Sunday, April 29, 2012

Starks, Catapano to Captain

BY JAY GREENBERG

One of the best things about being elected a new Princeton football captain is that Andrew Starks gets to serve with the old one.

  “Mike Catapano is a phenomenal leader and phenomenal guy,” said Starks.  “His character and intensity carries everybody.

“When we have a guy like that in the locker room, it sets the tone for the entire day.  I can learn from that how to be a vocal leader.”

He wants to bring this team close, unlike the vote of the players that chose him.

“There was a big dropoff after him, but then a bunch of guys after that with about the same amount of votes,” said Coach Bob Surace. “That not only made Andrew the obvious pick, but tells me we have a lot of leadership.”

Surace already knew what he had in appointing Catapano, who turned down scholarship offers he received from Maryland and Miami while Princeton was deciding to grant him a fourth year on the field. The defensive lineman missed his freshman season with an injury.

“These are my friends, my teammates,” said Catapano. “I only considered [transferring] when I didn’t think I was going to be able to come back here.

“Coach kind of hinted at [the captaincy] but nothing is guaranteed, and to hear it in front of all the guys [following the spring scrimmage Saturday] is great.  To be captain one time. . . two times, it’s surreal.  I want to do the best I can to lead this team again, hopefully with a much better [win-loss] turnout.”

Catapano, who has been on semester leave – and attending former All Pro defensive end Chuck Smith’s pass rushing camp in Atlanta – while his status was being decided, told the Tigers after watching the scrimmage that “it looks and feels different” after consecutive 1-9 seasons.

“It feels faster,” he then told PrincetonTigersFootball.com. “It feels like we’re hitting harder and guys are looking bigger too, I’ve got to say. 

“A new team, a new season. We have to let the past be the past.  We have every tool.  This could be the turning point.”
           
With a young offensive unit, Surace has decided to pick a weekly captain for that side of the ball.  Catapano already is an all-Ivy player and Starks has the potential to be.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to lead these guys,” Starks said. “ For them to think of me as leader on this team is phenomenal because we truly have quite a few leaders who could have potentially stepped up into this role.  I’m excited for the opportunity to get this thing turned around.”
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            TIGER TAILS

More Than a Safety Valve

The clear offensive star of the scrimmage, which concluded spring drills, was Seth DeValve '15, with several catches on deep throws by both Connor Michelsen and Quinn Epperly.

“With Connor Kelley coming back in the fall, that gives us two wide receivers who can block on the inside plus run create matchup issues with their size,” said Surace.

“We didn’t throw the ball real well early in the scrimmage but in the middle third we did. And as many big catches that we had, our defensive backs were right there on most of them.  It wasn’t like those 12 yards off the ball on third-and-eight where you say ‘you kidding me?’”


Cornered           

Brian Mills '14, making the conversion from running back to corner, made an impressive rundown of Akil Sharp at the flag on a goalline drill.  “Brian played better today,” said Surace.  “It kind of stinks we can’t continue to coach him (until pre-season practice) but I think he will take a big jump by August.”


Cloud of Dust

“Jonathan [Esposito '15] broke one long run,” said Surace.  “Otherwise, we didn’t have any with a big number of yards, but we had those hammering kind of yards, turning four yards into five yards, the kind or runs with which Penn was won Ivy League championships.  If we don’t have Chuck [Dibilio], that’s the kind of running game I think we’ll have. “

Dibilio, who was at the scrimmage, has taken the final in Math 103, Basic Calculus, for which he was studying in January when he suffered a blood clot and stroke. He received an A.  Uncertain remains his return to the field, but obviously not to the classroom.

“He got an A in a Princeton course after having a stroke three months ago,” said Surace.  “He’s come so far, that’s just great.“



Thursday, April 26, 2012

Costello Is Receiving Good Vibes

BY JAY GREENBERG

The closer the Tigers got to the goalline last season, the more they seemed afraid of it.  They scored only 14 touchdowns in 42 trips inside a red zone that never seemed more appropriately named.

Regardless, there is no hint of a yellow flag in Matt Costello’s expectations for 2012.
           
“Our dropback game is going to be a lot better this year, I can guarantee you that,” said the rising sophomore wideout.  “Connor [Michelsen] and Quinn [Epperly] are looking great.”

The two rising sophomore quarterbacks continue their dual for their fair share of what will likely be a two-man position in Saturday’s noon spring scrimmage on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium. Even in an intrasquad competition, there is still only one ball in use at a time, but no Tiger quarterback should be limited by the sets of hands at his disposal.

A defensive line anchored by returning senior all-Ivy performers Caraun Reid '13 and Mike Catapano '13 is Princeton’s place of greatest established strength, but no position on the squad has the depth of the receiving corps. 

