Friday, March 17, 2017

Spring Wishes: 5 Priorities

Anders Hill

Spring practice begins on Monday and Columbia Football's priorities are obviously on the shoulders of a few players we know have to step up for 2017.

Priority 1: Anders Hill

Hill enters his senior season knowing for the first time that he will begin a season as the #1 QB. His improvement over the course of last season was obvious and it culminated in his best performance of the year in the finale at Brown.

The coaches simply must do whatever they can to get Hill playing at his week 8-10 level starting on day one of the upcoming season. There are other variables to Columbia's 2017 campaign to be sure, but this is the most important. Better QB play the last two seasons, to the level of simply Honorable Mention All Ivy, would have netted the Lions 5-5 seasons or better both years. Columbia was just in too many games in 2015 and 2016 that were lost when the offense couldn't get the last crucial score.

Priority 2: Changing of the Guard at Linebacker

When Al Bagnoli took over in 2015, he said he believed the Lions' best strength was Columbia's front seven on defense. That had some of us who liked the defensive line but worried about the linebackers scratching our heads. As usual, Al was right. The linebacking crew over his first two seasons at the helm has been the strength of the team and even better than the front four.

But now all the significant starters from those past two seasons are graduating. I like what I've seen on tape from many of the guys who need to step up to fill their shoes, but a big part of the off season goal has to be to make sure this unit stays strong.

That mission is squarely on the shoulders of rising sophomores Michael Murphy, Jalen Williams, Matt Tofano, and Levi McQuinn. I also think that rising senior Parker Tobia may also be in that mix. More than just one of the aforementioned linebackers must step up this spring and take on the mantle of leaders.

Priority 3: Prime Running Back

With Alan Watson graduating and the promising freshmen running backs not coming in until the summer, the coaches need to see one of the returning backs step it up. I've boiled this issue down in a separate post, but rising sophomores Tanner Thomas and Lynnard Rose seem like the leading candidates here. This will be one of the most-watched aspects of the spring game.

Priority 4: The New O-line

Columbia brings back three offensive line starters, and that's very good for a college team at any level. But this spring practice we need to see some results from the rising sophomores like Joseph Scowden and a few others. In addition to linebackers, Bagnoli's forte at Penn was building great linebackers and offensive linemen, The offensive line definitely improved over these past two seasons, but now it's time to get one or two First Team All Ivy players out of this unit.

Priority 5: Secondary Depth

If senior Denzel Hill does come back for a 5th year, the Lions will be returning three excellent defensive backs in Hill, Cameron Roane and Landon Baty. That's more than most teams could hope for. But obviously Columbia needs another starter here and some key backups. And it feels like the depth chart here is a bigger mystery than the rest of the team. We need to get some more boldface names out of this group starting next week.