In an effort to keep my mind off the fact that the Eagles just drafted fucking Kevin Kolb 36th overall, I'll share some thoughts on today's spring game.
I was very happy with what happened today. Both units clicked and played well for the most part, although I felt the defense had the slightly better day. Before the game, I attended the Gridiron Club breakfast at Conte (sat with BJ Raji - great guy), and Jags mentioned that at the conclusion of every team meeting, he asks the question "What are you here for??". The answer is "championships". In his brief speech, Jags went out of his way to mention his belief that anything less than a championship this season will be a disappointment. Seriously, how can you not love this guy?? Tobias never even BELIEVED we could win a championship, and he sure as hell was too scared to say something like that publicly and raise expectations. The days of excuse making, expectation managing, and an air of arrogance around the Yawkey Center are over. The Jags Era has begun. Raji mentioned to me that the new coaching staff is far more personable and hands-on than the old regime, and while we all kind of knew that already, it still impresses me to see, for lack of a better word, how happy all the players that I've talked to--whether it was Raji today, the guys I ran into in the Philadelphia airport a few days before the bowl game, or guys I just see around campus--seem to be under the new staff.
The game itself was fairly boring from a detached perspective, but there were a lot of very interesting things. The offense, as I expected would be for this game, was pretty vanilla--more aggressive than it had been under Dana Bible, but nothing really fancy. No misdirection plays or anything like that, although I think we'll see that sort of stuff slowly work its way into the playbook come fall.
What impressed me more than anything else was the play of Matt Ryan. I'm not talking about his stats, which were impressive but not overly so (19-33, 233 yards, 1 TD). He simply has "it". As good as he was last year, his pocket presence and decision making today looked vastly improved over what we saw previously. This kid is going to be a top 10 draft pick a year from now, and has a chance to go #1 overall. He has all the tools, and now he's got a real QB coach as well. He is simply going to be stellar this year. Chris Crane was also solid--we're in good hands come 2008. One thing that largely got unnoticed but impressed me about Crane was his poise in calling a timeout to prevent an illegal substitution penalty on a field goal attempt. Those are the type of heads-up decisions you need your QB to be able to make, and they can win and lose games.
Staying in the backfield, I was very pleasantly surprised with the play of the RBs. All 4 backs saw time with both offensive units, although LV Whitworth and Andre Callender got most of the first-team reps. Callender was the best of the running backs, but Whitworth really surprised me. He appears to have lost about 15-20 pounds, and was noticeably faster and quicker today than he's been since his freshman year. He could finally be ready to be a solid BCS-caliber back. See what happens when you get a real strength and conditioning coach instead of Yoga Boy?? Jeff Smith saw quite a few reps at RB and generally looked good, although his fumble concerned me. He's obviously got blazing speed, but I still question his vision a little bit. There were a few plays today where he kind of just ran into the line of scrimmage where there was nothing available. Particularly with the new blocking scheme, he needs to learn to sit back a little bit and wait for a hole to open up (and if nothing does, to use his speed and bounce outside). But he's still learning. Not only is it only his second year in the program, it's only his second year playing RB (he was a QB in high school). I think he'll see increased reps on offense this year, and by about next year he'll really start putting it together and excelling. AJ Brooks also looked good, and I still think he's got a great shot to be our starting RB in the fall.
