Leopards Readying for Spring Game on Saturday
April 19, 2012
EASTON, Pa. - After a two-win improvement from 2010 to 2011, head coach Frank Tavaniand the Lafayette football program are looking to take the next step and compete for the program's seventh Patriot League title. On Saturday at 10 a.m., the squad will strap up for the 2012 Maroon-White Spring Game at Fisher Stadium, the third of three scrimmages in the spring season.
The Leopards return six starters on offense including second-year starting quarterback and team captain Andrew Shoop. Shoop is part of a small senior class of 13 returning seniors that includes one starter on offense and five on defense. An experienced corps of running backs is led by 2011 Patriot League Rookie of the Year Ross Scheuerman. Depth on the offensive line looks to be an issue, and certainly is in the spring, as just seven offensive linemen are healthy.
Four starters return on defense and three of them are on the defensive line. The linebackers are probably the most inexperienced positional grouping. In the secondary, senior captain Darius Safford and classmate Kyni Scottreturn at corners.
The Leopards have 37 letterwinners coming back while losing just 11 to graduation. Entering the spring game on April 21, the youthful Leopards have seven underclassmen (all rising sophomores) potentially filling 22 starting positions on offense and defense.
"Because of our youth, we've put a lot of emphasis on live scrimmaging in the spring," Tavani said. "We've had a couple of scrimmages of 70 plays and 45 plays leading up to the Maroon-White spring game when we'll probably do more than 70 plays.
"We have a lot of young guys who need to get better and the only way they are going to get better is through scrimmaging. So far, I've seen marked improvement on both sides of the ball and that's what you hope for at this time of year. We've kept the installations pretty simple, but we feel we'll have enough time in training camp to get everything in place."
In terms of quality, Lafayette will have a previous All-Patriot League selection returning at five positions. Scheuerman was a dual threat, honored as the 2011 Patriot League's Rookie of the Year while earning All-Patriot League Second-Team honors at tailback and return specialist. Junior tailback Pat Creahanearned an all-conference honors at fullback in 2010.
Under center for Tavani will be senior quarterback Andrew Shoop. The Danville, Pa. native started nine games in 2011, using his physical abilities to forced his way into the lineup in the Patriot League opener the third game of the season.
Shoop completed 56 percent (149-of-265) of his attempts as a junior, racking up 2,024 yards. He tossed 15 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and threw for 200 or more yards five times. Shoop was the first Lafayette player since Marko Glavicin 2003 to throw for 400 yards in a game.
The senior, who was one of three players selected by his teammates as a 2012 captain, has a strong arm, mobility and the charisma to be a leader on the field. His decision-making is where Tavani and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mickey Feinare looking for Shoop to make strides in 2012.
"In the past, Shoop's play has been like a rollercoaster. We need to level him out," Fein said. "He has so much ability and confidence in his ability that he can make huge plays. But, there are also times and certain situations when his decision-making lets him down. We need him to continue to learn when to take a chance down field and when to dump it to a back and pick up an easy four yards."
"Shoop hasn't met my expectations to this point of the spring," Tavani said. "He is a gamer. He's much better in a game situation than in practice. But, as a coach, you want to see certain things and progressions in practice. We'll probably have him take about half of the reps in the spring game, but there won't be any quarterback contact."
Sophomores Zach Zweizig and Kyle Ohradzanskyare competing for the backup role. Zweizig managed to gets reps during his freshman season and is more of a pocket passer. Ohradzansky, who enrolled in the spring of 2011 was forced to sit out the fall season after undergoing hip surgery in June. He has been practicing with the squad in the fall and is the more mobile of the two, running for a touchdown in one of the previous scrimmages.
The tailback spot and the running game are going to be integral to the offensive success in 2012. The coaching staff is placing a "renewed emphasis" on the run game which struggled in 2011 due to a combination of factors including injuries, suspensions and inexperience. Lafayette managed just 100.5 yards per game compared to the 165 per game that it surrendered.
Prior to the 2011 season, All-Patriot League caliber tailback Jerome Rudolph called it quits on his career after a series of concussions. Senior tailback Vaughn Hebron was coming back from a knee injury and battled new injuries while standout sophomore Pat Mputufound himself suspended twice during the season while he worked out off-the-field issues.
Those complications, however, gave then-freshman Ross Scheuermanplenty of carries in a season that resulted in his being named the Patriot League Rookie of the Year while garnering All-Patriot League Second-Team selections at tailback and kick returner. Scheuerman was a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award which is presented by The Sports Network to the freshman of the year in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Scheuerman was the team's leading rusher, carrying 104 times for 499 yards for an average of 4.8 yards per carry. He also reeled in 20 receptions for 188 yards (9.4 ypc) and a touchdown. In the return game, Scheuerman averaged 23.1 yards per kick off (31-715) and ran back a kick 78 yards for a touchdown in a win over Colgate (11/5).
