Monday, November 30, 2015

Holiday Wish List

One of the most unique things about Ivy football is that the season ends at the same time for all eight teams no matter what. First place, last place, it doesn't matter. The 42 week off season is in effect for us all and we have 41 weeks to go.

But the high season for recruiting is going on right now as lots of schools schedules on campus visits in December in hopes of getting commitments before Christmas time.

Even though Columbia already has 23 reported commits already at this early date, there's a lot of work to do considering the Lions can bring in a much larger than average class this year. I wouldn't be surprised if the official list of incoming freshmen gets very close to 40 or above when the athletic department makes the official announcement in April. And I also would not be surprised if another transfer or two joins the squad. 

No one should expect any incoming freshman to fill the team's needs on the field right away. So I want to make it clear that the following list of Columbia's biggest holes to fill shouldn't be construed as some kind of marching orders for our recruiters spreading out across the country at this moment. But here's a look at the four main areas of the team where the concern is highest right now:

1) Defensive Line

 The strength of the Lions in 2015 could quickly become a weakness with the graduations of so many key seniors. Niko Padilla, Toba Akinleye, Chad Washington, Hunter Little, and JD Hurt are all leaving and it's going to take more than one year to replace their talent and numbers.

The best two returning D-linemen are rising juniors Lord Hyeamang and Dominc Perkovic. With an off season filled with hard work and just a bit more size, I think Hyeamang can become the Ivy League's biggest rarity: a dominating defensive tackle. Perkovic showed a lot of signs of being an extremely savvy outside pass rusher and is in a great position after amassing 30 tackles and three sacks this season.

The rest of the returnees are a little light on solid data. Rising senior Charles Melka could get into the serious mix after a slow start to his return to the team this season. I'm anxious to see what rising junior Alexander Holme can contribute after getting another off season to adjust to his move from linebacker. And David Donovan is another rising junior who got on the field this season and could be a bigger contributor. 

Rising sophomores Mike Hinton and Cole McDonough peak my interest. Hinton has a lot of talent and probably was just too small this year to contribute on the D-line. Maybe if he can get up to closer to 245 lbs. from his current 227 lb. frame he'll get a chance. McDonough is huge already at 307 lbs., and it would be something if he could become an impact player.

Six of the reported 23 incoming freshmen so far have played D-line positions. Some look like promising early prospects. But, again, I find it hard to put any kind of expectations on freshmen especially at D-line and O-line positions.

But transfers are a different story and I get the feeling that if Columbia does get a transfer this off season, he very well might be a d-lineman.

2) Wide Receiver

Columbia's utter lack of an effective vertical passing game this year was obvious to all. But the need grows more dire for improvement in this area with the graduation of leading WR Scotter Hollis. 

But this group is not without hope. Rising junior Cameron Dunne certainly had his moments last year and often got open. Rising senior Ben Kaplan made some key catches this fall. Rising junior Dylan Weldon came out of nowhere to make an impact in the second half of the season. And rising sophomore Brandon Krcilek got a lot of playing time and experience for a freshman.

There's also rising junior Marcus Briscoe who missed all of 2015 with an injury and could certainly help this unit out if he comes back healthy in 2016.

Four incoming freshmen have WR experience, and I'm sure they will all get a good look in training camp.

Bottom line, Columbia desperately needs to improve its passing numbers this coming season.

3) Running Back

We knew graduating senior Cameron Molina was a good player coming into his final season, but we really didn't learn how good he truly was until the end of this season. It's a pity he leaves us now, but at least he got to finish his career truly at a high point.

Next to impact defensive tackles, the next biggest rarity in the Ivies these days is a 800-1,000 yard rusher. In other words, no one can expect the Lions to replace Molina with a player who can put up the same stats in 2016.

Columbia is not coming into the new season with the cupboard completely bare. Rising senior Allen Watson has shown enough flashes to give fans some hope and rising junior Chris Schroer is a great tough runner who could get much more into the mix next year. And with rising junior FB Leander Cutler returning after missing all of this season with an injury, it's likely the lions will have an effective combination of blocking and running at that position to go along with rising senior Jackson Conway's excellent blocking-only role.

But this is a position where indeed the big hopes seem centered around an incoming freshman or two. A lot of hope centers around Tanner Thomas who put up eye-popping stats seemingly every week in his final high school season this fall. Another reported incoming frosh, Alex Gibson, comes from a hard-nosed conference in Pennsylvania football country and he might help quickly too.

4) Secondary

I'm actually not overly concerned about this unit, despite the graduations of quality safeties like Matt Cahal and Travis Reim. That's because the Lions have a pair of outstanding returning starting corners in rising junior Cameron Roane and rising senior Jared Katz. Katz was a revelation as he really picked up his game and got a lot more physical and tough as the year went on.

At safety, rising senior Brock Kenyon gives me some good confidence, and I think there's a chance the talented Brandon Blackshear could return after missing two seasons between his freshman and senior seasons. But this group definitely needs some more depth.

I liked a lot of what I saw of rising junior Tyler Holmes on special teams and I wonder if that will translate into more effective playing time on defense. The rest of the underclassmen are really an unknown quantity for us.

Four of the reported incoming freshmen so far have at least some playing time at DB. It's possible one will get into the mix, especially if they can hit hard at the safety position.


alawicius said...

Jake, why no mention of rising sophomore rb Lucas Faria?

Chen1982 said...

I had same question. He was quite celebrated in the Jersey press as an upperclassmen in high school.

Jake said...

I'm not sure Faria made a strong enough impression in training camp. Perhaps another off season of prep will make a difference.

alswingman said...

In addition to stronger personnel at receiver I would like to see modifications in approaching the passing game. I think Mornhinweg did pretty well on many drives but it look like he was forced to improvise a lot and things got choppy. I am sure they are thinking of better ways to play to his strengths. Too many really poor endings to drives they needed to keep up the momentum. I do appreciate Hill's speed as a second option but he needs more polish to challenge for the starting role. I think they go with Mornhinweg again but need better strategy preparing him.