The receivers were a mixed bag. Kevin Challenger didn't play, and it seemed like Brandon Robinson came down with the ball more than half the time Ryan put it up. Clarence Megwa had a solid game and I still say he'll be considered one of BC's greatest ever wideouts by the time he graduates. The tight ends were solid but unspectacular. Jordon McMichael had one or two bad drops which worried me, but did a great job getting open and also was a pleasant surprise blocking. I don't think he'll unseat Ryan Purvis as our #1 TE this year, but he'll see the field quite a bit. The big surprise to me was the play of Billy Flutie, who underwhelmed me as a punter (I don't think he's good enough to be "the guy" after Johnny Ayers graduates) but had a very nice game at wideout. Good enough to play the position at the ACC level?? I'm not sure, but he's definitely worth some more looks. Incidentally, I was lucky enough to meet his uncle during halftime:
The starting offensive line impressed me. There were a couple more penalties than I would've liked (including a pair of false starts on Pat Sheil), but I think a lot of that is a matter of adjusting to the new scheme. From left to right you had Gosder Cherilus, Ryan Poles, Matt Tennant, Kevin Sheridan/Nick Rossi (the two split time at RG), and Sheil. The second string was not so good. They seemingly got bowled over by the defensive line every other play, particularly in run blocking (making it fairly difficult to properly evaluate the backs running behind the second unit, mainly Brooks and Smith). You actually had Anthony Castonzo, a true freshman who enrolled in school early, as the second-string right tackle. From left to right the second-string line was Richard Lapham, Ty Hall, Sheridan, Carlos Huggins, and Castonzo. Clif Ramsey, Tom Anevski, and backup center Bryan Murphy were out with injury, and we need those guys to stay healthy this fall. I do think we have a lot of talent on the offensive line, we just don't have a great deal of depth. Particularly when you've got a complex blocking scheme, offensive line is a position where you don't want to have to rely on true freshmen to play. Although a guy like Mark Spinney (who was in attendance today) or John Elliott probably could play right away and hang at the ACC level if needed, it's better to have guys stay healthy and be able to rely on your veterans. That said, these guys have the whole summer to heal up, so I think we'll be OK come fall; but I'd be lying if I said this doesn't worry me, particularly when looking ahead to the Georgia Tech game in Atlanta on September 15. 2 years ago, playing at Clemson the same time of the year, we had great success rotating the second-string offensive linemen in and out to minimize the effects of the heat. We might not have the depth to do the same thing against the Yellow Jackets, at least not to the same extent, this time around.
On the other hand, not as much to say about the defense. As expected, it was more aggressive than we'd been used to in the older days, but the same basic scheme. Kevin Akins was still at LB, which I wasn't too happy about, but I still think he'll move into the secondary in the fall. The LB corps was great--JoLonn Dunbar had a superb game, as expected, but Robert Francois and Mark Herzlich really stood out to me. Tyronne Pruitt is an excellent player, but I honestly rate both Francois and Herzlich ahead of him at this point in time. I asked Raji at the team breakfast if he expected Brian Toal to be back this season, and he more or less said that it's too early to say. I was pleased with the pressure the defense was getting on the QBs, and I also liked the play of the defensive tackles. Thomas Claiborne needs to lose some weight, but if he does he has potential to be as good as Raji. Very talented player. The secondary looked pretty good (and congrats to Jamie Silva on receiving the Jay McGillis scholarshp), although at the risk of beating a dead horse, it'll be even better with Kevin Akins back there. Tough injury to redshirt freshman Chris Fox, word is that he broke his ankle, I'd expect he'll be ready to go in the fall. Razzie Smith had a solid game, and I'm a little more comfortable about our depth at CB than I had been, although we still could do better. I wouldn't be surprised to see DeLeon Gause play some this year.
The major thing that disappointed me was the crowd. Absolutely beautiful day (mid-60s), new coaching staff, a reason to finally be excited about BC football and the best we can do is 5-6k?? I don't buy Tobias' excuses about BC having a bad fanbase, but I do think that a lot of BC fans just don't get the whole college football thing yet. They'll show up for the real games, but a lot of them probably don't even know what a spring game is. Although it should be said that the baseball game going on next door was siphoning off a number of fans.
All in all, an excellent day, at least until the Eagles' draft pick. I literally could not possibly be more excited for this season. I'll have some more thoughts in the coming days as I have time to think about and digest what I saw a little bit more. Long live Jags.
As for the draft, no BC players have yet been taken, but I expect that Josh Beekman and James Marten will both go before the day is out.