This season will be the first in several that Lafayette will not be forced to play a freshman in the starting tailback role as it did in 2011 with Scheuerman and in 2010 with Mputu.
"Ross has had a slight back issue, so we've been more than cautious with him in the spring. He probably hasn't played as much as he would have liked, but we expect him to be 100 percent when we come back this summer."
"Hebron has had an excellent spring," Tavani said. "A year removed from the ACL surgery is when you start to see guys return to form and get back to where they were before the injury. It's a long process that you really can't rush."
"Mputu has done some good things this spring and we expect him to be in a battle for carries in the fall."
Those two tailbacks along with Hebron find themselves in the top three spots on the depth chart with Scheuerman at the head. Also vying for time is senior Alan Elder, the team's leading rusher in 2010 and his classmate Emery Young. Junior Marcellus Irvingis coming off a knee injury and looks to compete for carries.
With this stable of tailbacks, Tavani may look to utilize two tailbacks on the field at the same time, combining that set with three wideouts while foregoing a tight end.
The fullback position continues to be a priority for the Lafayette, even in the era of the spread offense, as the Lafayette coaching staff looks to keep its best 11 players on the field. Juniors Pat Creahan and Greg Kesselare two of them. The versatile duo rarely sees carries but is charged with quarterback protection, lead blocking and key special teams' contributions.
Creahan was All-Patriot League Second-Team honoree in his freshman season. This past season he started six games and did not carry the ball while making three catches for nine yards.
Kessel, who started five games, carried eight times for 17 yards and counted two touchdown runs among those carries. Out of the backfield, he managed to reel in 10 catches for 111 yards.
"When we get together as a coaching staff, we talk about getting our best 11 guys on the field and our fullbacks are always in that discussion," Tavani said. "They are not just blockers and pass receivers, but they are good ballcarriers and they give us so much versatility for the rest of the offense because we can leave them as the sole guy in the backfield on pass protection or we can line them up as a wing or tight end."
The Lafayette receiving corps is not as deep as it has been in recent seasons, as four of the team's top receivers and 98 of 211 completions from 2011 left with graduation.
That said, the player at the top of the depth chart, junior Mark Ross, is as talented as any receiver in recent campaigns. Ross was an All-Patriot League Second-Team selection in 2011, a breakout season in which he caught 49 balls for 703 yards and nine touchdowns.
While his number of receptions stands on its own, a closer looks shows how important Ross was to the passing game. Ross picked up 27 first downs, four of them on fourth down, to go along with his nine touchdowns. He took over the role as lead wideout when injuries to Mitchell Bennett and Kyle Hayessidelined the pair which missed 10 games combined at different points of the season.
"Mark just continues to get better and better and has had a good spring," Tavani said.
Senior Rodney Gouldis sitting out the spring while completing a semester-long internship but will be back for the fall.
"Rodney is definitely going to figure into the mix because he has had experience playing the X, Z and B slots for us."
The balance of the wide receiver grouping is untested as a whole. Sophomore Justin Adams is making his push for serious playing time along with juniors Matt Grant, Jet Kollie and Demetrius Dixon and sophomore Mike Duncan.
Kollie has significant experience playing out of the slot and as a return man for the Leopards in his first two seasons. He played in six games and started two for Lafayette in 2011 and played in nine games as a freshman. Kollie's play early in the spring will help him push for an increased role in the offense.
"Jet is probably our most-improved player on offense in the spring. He had a frustrating season last year, but he's been a hard worker and is running better routes."
The tight end continues to be an important position in the Lafayette offense. Three-year starter and long snapper Kevin Doty was lost to graduation but juniors Brandon Hall and Morgan Donohueare ready to step into that role.
The 6-7 Hall played in all 11 games in 2011 and made six catches for 95 yards (15.8 ypc) with one touchdown. Donohue checks in at 6-5, 260 and will continue to be used primarily as a blocking tight end as part of the Leopards' run game.
The 2011 season will mark the first time offensive line coach Stan Clayton had his imprint on every offensive lineman on the Lafayette roster. Clayton and this more aggressive version of the offensive line will need to fill two holes left by the graduation of three-year starters Scott Biel and Anthony Buffolino.
The tackle positions looked secure at the beginning of spring practice with the return of sophomore Luke Chiarolanzio and junior Andrew Anastor, but that was before Anastor suffered an ACL injury that required surgery and will force him to miss the 2012 season. He had started the final six games of the 2011 season. In addition, Anastor's backup, sophomore Garrett McNally, broke his arm during spring practice but is expected to be available in the fall.
Chiarolanzio is inked in as a starting tackle a year after starting 10 of 11 games and being named the team's rookie of the year. His backup, sophomore Ben Jeannot, is coming off November shoulder surgery and has been practicing without contact during the spring.
