Update on Columbia Football
During the summer, we will have periodic Tuesday Updates all through August before starting regular Tuesday releases in September.
Spring Practice Review – The Offense and Special Teams
We had a very productive and successful off-season, which ended May 4th with our final spring practice. Included in this update is the final spring evaluation of our offense and special teams.
We continue to install and refine our system. Last season we installed a new offense, and did so with a large number of young players. I expect that we will continue to see younger players receive playing time in the coming season, especially at wide receiver and on the offensive line. We will continue to create as much competition at those positions as we can until we find the right players. Obviously, the quarterback competition will be very healthy and exciting. We will know much more in September.
Our offensive line continues to be a critical part of our development as a team. Good lines play together. While we have made tremendous progress, we do not have the collective mentality of a top offensive line yet. We had flashes this spring, but we are still too inconsistent. I am pleased with the progress Jim Yukevich and Ryan Thomas made in the second half of the spring. Both of these guys assumed a leadership mentality that this group sorely needs.
Depth at center is critical. Thomas missed some time and did not play in the final scrimmage. Keith Ramljak took all the reps with the first offense at center. While I am encouraged by his versatility, we need better production. If communication up front breaks down, we have no chance. Eric Kuklinski and Billy Lawrence made great strides in the off-season but as I have said before, tall guys need great leg strength.
Marshall Markham made progress and took the majority of the first team reps with Ramljak at center. Joe Ghergurovich can play both guard spots and knows the system. Tom Callahan and Carey Parker took all the reps at tackle behind Kuklinski and Lawrence. Dylan Leonard can help at both center and guard. We have five incoming freshmen that we feel have the size, ability and temperament to compete for playing time right away.
It is important to note that I know I can be overly critical of the offensive line. I have worked with this position my whole career, for the most part. All of our skill players developed this spring. This could not have happened if we had not done significantly better up front. We are better, but not consistent enough, yet.
Our tight ends had a good spring. I feel more confident in this position than a year ago. Hamilton Garner got bigger and stronger in the off-season, which has helped him be more productive as an in-line blocker. He can be a two-level pass threat. He caught the ball well this spring and continues to work on his coverage awareness.
Garrett Demuth came back from injury and exceeded my expectations as a blocker and a receiver, we will know more after camp. Nick Durham had a solid spring and can play both on the line, and in the backfield. Zack McKown was solid and contributed on special teams. With the return of Demuth and two talented incoming freshmen, this group should be very competitive in training camp.
In the offensive backfield, we return First Team All-Ivy League tailback Marcorus Garrett, but coming into the spring, we had concerns about depth. Griffin Lowry had a good off-season; he is a leader and our team listens when he talks. Griff is a good complement to Garrett and will be a factor in our backfield. We put a lot of pressure on Cam Molina to improve this spring, and he did. Cam is explosive and is seeing the defense better as a runner – the game has slowed down for him.
Steven Silvio has gotten bigger and stronger this offseason and has improved as a blocker. We use a fullback on early downs and critical situations, Silvio will be solid and brings an attitude we need. Augie Braddock moved to running back from the defensive side of the ball the spring; he did very well. Augie has a physical and explosive running style - and he may still have a role on defense, as well.
We are looking for Trevor Bell and Alec Fisher to make a major contribution as returners, but both can help at running back if needed. We have strengthened or backfield with the addition of Braddock and development of Molina. We have a productive and fast incoming freshman. There will be competition for reps in camp.
Wide receiver should be a strength for our team, but there will be competition at every spot. Potential and past achievements won't be enough. It is all about dependability and production. Conner Nelligan had an outstanding off season and spring practice, he continues to set the standard for “bringing it” every day. Chris Connors and Jake Wanamaker hold the other two receiver spots right now. We are still looking for more consistent and playing style from both of them.
Ryan Flannery missed some time but continues to improve. Isaiah Gross made great strides this off-season, but needs to show us he is an everyday, every down player. We know he has the ability. Scooter Hollis put himself in the middle of the battle for the slot position; this will be very competitive in camp. Scooter undoubtedly was the most improved wide receiver this spring – he can do a lot of things.
Dan Slivka took advantage of the opportunity to show us what he could do. He was productive and competitive. Andrew Dobitsch had some outstanding moments, but needs to be more consistent. Lou DiNovo continued to play the way he always has, steady and dependable. Joey Andrada missed a lot of practice due to academic conflicts. With the addition of the four incoming freshman, we should be bigger and faster than a year ago. This is a position where young players can contribute right away.
There has been a lot of speculation this off-season about the quarterback position. The quarterback’s job is to make the players around him better, and win games. Individual statistics are meaningless if they don’t translate into wins.
Trevor McDonough had a strong spring. He matured as a leader and has become much more proficient in our system. I was encouraged by the way he handled the team on Saturday night. He is inconsistent at times – that is because he is young. He will outgrow it. He works at his job and his teammates know it. We got better as an offense this spring that cannot happen unless the QB does his job.
Hank Trumbull continues to have his moments, but like any young player loses focus and can make bad decisions. Hank has the size and athletic ability to play the position at a high level. He has had to overcome playing at a lower level of competition in high school. He was productive at the final spring practice. He made some big throws and got his unit in the end zone. I am optimistic about both of our current quarterbacks. With the addition of the two incoming players, training camp will be very competitive at the signal caller position. We will be young and more talented than a year ago.
Overall, I felt that special teams played well last season. Paul Delaney and Luke Eddy had productive springs and continue to improve. Kickers and punters have to be able to answer in the most competitive situations and spring practice tends to be a time to just strengthen their fundamental skills. The real test will be taken next year with games on the line.
Luke continues to work on his consistency and Paul is very hard on himself. We are fortunate to have veterans at these two positions. Tyler Feely continues to back up both positions, and has taken some work as the holder. John Keefe is an outstanding long snapper and coverage player. We feel we have some incoming freshmen with deep snapping ability. We are also bringing in a talented freshman kicker, who will provide even more competition in camp.
In the return game, I have confidence in Alec Fisher on both kickoffs and punts. “Fish” takes his role seriously and had a strong off-season. Trevor Bell missed some time with injuries, but has shown his ability to help with the return duties. Travis Reim and Bruce Grant also work in the return spots as we continue to develop depth at these important positions.
We are never satisfied. We can always be better. I am pleased with our progress since January. I believe we have created competition at every position. We have not had that in the past. The next three months will be critical in our development. How we return for training camp will tell us a lot about how much we can improve.