Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Leopards' spring opener was non-stop action for everyone

The offensive line didn't need pads to get a good workout on the blocking sled. Thirty-five-yard pushes were brutal!
Day 1 is in the books, and I can tell you one thing: the Lafayette football team must be seriously dedicated to erasing the embarrassment that was the 2015 season, when the Leopards posted their most single-season losses in school history while finishing 1-10 and on a seven-game losing streak.

If they were overpowered by their opponents last fall, they went to work during the winter with the goal of destroying the image of being the tossed around almost at will by more than half of their opponents in a season in which the defense allowed 386 points and the offense scored only 150. Lafayette's 2016 slogan -- EAAT (Effort, Attitude, Accountability, Toughness) -- seems to be more than words on a T-shirt or a poster. 

Here are just a couple of example of the strides the Leopards have made under the watchful eye of Brad Potts, who may have the longest job title on campus -- assistant director of athletics for peak performance-head strength and conditioning coach.

Defensive end Beau Bosch came to Lafayette in 2014 as a 6-5, 215-pound freshman. He looked huge on Tuesday at 6-5, 260 pounds.

Defensive tackle Andrew Chuma was a 6-3, 215-pound rookie last year. He hasn't grown an inch, but he now weighs 260. 

Defensive end Lavell Ramsey, a rising sophomore, was 6-5, 235 a year ago and is now 275.

Whether or not the Leopards turn around on defense is still to be determined, but they won't be getting sand kicked in their faces this fall. They're bigger and stronger, and Potts, who was grinning from ear to ear Tuesday afternoon, said that more improvement is to come.

It's impossible to do a lot of judging as the guys run around in jerseys and shorts. That's the way it will be again on Thursday and Saturday before they finally add the shells that are taking the place of shoulder pads for this no-scrimmage, 15-practice spring session. Once the rest of the team goes to shells, Coach Frank Tavani said, the only players wearing shoulder pads will be the quarterbacks, who need to get comfortable throwing with the pads on, and the long snapper.

I saw one position change that I think could be significant for Lafayette. C.J. Amill, who was a wide receiver last year and caught 10 passes for 93 yards and one touchdown. But, in addition to that, he ran for 129 yards, with a healthy 12.9-yards-per-carry average thanks to one 51-yarder. He also returned 36 kickoffs for 698 yards.

In other words, he was a playmaker, and Tavani has said this year that he's putting emphasis on identifying his playmakers and being certain they get chances to do their thing.

With that in mind, Amill, who has gained 10 pounds himself since last season and is now at 190 without seeming to have lost any of his speed,  has been moved to tailback.

DeSean Brown is still the starter at that position, but Amill gives the Leopards opportunities to use him as a dual-threat guy. "He could be the best running back in the league," Tavani said, without downplaying the talents of guys like Fordham's Chase Edmonds or Lehigh's Dom Bragalone, who were 1-2 in the Patriot League rushing standings last year or his own, who was fourth among league rushers.

Dante Lonardo stretches out. 
One player I was happy to see going full tilt was Bethlehem Catholic High grad Dante Lonardo, who missed all of his freshman year after suffering a knee injury over the summer. Lonardo, a defensive tackle, has gotten bigger, too -- from 235 last year to 270 now -- and he should be hungry. He and Ramsey, both listed on the second unit going into the spring,matched up in some of the defense's drills Tuesday afternoon.

There was a lot of running going on, and Tavani seemed pleased with what he saw. And behind Fisher Stadium's North grandstand, the offensive and defensive linemen spent a good part of the day. I always enjoy watching Stan Clayton work his o-line beasts, and Tuesday was no different. It may have been the first day of practice, but the big guys were pushing the blocking sled 35 yards without stopping for a while. It wore me out, for sure.

Establishing the quarterback position is going to be critical to the Leopards' success in the fall, and while Tavani has told me he doesn't expect Drew Reed or Blake Searfoss to make any lasting impressions in these 15 practices, he certainly is watching them closely. I never thought, when Reed was leading Lafayette to the league championship in his freshman season in 2013, that I'd be saying in 2016 that there was a chance that anyone else might lead the Leopards. I'm not suggesting that Reed is not the favorite, but it's going to be up to him to prove he can once again create some of that 2013 magic.

So, just for kicks, I'm adding a couple of photos I shot on Tuesday. I was a good day to be at Fisher.




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