Junior Brad Bormann, who played in 10 games and started six in 2011, will be a likely starter at left guard alongside Chiarolanzio. Maxim Ngolla will likely be at the top of the depth chart at the other guard position. Ngolla sustained a knee injury and is out for the rest of the spring season, but unlike Anastor, is expected to be able to return for the fall. Junior Danton Ponzol is competing for time at guard with senior Mike Murphy.
Junior Pat Crosby will be the starter at center. Crosby started two games in 2011 after returning midway through the season following an injury. Initially, sophomore Zack Mazur was slated to be Crosby's backup but has moved to right tackle to fill in the gaps left by Anastor's departure. Also, sophomore Skyler Lashhas made the move from defensive line to offensive line, leaving Lafayette with seven healthy offensive lineman during spring practice.
"It's no secret. We've been hit pretty hard by injuries on the offensive line, but I like how the unit is coming together. We'll get some guys back (Ngolla, McNally and Jeannot) in the fall and have six offensive linemen coming in."
The Lafayette defense returns four starters. Defensive coordinator John Loosewill be expecting continued improvement from his unit which allowed 166 yards on the ground (75th in the NCAA) and 212 yards in the air (78th in the NCAA) in 2011.
In terms of positional groupings, the defensive line is the most experienced on the team as three starters return in the Leopards' 4-3 alignment.
Senior defensive tackle Rick Lyster, a team tri-captain, anchors the line. Lyster made 42 tackles a season ago with six tackles for loss and three sacks. Lyster started all 11 games in 2011 and was the starter in five of the final six contests in his sophomore season.
Fellow senior Jason Marshalekreturns to the other tackle spot where he primarily lines up at the nose position. Marshalek started 11 games in 2011 and made 29 stops with three for loss to go along with two sacks.
Like Lyster and Marshalek, Tahir Basil is in his second full season as a starter. Basil, too, was in the starting lineup for every game, registering 20 tackles with two for loss from the end position. Sophomore James Cosciais the likely candidate for the other end spot. Coscia, formerly a linebacker, played in nine games as a freshman.
Juniors Mazi Chiles and Darius Glover (tackles) and junior Alex White and sophomore Shane Dorner (ends) are pencilled in as backups at those spots and will be joined by sophomore defensive end and pass rush specialist Tyrus Whitein the fall when he returns to competition.
Just one of the team's four starting defensive backs returns for the 2012 season, but that is not necessarily a cause for alarm for Loose, as several players with experience come back to fill holes left by graduation.
Senior Darius Safford, one of three captains selected by his teammates, is the lone returning starter from 2011. Safford will occupy one of the corner spots as he did for 11 games last season. Safford made 49 tackles and led the team with four interceptions that resulted in 135 return yards, including a game-clinching 100-yard return vs. Colgate in overtime.
The Leopards' will feature experience at the other corner spot, as well, in senior Kyni Scott. Scott started seven games as a sophomore, but played in just two last season due to injury. Scott is one of the most physically gifted players that Loose has ever coached and having him healthy will be a boon to the defensive backfield and the Leopards' special teams play.
Junior DeOliver Davis, one of the secondary's more versatile players having spent time at corner and at both safety positions, was slated to spend all of his time at corner, but a shoulder injury will force him to miss the remainder of the spring and the 2012 fall season. Sophomore Damarcus Ingramcontinues to hone his skills in the backup spot.
The safety situation is one that has been severely affected by injury in the fall. Junior strong safety Shane Brady (knee) and sophomore free safety Shane Black(ankle) are both sitting out the spring. Both underwent surgery in November and are expected to be a full go to compete for a starting spot.
At strong safety, sophomore Jared Robertsis one of the players the defensive coaching staff is most excited about in the preparatory season. Roberts' play impressed the coaching staff in 2011 training camp before a hand injury forced him to miss the entire season.
"Roberts has been a really pleasant surprise for us at safety. He's very big, but also quick enough to play corner."
The Leopards linebacking corps may be the biggest question mark for Tavani and Loose, and they have been using the spring season to find the answers. The group figures to have three juniors at the SAM, MIKE and WILL positions in Tyler Robinson, Mike Boles and Ben Aloi, respectively.
Boles and Aloi each played in 11 games last season, combining for 26 tackles while Robinson saw time in seven games. All three will be in their third season, having played key special teams' roles as freshmen.
Competing for playing time in the spring are junior Kasheem Hill at SAM, sophomore Colton Kirkpatrick at MIKE and freshman Chris Brockman, who has already enrolled, at the WILL linebacker. Hill is the most experienced of the group, playing in all 11 games last season while making nine tackles. Kirkpatrick saw action in three games.
"We are not very experienced at linebacker, but the only way to get there is through practice and reps," Tavani. "We've gone a little slower and cut our installation in half, so it's not how much we have in but how good we are at what we have in. You're going to see us come out in more base looks and defense in the spring game."
ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Tavani and his coaching staff are going a new direction on special teams. They are requiring starters on offense and defense to be a starter on at least one of the special teams units overseen by four coaches on the staff.
One of the two primary special teams' performers, senior Ethan Swerdlow, returns as the team's punter, but the Leopards will have an open competition to determine who will handle placekicking duties in 2012.
Swerdlow was an All-Patriot League First-Team honoree in 2011. In his first season as the team's punter, Swerdlow punted 56 times for an average of 39.6 yards per punt. He landed 13 of those efforts inside the 20-yard line and had nine punts of 50 yards or more.
As things stand now, Swerdlow will also handle placekicking duties, vying with freshman Franco Viola, who is already enrolled in school, and senior Case Garner during the spring. The position was left vacant when Austin O'Brien left the program and transferred to Temple University after spending his freshman season as the team's kicker. In the fall, freshman Ryan Gralishwill likely figure into the mix.
"Right now, Swerdlow is handling all of the kicking and punting duties, but he's been battling a hip pointer. Ideally, we'd like him to just handle punts and not have as much wear and tear on his leg," Tavani said. "We also have two walk-ons in Garner and Viola, both taking some kicks right now and doing a good job.
For the first time in three seasons, Lafayette will have someone other than tight end Kevin Doty handling the snapping duties. Sophomore Anthony Baker, who was second on the depth chart last season, is expected to handle long snapping duties while junior tight end Morgan Donohuewill be the snapper on field goals and PATs.
As is normally the case at this point in April, the return game is a work in progress. Ross Scheuerman is the likely candidate to be the deep man on kickoffs, coming off a season in which he was named All-Patriot League Second Team as a returner. Scheuerman averaged 23.1 yards per kick off (31-715) and ran back a kick 78 yards for a touchdown in a win over Colgate (11/5). Senior Vaughn Hebron and junior Jet Kolliealso may spend time back deep with Scheuerman on kickoffs.
Lafayette's 131st college football season will include first-time matchups with William & Mary and Robert Morris along with meetings against long-standing Ivy league foes Yale, Penn and Princeton on the 11-game ledger.
The 2012 season opens Sept. 8 in Williamsburg, Va. at William & Mary, a member of the Colonial Athletic Association. The Tribe is coming off a 5-6 season, finishing 3-5 in the CAA. This game will be the first of a home-and-home series over the next four seasons with the first meeting likely a nighttime kickoff.
Robert Morris is the other new name on the Lafayette schedule this fall as the Leopards will travel to Moon Township, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh, on Sept. 29. The trip marks the Leopards' first venture to Western Pennsylvania since taking on Duquesne in 2002. Robert Morris is coached by NFL veteran Joe Walton, the school's first and only head football coach who took over in 1993. Walton spent 16 years coaching in the NFL, working with the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers before taking the position at Robert Morris.
In between the William & Mary and Robert Morris games, Lafayette will challenge more traditional opponents. The Leopards play their home opener on Sept. 15, hosting Penn at 6 p.m. Lafayette has won four out of the last five against the Quakers, a perennial Ivy League contender.
The first game of the Patriot League ledger is Sept. 22 at Bucknell, marking the first major change in the order of Patriot League opponents since 2006. The Bison snapped a nine-game series losing streak to the Leopards in 2011, winning in a snow-covered Fisher Stadium.
After a one-season hiatus, Lafayette and Princeton will meet to open October with the Leopards welcoming the Tigers for the 45th all-time meeting. The game is one of three home night games for Lafayette with a 6 p.m. start.
A week later on Oct. 13, Lafayette travels to Yale for the first road meeting since a 27-21 win in New Haven, Conn. in 2009. The Bulldogs have a new head coach in Tony Reno, a former Yale and Harvard assistant coach.
Lafayette hosts two Patriot League games in a row, greeting Holy Cross on Oct. 20 for a 1 p.m. kick off as part of Homecoming Weekend on College Hill. Patriot League associate member Georgetown comes to Fisher Stadium on Oct. 27 for a 6 p.m. start. November opens with a trip to the chilly coordinates of Hamilton, N.Y. and Colgate. The Leopards travel to Fordham on Nov. 10. While Fordham is considered a Patriot League opponent as an associate member, the game does not count in the conference standings.
The Leopards wind up the regular season with the 148th meeting against Lehigh. The series, which Lafayette leads 76-66-5, is college football's most-played rivalry and the longest continuous rivalry in the nation, having been played in 117 straight seasons beginning in 1896.
In 2011, Lafayette faced the toughest schedule in the nation at the Football Championship Subdivision level, including a season-opening game at eventual national champion North Dakota State. The Leopards finished 4-7 overall and in fifth place in the Patriot League standings.
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