Saturday, March 18, 2017

Zooming in on the Leopards' spring-camp roster and plans

OK, so John Garrett isn’t ready to talk about personnel on his Lafayette College football team.

But coming fast to the start of the spring-practice period, we need something to work with, don’t we? I doubt that I’m very good at this, but I’m going to take a shot at a camp starting lineup based on players who should be in uniform when things get under way on Tuesday (4:30 p.m.) in Fisher Stadium.

First, a bit of factual stuff. A look at the roster on the Lafayette website tells us that 11 Leopards will have different numbers than they wore last year. They area

PLAYER                     OLD #            NEW #
C.J. Amill                  26                    2
Rajhan Meriwether  5                     29       
Tre Jordan                27                    7
Kaizer Butler            29                    8
Mike Lewis                8                      15
Phil Parham             16                    22
Clay Rush                  15                    23
Chris Granjean         83                   25
Mike Dunn                42                    27
Nick Pearson            37                    84
Dmitry Smith           38                   26

And now, for a first unit. For entertainment purposes only.

QB – Austin McCrum
TB – DeSean Brown
TE – Dylan Wadsworth
Tackles – Tanner Kern and Jake Marotti.
Guards – Logan Grieser and Mike Donnelly.
Center – Kevin Zataveski.
WR – Matt Mrazek, Joey Chenoweth, Rocco Palumbo.

Ends – Beau Bosch and Dante Lonardo.
Tackles – Demetrius Breedlove and Andrew Chuma.
LBs – Michael Root, Rob Hinchen, Jerry Powe.
DBs – Phillip Parham, Tre Jordan, Eric Mitchell, Yasir Thomas. 

Even as I type those names, I realize fully that no less than four very possible starters will not be practicing. DT Matt Rothrock and DT-DE Andy Labudev, who will be returning in the summer as fifth-year seniors, are out of college this semester but very anxious to get back. So is LB Brandon Bryant, arguably the team’s leader last year, and OT Cam Smith, a two-year starter, both rehabbing injuries.

And it could be that some heretofore unknown Leopards have made such impressive gains during off-season workouts that they're already attracting recommendations from strength and conditioning guru Brad Potts and attention  from the staff. I'm not privy to any of that. Potts did indicate that the rising sophomore class has shown marked improvement.

Another thing that becomes obvious, at least to me, is that several members of a recruiting class that has been judged the best group in the Patriot League by at least one FCS website, could challenge for significant playing time when summer practices roll around. The Leopards seem to have some depth at tailback and at wide receiver, which will please Garrett and offensive coordinator Rich Bartel.  But they are likely to have their hands full with the promised quarterback carousel. 

Garrett and other members of his staff seem to be committed to playing those who practice best, despite their age. If the young kids show the staff they can assimilate the offensive or defensive schemes and play at a high level, they will get on the field.

“When they’re ready, we’re ready,” Garrett told me on National Signing Day. “If they prove that they are capable of being put in the game and show they are reliable, dependable and talented, they’ll play. The greatest opportunity to do that is on special teams and we will make it clear how important that is for a young guy to see some action in the game, but also with position groups, it’s up to them, players make the roster. We just go by what we see. We’ll play the best guys.”

When asked about his schemes about six weeks ago, Garrett gave me what could be a picture of what spring practice is going to be all about.

“We’re going to evaluate the team and put in a system that puts the players in the best position to be successful,” he said. “After 25 years of coaching with all the different schemes and coaches I’ve worked under, I have a wealth of offense, and it’s not about the plays.

“The thing we’re going to be on offense is we’re going to be explosive and we’re going to be hard to beat. That was the message. We’re going to be multiple. Ideally, we’ll get the roster to use multiple personnel groups, 3-4-5 wide receivers, one-two-three tight ends, multiple running backs. I believe it’s important to put the pressure on the defense and make it hard for the defensive coordinator to keep up. We’re going to change tempo, and we’re going to put guys in position to do what they do best. To say that it’s a running style or passing style or spread, we’re going to try to do a lot, present a lot of variety to the defense so they have to defend the entire field and all the different personnel groups.”

Sounds like it should be fun for kids who want to change the direction of things on College Hill. It’ll take some time, but the end result may be worth the wait.

I'm planning to be there on opening day.


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