Thursday, March 9, 2017

Ready for "new era" of Leopards football on March 21?

Are you ready for some football?

With snow on the way tonight, I thought I’d tease you with a little spring football notice.

Coach Garrett with 2017 recruit J.J. Younger
I sat down with Lafayette’s new head coach, John Garrett, earlier in the week. He was happy to talk about the official start of the football phase of his new job, but by the end of our 45-minute chat, I hadn’t gotten a lot of specifics out of him.

Why? Well, as of now, all he really knows about his Leopards is what he sees in the weight room or during conditioning workouts or on film of last year’s games. So, while we went round and round about some things, we barely touched personnel.

In fact, I did come away with the fact that there will be no two-deep chart at the start of the 15-practice spring camp, which begins at 4:30 p.m. March 21 – just 12 days from now.

“All jobs are open,” Garrett told me. “Everybody has to earn it, so we won’t be able to set a two-deep until after the spring because part of the process in the spring is for us as coaches to get familiar with the players and what they can do and watch them determine the depth chart by their play.”

So, while we can say that, based on the starting lineups from the final game of the 2016 season, Lafayette returns seven starters on offense and seven starters on defense, we can’t be assured that those returnees will line up with the first unit when practice begins. Garrett did go to great lengths to re-emphasize his open-opportunity approach, he also said, “We’ll have to start and place guys where we think it’s most expected, but then, once they step out on the field it’s up to them to earn where they play and how often they play.”

Offensive starters returning include tailback DeSean Brown, tight end – and 2016 team MVP – Dylan Wadsworth, wide receivers Matt Mrazek and Joey Chenoweth and linemen Cam Smith, Kevin Zataveski and Logan Grieser. Defensive returnees are headed by end Beau Bosch, tackles Demetrius Breedlove and Andy Labudev, linebackers Michael Root, Rob Hinchen and Jerry Powe and cornerback Eric Mitchell.

A couple of experienced players will NOT practice this spring. Linebacker Brandon Bryant, whose midseason loss to ACL and MCL knee injuries was a huge negative, is rehabbing very well but will not test the knee in March and April. Garrett also said that Smith will not practice until summer camp, either, while rehabbing a shoulder injury Garrett’s comment that “we’ll wait and see on other guys” makes me wonder if the number of players on the sidelines might be higher.

Defensive back Kaizer Butler, who survived a near-death battle with a rare disease, granlomatosis with polyangiitis, last summer and had a brief setback not long after returning to school for the second semester, is "progressing with what [his doctors] need him to do and he will continue to do that until he gets cleared to get back to participating, which would mean working out, beginning a lifting, running and conditioning program, until he gets to the point where he can go out on the field," Garrett said. "That will be the next step."  A tough road for a tough guy. But everyone is rooting for him.

Defensive linemen Matt Rothrock, who missed all of last season, and Labudev will return as fifth-season players in the summer, but because Lafayette only gives scholarships for eight semesters, they had to withdraw this spring. Both are doing internships, but they can’t practice in spring.

The tentative schedule for the spring should get people interested in what’s going on in Fisher Stadium. It’s unlike anything anyone has seen in the past, which is the way Garrett approaches every aspect of his position. He talked to me about “a new era with a fresh approach,” and the spring schedule is that, for sure.

Here it is, as far as I know right now, but subject to change:

Tuesday, March 21 and Thursday, March 23, 4:30 p.m. … Saturday, March 25, 10 a.m. … Tuesday, March 28 and Thursday, March 30, 4:30 p.m. … Saturday, April 1, 9 a.m. … Monday, April 3, 8:30-10:30 p.m. (Monday Night Football) … Thursday, April 6, 4:30 p.m. … Saturday, April 8, 9 a.m. … Monday, April 10, 8:30 p.m. (Monday Night Football) … Thursday, April 13, Tuesday, April 18 and Thursday, April 20, 4:30 p.m. …   Friday, April 21, 7 p.m. (Leopards Under the Lights) … Saturday, April 22, 1 p.m. (Maroon-White Spring Game).

Coach Garrett and I touched on lots of other topics, but that’s news for another day, including my official preview in The Morning Call much closer to the March 21 starting date. So, stay tuned.

SHORT TAKES – Coach Garrett said he is still shooting to have the Patriot League maximum 90 rostered players for the start of preseason camp in August. The roster on the Lafayette website lists 88 players. Eighteen freshman recruits and other players unable to perform will bring that number down. Garrett said his incoming class “is pretty much set” but didn’t rule out adding additional players before the summer practices begin … The roster on the Lafayette website still lists Brett Guminsky among Garrett’s assistant coaches, but Garrett confirmed that Guminsky had left to become a member of former Leopard defensive coordinator Art Link’s staff at Christopher Newport University. Garrett said “we’re in the process of looking into” hiring a replacement … It doesn’t look like any Lafayette seniors will be attending pro days aimed at getting them looks from NFL teams. However, Chris Brockman, former Leopard linebacker who had an outstanding 2016 fifth year at Colorado School of Mines, messaged me recently that he would be taking part in a pro day at the University of Colorado. That workout was held on Wednesday and I read that 44 scouts from all 32 NFL teams were there. I’ll try to keep track of him … former cornerback Matt Smalley, who was in the Giants’ camp last summer but then was injured, has signed a contract with the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League. Keepin’ the dream alive. Way to go, Matt.   



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