Monday, August 22, 2016

Back on the Field

As the Columbia football team hits the field for the first time this training camp, you can make the case that this really is the most exciting time of the year.

It's really unfair to the hard working returning veterans, but it's mostly exciting because this is when the coaches, and eventually the fans, find out for sure which freshmen players are potential game changers this year or sometime soon down the road.

We love to see the shiny and new and sometimes neglect the tried and true when we do it. I'm as guilty of this as anyone, but I suspect this trend will diminish itself in Columbia land as the present begins to look just as good as the elusive future has for decades.

But the question I get asked the most, (and I assume the coaches hear this way too often too), is: "which freshmen do you think have the best chance to start/get heavy playing time this year."

I'm going to try to answer that question not by listing a bunch of new names, but by pinpointing the positions most likely to be impacted by a freshman or a player who was under the radar until now.

Wide Receiver

You have to be an extreme pessimist to think that Columbia's passing game won't get better this season. The combination of injuries and new QB's really took the air out of this aspect of the Lion offense in 2015. Of course, the massive improvement in the CU running game didn't "help" the passing stats either.

With that in mind, one of the five new freshman WR's getting on the two-deep or even breaking through as a starter seems likely by the end of the season.

Running Back

No sooner did Cameron Molina emerge as a legitimate 1st Team All Ivy star did he have to leave for graduation. But the race to replace Columbia's #1 back isn't exactly a free for all. Senior Alan Watson's stock has been rising since the beginning of spring practice, and the very gutty junior Chris Schroer is the backup right now. But running back is one of those positions where talent becomes evident early in life and that means a good freshman has a great chance to see real playing time. The Lions have four new RB's in camp right now, and their proving season starts now.

Defensive End

The well-documented loss of so many starters on Columbia's great 2015 defensive line means there's a hint of a chance for some freshmen to break onto the field at a position that traditionally is very hard for freshmen to see any daylight. The starting DT positions seem securely held by upperclassmen, but one of the four freshmen DE's could have a shot to play. I do have to say that I think this is more likely to be the year for sophomore DE Mike Hinton, who's added the bulk he needed to make a move here.

Defensive Back

One of the safety positions is open going into camp, and Head Coach Al Bagnoli seems to have a real knack for finding very talented young DB's. This is another position where a big number, (5), of freshmen are coming in, including one or two of our more highly rated freshmen. Remember that it was Bagnoli's staff that brought in the three freshmen DB's who played stellar football for Penn last year, so no one should be surprised if this first crop at Columbia produces early.

Kick/Punt Returner

It seems like every Ivy team tries out someone new at the returning position. It's going to be dicey to figure out this year, because the Ivy League is moving kickoffs to the 40-yard line to cut down on injuries. Based on my belief that most new rules result in unintended consequences that often are worse than the problem they were meant to solve, we could see some real creativity from the coaches on kick off return teams.

Columbia is ripe for a youth infusion here. Last season, Bagnoli played it extremely safe and just used then-freshman Jake Young to call for fair catches on every punt. It's very likely we'll see a major change in that area this year and possibly with some new personnel.

Getting back to kickoffs, I expect there to be a lot more touchbacks in the Ivies this year of course. But a lot of Ivy kickers have a tough time consistently kicking the ball off for more than a 60-yard average anyway. So we could see a lot of returners stuck in that no-man's land at the two or three yard line, and unable to just take a knee into the end zone. Don't be surprised if that scenario results in more injuries, not less.



I remain, very truly yours, Richard Szathmary said...

Shouldn't the opening "title card" have read "Welcome incoming first-year students?"

oldlion said...

Jake, any early buzz about any particular incoming players who have already impressed the coaches?

Jake said...

All i can say is the early returns on the fitness tests for the frosh were happily "off the charts"

DOC said...

Eschewing the touch back and kicking the ball high and short or even the squib kick might result in more teams starting from inside the twenty. Agree that injuries may be up not down as return men may have less time to secure the ball and follow their blockers pattern. Yay or nay ?