Saturday, March 5, 2016

No pads, no scrimmages no problem for the Leopards this spring

March 5, 2016 -- 24 days to the start of the 2016 season:

If spring football means watching teammates bash heads against each other while trying to impress the coaching staff, you might as well not bother to come to Fisher Stadium to watch Lafayette practices starting on Tuesday, March 29.

"I told the equipment guys they could ship the shoulder pads out for reconditioning; they're not even coming off the shelf," Coach Frank Tavani told me the other day when we discussed a revolutionary new approach to the spring camp, which will run to April 28.

That's right, instead of ending on a Saturday, as it traditionally has, camp winds up on a Thursday. The schedule calls for five weeks of Tuesday and Thursday practices at 4:30 p.m., four Saturdays at 9 a.m. and one Sunday (April 10) at 4 p.m.

"Skills, drills and thrills," was Tavani's description when we talked about it on National Signing Day. The Leopards will practice in helmets and shells. There will be no spring game on Saturday, April 23. "It's just practice #13," Tavani said. "Practice #14 and #15 are after that one."

The new camp will focus on strength and conditioning. In other yearS, a lot of that kind of training was put on hold during the month of spring camp. This year, the Leopards will get four additional weeks of work in the weight room and conditioning with Brad Potts.

"We don't need scrimmaging or a spring game," Tavani said.

It's a good thing Tavani isn't a politician or I'd be accusing him of being a flip-flopper.

Last year at this time, he told me, “You have to get adjusted to wearing full equipment. You still have to limit it, but you can’t practice soft all the time.” Now he's saying just the opposite. There will be plenty of time for shoulder pads and full scrimmages when summer camp rolls around.

I'm planning to go over to Fisher on that first Tuesday. I want to see how the different coaches handle their position players under the no-pads format. One of the highlights for an old high school lineman was to watch the one-on-ones between offensive and defensive linemen. They could get a little chippy at times. I think Coach Stan Clayton likes when his guys are challenged. The players never seemed to mind it, either.

When I talked to Lehigh Coach Andy Coen for comments on the Ivy League's decision to make a league-wide ruling calling for no tackling to the ground at in-season practices, I mentioned the new spring plans for the Leopards. I didn't figure I was giving away any secrets because he was going to be reading about it.

"Most NFL teams have hardly any contact," Coen said. "We started practicing that way, and I think we’ve gotten a lot better. When we first started to practice without pads, it was awful. You couldn’t get anything done. But we’re getting a lot better over the last couple years doing it."

Maybe Tavani and the Leopards will find it a bit strange at first, too, but if the added attention to getting stronger and quicker pays off in the fall, it will have been worth it.

"We're setting a new tone," Tavani told me. "If we play badly [in the fall], obviously, it wasn't a good idea. But we'll get enough hitting in preseason camp; I already have that scripted out and I’m  good to go. I'm not trying to blaze new trails, just to be a little smarter about what we do and how we do it." 

OUTSIDE THE LINES -- One of the things people will see this spring is a shifting of positions, especially on the offensive line. Tanner Kern, who had an outstanding freshman season at center, where he started nine games, will be moving to right tackle. And Kevin Zataveski, another freshmen who was used at guard, will become the center. Guard Connor Staudle, the most experienced o-lineman, and Cam Smith return to their 215 positions, and, for the present anyway, Logan Grieser, who missed all of freshman season with first an injury, then a concussion (and thus has four years of eligibility remaining), is slotted at the other guard. ... According to Tavani, Lafayette is still on the short end in the numbers game. Even with a big class of incoming frosh (25 and counting) in the count, he says his roster is at only 86 players. The Patriot League permits a 90-man roster. Tavani is still hoping to add several players before summer comes around. ... Coach T has been busy recently interviewing candidates to fill three vacant positions on the coaching staff. Scott Biel (tight ends), McNeil Parker (safeties) and Tim Brady (wide receivers) have all moved on to full-time positions. ... Colgate announced only 16 recruits on National Letter of Intent Day. Maybe it got a little behind because of those extra weeks it put into the 2015 FCS playoffs. The release of the 16 promised more to come. The thing that stood out to me about the first 16 was that not a single player is from New York State. ... While looking at the Colgate website, I saw that former Raiders coach -- and ex-Lehigh coach, too -- Fred Dunlap is the subject of a book entitled "The Dunlap Rules." It's written by Fred and Marilyn's son Tiger, with the proceeds from it going to Colgate athletics. I've always looked forward to catching up with him when Lafayette traveled to Hamilton, N.Y., to meet the Raiders. I have to think some of the "motivational life lessons" that are shared in that book were learned on South Mountain in Bethlehem, especially when he first three teams won a total of two games but his final five teams won 36.


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