Sunday, July 30, 2017

Patriot FB coaches talk numbers, etc.

Colgate opened the 2015 football season at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, and Raiders coach Dan Hunt, answering a question about roster sizes during the Patriot League’s football teleconference on Thursday, quipped, “(The Midshipmen are) still coming out of the tunnel, they had so many guys.”

I thought pretty much the same thing last season when Lafayette played at Army West Point. The Cadets have 92 players listed on a 2017 roster I examined – and that doesn’t include freshmen. The academies bring in 80-90 freshmen a year. It’s brutal!

The Patriot League has a 90-player cap on roster size and considerably smaller number on travel-team size.

Bucknell has the earliest opening date for preseason camp – the Bison reported today (Sunday). Coach Joe Susan said, “We’re bringing in 85 and I know that some of the Ivy League teams we’re playing against are bringing in as many as 120. You’ve really got to be disciplined about how you handle yourself on field, in terms of contact. Because we’re bringing them in early, they’ll actually have a couple of days off. I think that’s intelligent on our part. That gives them a chance to regroup mentally and physically.” The Bison had a freshman class of 19 players, including four each at OL and DL and safety.

I decided to pursue the roster size with the coaches on the conference call. As it turns out, only Georgetown’s Rob Sgarlata reported that he is at the limit, and his 90 includes 27 freshmen and a transfer. Because he has so many new players, he said he said he doesn’t mind having an extra week of practice before opening Sept. 9.

Holy Cross’ Tom Gilmore reported 89 rostered players, including 21 freshmen and a transfer, and said he “will probably have a 90th player by the time we line up.” He expressed the need to compromise at spots – on the lines and with wide receivers and defensive backs, for example – because of the limited roster. “Having that 90-man cap makes it difficult once you start sustaining injuries at certain positions groups; you get shallow and it becomes problematic to practice and get quality talent ready to play each week.”  

Fordham, which was picked second in the preseason poll of league coaches and sports information directors, has a roster of 86, including 19 scholarship players and seven walk-ons, according to Coach Rich Breiner. “I think (numbers) is a major challenge we face as a league, 10-to-15 less than some of the non-conference teams we play. It’s always an issue in camp; you have to re-evalulate your training camp model and make changes.

It seems that Colgate has the biggest numbers dilemma. “We are at 83 healthy bodies,” Hunt said. “I’d love to have more. Ninety forces you to be smart about how you practice. You have to protect kids from getting too exposed. If I had my druthers, I’d have 90, but you’re always going to have injuries and other things taking it down. I’d like it to be more than 83, but that’s the hand we’re dealt this year.” The Raiders had 21 freshmen on the roster.

Lehigh Coach Andy Coen, who said his team is bringing 85 players, including 19 freshmen, to camp. He definite would prefer to be at the league max, but he took the issue into a different direction when asked about assessing the Patriot League’s standing in the overall FCS picture.

“I still think we really need to get another team in the league,” Coen said. “I think that’s really important to continue to schedule more FCS non-Patriot League teams, get more of those guys on yearly schedules. We’re going to be the last school that’s going to take an opportunity to play one of service academies. That’s going to help make the league look better, when we start seeing some of those guarantee games, we have our first next fall. I still think we’re behind because we don’t red-shirt, a significant thing, and I would also like to think that we could continue to work to get to 63 scholarships as opposed to 60. Before you get to those types of things or get some of those questions answered, I think the league is going to pretty much be in the situation where it is right now, but it has certainly improved with help of scholarships.”

Lafayette coach John Garrett had nothing new to report. He earlier had said he expected 87-88 layers to report for camp on Wednesday, with practice starting on Thursday. “But that’s plenty of guys,” he told me. “That’s contingent on injuries and availability.” 

QUARTERBACK WANTED: The league conference call produced lots of interesting stuff from the coaches and players. I hope I’ll be able to have one or two more pre-camp blogs this week, hitting at least some of the highlights.

Probably the most intriguing for me is that, while the league has a couple of quarterbacks with great credentials – like Fordham’s Kevin Anderson, Holy Cross’ Peter Pujals or even Lehigh backup Brad Mayes – Lafayette’s Garrett is not the only coach with QB anxiety.

Colgate may have the most critical situation outside of the one on College Hill.

“We have to find a quarterback and do that quickly because a lot or what we do runs through him,” Colgate’s Hunt said. “We have great candidates, some depth, more than we’ve had in a while, but we need to find a starter and get him operating in the system. We have to be able to execute our offense at a high level in the first four games of the season, for sure.”

Hunt is high on incoming freshman Grant Breneman, a Cedar Cliff H.S. grad who was a starter in the Big 33 game. Hunt said that he thought the last Big 33 starter to choose Colgate was Hazleton’s Nate Eachus, and we all know how that panned out for the guys from Hamilton, N.Y.

Because there is no experienced returning QB, Breneman may get a strong shot to start as a freshman. “If he’s good enough to beat out what we have, that means he’s pretty good and I’d be comfortable with it,” Hunt said. “We’re in a situation where whoever the quarterback is, it will be his first real playing time. I’m not saying I’m not happy with with the upperclassmen, but you know my offense and you know you may go through some quarterbacks. The last couple of years, we didn’t have competition and you were holding your breath every time a quarterback ran the ball. Now we have three or four guys who, if they had to play, I would feel comfortable. The freshman is one of them. This is the first time I’ve had that luxury I guess.”

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