go-to guy, senior WR Conner Bianchini seems to have the inside track early on that prize.

With 6 catches for 52 yards, including a pretty catch at the sideline from a scrambling Mayes, it seemed like he was the receiver that was best tuned to Brad, with the possible exception of senior RB Dominick Bragalone, who hauled in two passes in the flat for big gains, one for a touchdown.

That's not to say that junior WR Dev Bibbens and sophomore WR Jorge Portorreal were forgotten men - I'm still expecting big things from them in the upcoming season.  And sophomore WR Matt Jordan and senior TE Dan Scassera also looked good out there, not to mention senior WR Cam Richardson, who had two touchdowns on the day as well.  As ever, Lehigh's receiving corps looked deep.

3. Blitzing and pressure.  Though it might not reflect it on the stat sheet, there was a lot more blitzing and pressure created by the defense on the quarterbacks, which led to the defense making the offense less easy in the pocket.  To me, that really showed a confidence on defense that sometimes was missing during the season last year, and it was a positive sign for some good things to come this season.

4. QB mobility.  The pressure on Mayes, junior QB Tyler Monaco and sophomore QB Addison Shoup was a blessing, in a way, allowing Brad to show off some of his moves and also allowing Monaco and Shoup an idea about live game action and what pressure at the Division I level looks like.

Mayes, following in the footsteps of QB Nick Shafnisky, has always been, a bit unfairly in my opinion, been called a "pocket passer" when he actually does have better footwork than that label might imply.  Shafnisky of course was one of the more exceptional mobile QBs to ever come out of Lehigh, but Brad on Saturday threw on the run well and reacted to the pressure well, only throwing the one interception on the next to last series of the game.  Overall, his passes were crisp, even under pressure.

5. Not much time to grow up before a brutal non-league schedule.  Aside from the action on the field, much of the talk seemed to center around Lehigh's fall schedule, which, to put not too fine a point on it, will be tremendously challenging. 

Put aside the game at Navy for a moment - Lehigh's first game against a full FBS team since 2002 (when they beat Buffalo in their first full year as an FBS school) - the schedule is also loaded with two 2016 FCS playoff teams (St. Francis (PA) and Villanova), and two tough Ivy teams at their place (Penn and Princeton). 

Add to that the fact that Lehigh and the rest of the Patriot League struggled out-of-conference last year, it's fair to look over the schedule and wonder if Lehigh can somehow emerge from this brutal early schedule with a winning record.

Though the spring game is always a time for optimism, looking ahead to the fall does show the scope of the task ahead for these Mountain Hawks and the chance that they can win a third consecutive title.  Right from the get-go it's not going to be easy.


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