Spring Game - What to Look For
For those of you heading to the spring game on Saturday, here are a few things to keep an eye on:
-The New Offense
How is it looking?? Jags mentioned in his interview on WEEI this morning that Matt Ryan is doing a great job picking up the new scheme, but how is the rest of the squad faring?? While I expect the game plan on Saturday to be fairly vanilla compared to what we'll see this season (as there will be scouts from every team on our schedule in attendance), I do think you'll see a wrinkle here and there, maybe some simple misdirection plays, to show the crowd that the days of TOB are over. I'm also looking forward to seeing the extent and manner to which tight ends are utilized in Jags' system.
Despite returning 16 starters (not including kickers) from last year's team, there will be quite a few spots up for grabs. Of course, with the possible exception of the offensive line situation (which I will talk about in detail below), the most attention is being paid to the RB spot. Although LV Whitworth is the incumbent starter and by most accounts has been getting a plurality of snaps in spring ball so far, most BC fans expect him to get a serious challenge from Andre Callender, AJ Brooks, and Jeff Smith. I've been saying ever since his breakout performance as a true freshman against Wake Forest that AJ Brooks is the most talented (not to mention, at least until Smith came along, speediest) back on our roster, and while I believe he will ultimately win the starting job, it'll be interesting to see what happens on Saturday. If I had to guess, I'd expect the three older backs to get a more or less equal number of touches, with Smith also seeing the field quite a bit but in a variety of roles, including being split out.
It'll also be interesting to see what happens at LB with Brian Toal out for the game (and his return for the season questionable). The two leading candidates to replace Toal have to be sophomore Mark Herzlich and junior Robert Francois, and it's impossible to say which of the two will get the nod. In fact, you could see both taking the field with the starting unit if one of them (Herzlich has the better body for it) can beat out Tyrone Pruitt for the starting SAM position. This would get BC's 3 best LBs on the field--Pruitt is a very good player, but not as good as Herzlich or Francois--but playing the strong side is a different beast from the middle or weak side, and it would require some adjustment on the part of whoever made the switch.
Speaking of LBs, will Kevin Akins stay there or will he move back to safety, a move that many BC fans have been calling for for a while?? Early interviews with coaches seem to hint that he'll stay as a situational blitzing LB, but I'm hoping to see him moved back, mainly to get him on the field as an every-down player. Switching his primary position to safety doesn't mean that you can't still deploy him as a pass-rushing LB situationally, and there's little doubt in my mind that he's a future first-round NFL draft pick at S if given time to learn the situation. He's already proven that he can cover like a CB and hit like a LB. Moreover, we're losing one of the leaders of our secondary in Ryan Glasper, and--the fiasco regarding this that has come to light in the past few days notwithstanding--we all saw how the secondary played last year in the first 4 games of the season before Glasper's return. While I liked what I saw from then-true freshman Wes Davis last year and while Marcellus Bowman has apparently been impressing in practices, getting a guy like Akins back there would be a tremendous stabilizing force for the entire secondary. Additionally, I have serious concern about our depth at CB, so we need all the talent in the secondary that we can get.
Uncharacteristically for a BC team, this might be the biggest question mark heading into the season. You have both personnel issues and scheme issues here. As pleased as I am that Gosder Cherilus has moved to LT (a move that should've been made a year ago), the rest of the line is still a question mark. Although I think we have both depth and talent at the tackle position (something that will not be affected in the long run by the injury to Clif Ramsey, who should only be out about 3 weeks), the interior of the line concerns me. Kevin Sheridan was underwhelming last year at center and will need to seriously improve this year. Who will even take over the guard positions?? Early reports indicate that Tom Anevski has been playing RG with the first team, and the LG could be a guy like Ryan Poles or Pat Sheil. I'd be fine with any combination of those 3, but behind them there's little depth (Ty Hall is a very useful utility OL, but has never impressed me as a starting-caliber player). Likewise, reports are that Sheil and Ramsey were battling it out for the starting RT job, and Ramsey's injury could give the inside track to Sheil, although I wouldn't mind seeing Richard Lapham, who will likely be our starting LT for the next 3 years, get a shot at the job in order to get his feet wet as a starter against ACC competition.
And is talent even the most important thing here?? Chemistry is extremely important for OL play in any circumstance, and especially now with Jags teaching his zone-blocking system to the team. As Herb Brooks said, "It's not about finding the best guys, it's about finding the right ones." While talent is important, the guys who will start against Wake Forest on Sept. 1 are the guys who can pick up the new system and mesh together as a cohesive unit. It'll be very interesting to see what happens.
All indications are that Spaz's unit will be more aggressive than it has been in recent years, which is a great thing. Like the offense, I expect them to go fairly vanilla on Saturday, but we should be able to see a thing or two. Aside from the personnel questions I mentioned previously, I'm particularly excited to see how the defense responds to the new offense (which will test it more than Dana Bible's ever did) and whether or not we finally start jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage.
I've been saying since the spring game last year that Clarence Megwa will be a stud wideout for BC sooner rather than later. He showed some flashes of it last year, and I expect that this will be his breakout year. Will anyone put on a similar performance on Saturday?? Ryan Lindsey was a guy a lot of people were excited about, but his ACL injury means we'll have to wait until this time next year to see what he can do. Justin Jarvis, the 6'5 sophomore whose redshirt was criminally burned last year by O'Brien only to play in meaningless games against Maine and Duke, has a lot of promise as a solid red-zone threat but isn't the type of guy who's likely to have a true breakout game. Warren Wilson, a 6'1 redshirt freshman from New Hampshire, on the other hand, is a guy I'll be keeping my eye on.
Assuming the weather holds up (which it looks like it will), I'm expecting the best crowd for a BC spring game in years. With the new coaching staff in place, the days of Toby-ball are over and we finally have a team that we (and by "we" I mean "those of you who aren't delusionally optimistic alcoholics") can get excited about. Tom O'Brien said that it's impossible to win at BC because we have a small and apathetic fan base. Let's get out there on Saturday and prove him wrong.
Tommy Reamon Jr. will be in town for the game, but will any other recruits be?? I haven't seen anything as of yet, but if you have, please add it in the comments section.
I'll be at the coaches' breakfast on Saturday before having a few brews and heading to the game. I'll probably be in either the Edmonds lot, the Mod lot, or the Beacon garage (depending on weather and weather or not we want to keep an eye on the baseball game), I've got a ridiculously beat-up red Taurus station wagon with Pennsylvania plates and US flag and Philadelphia Eagles stickers, feel free to say hi.