Costello '15 caught 29 passes for 384 yards a year ago. Wilkinson '13, had 38 catches for 384 yards. The best-laid red zone plans of Coach Bob Surace and offensive coordinator James Perry largely were wasted by the loss for the season of Connor Kelley '14 to an ACL tear, but he will be back in the fall.  And while it remains to be seen if any of these options can emerge as a deep threat, this is not a shallow pool of playmakers.

“They are more of the possession-type,” said Surace “But Matt, who is making circus, body-control kinds of catches in practice, also got behind a few good defensive backs last year.

“Shane [healthy for Saturday after nursing a hamstring pull for most of the four weeks] has real speed.  And Connor, who can block, will be added to the mix and be a guy like Seth DeValve ['15], who can make contested catches.”

The 2011 Tigers received only 13 receptions out of their tight end position, and hope to get more out of seniors Mark Hayes and Des Smith. Whether or not Hayes continues to have problems hanging onto the ball, Surace is wild about his wildcard, the 6'3" DeValve.  

“We love him,” said the coach.  “He was a high school quarterback who at the end of last year we started moving around to tight end, and inside and outside.

“We put a lot on his plate as a freshman and his receiving skills were the last thing to come.  Now he's making these fantastic catches and could be a unique player for us.

“Tom Moak ['13] is having a really good spring.  He might be a little undersized and not the fastest guy, but he’s the only guy out there who wants to do what I’m doing: coach. He’s feisty, does everything right and is going to be a leader.”

You can catch the coach’s drift. He likes his receivers.  His receivers like his receivers, too.

“It’s a great feeling if somebody goes down, the guy behind us will be just as good,” said Costello.    

Not so good were just two 2011 touchdowns from the entire receiving corps – the only one deep one by Wilkinson, from 36 yards against Columbia in the season’s only win.  To have a really dynamic offense, the Tigers are going to have to take more such shots with a quarterback, Michelsen, who can get the ball deep.  

“When I’m in the slot I like to work in space but I would like to think I can get deep behind the coverage as well,” said Wilkinson.

Surace says this is the most efficient the passing game has been in the two years he has been the head coach.  And he believes practicing against this unit is improving a secondary that was porous in 2011.

“Our receiver-DB drills have been a real pleasant surprise,” said the coach.  “We have gone from being the worst in the league [on pass defense] to being pretty competitive at those spots.”

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TIGER TAILS   

Anxieties

Asked his greatest worry as spring practice concludes, Surace said: “Depth on the offensive line and the front seven on defense. We have one healthy tight end [Hayes].  But [center] Ryan Peloquin might be the most improved player on the team and Jack Woodall is pushing at guard.”  TE Des Smith '13, recovering from a concussion, is expected back for pre-season practice.


It’s a Process

Surace said converted running back Brian Mills probably has shown enough in drills at defensive back to remain there for the season.

“He has moments where he looks like a star and other where he looks like a lost soul,” said Surace. “When he just reacts and plays, he does a really good job.”

“We’ll see this Saturday, but our running backs have been really good, which probably allows us to keep Brian there.”

Mills is not the only player making a switch to defense. “Jason Ray is coming along really well,” said Surace.  “He’s going be a big part of our front seven depth.  Right now we have him behind [Matt] Landry as a linebacker but I think Jason will plays some end as well.   He’ll help us more there than he would at fullback.”


Toehold on the Job

Patrick Jacob '12 had a big shoe around his extremely reliable right foot.  Can Brendan Sofen '15 fill it?  

"He has been inconsistent,” said Surace.  “The accuracy part is a little surprise because he was so accurate and the leg strength wasn’t quite what we wanted.

“But the leg strength is now doing very well and he is working on some new things technique-wise that I think will make a difference. We’ll have a freshman coming in to compete. That will be a good battle for us. “   


       

Friday, April 20, 2012

Somebody Must Step Up Fast

BY JAY GREENBERG


In the possible absence of Chuck Dibilio, Bob Surace has no concerns about Akil Sharp ducking any responsibility, only tacklers.

“The other backs make pass protection and route errors,” said the coach. “Akil is not making those mistakes and he’s turning three-yard gains into five-yard gains and that’s a huge jump for him.  

“But he has to do a better job in the open field.  He had a 15-yard gain last week that should have been a 20-yard gain. In the open field, he didn’t make the guy miss.”

Still missing is the cause of the blood clot and stroke that has put the career of Dibilio, who ran for 1092 yards as a freshman last season, on hold.   Sharp '13, who lost his starting spot to Dibilio, has the first opportunity to gain it back and a vote of confidence from Surace, who is going ahead with plans to improve the secondary by moving Brian Mills '14 to cornerback.

Rising freshmen Will Powers and Jonathan Esposito are more than just fallbacks. They will compete for carries against Sharp and perhaps some freshmen during pre-season practice.  The workloads of each candidate must play out, says Surace.  But one of the scenarios centers on Sharp, who averaged 5.2 yards per his 37 carries in 2011, taking the ball and taking charge.

“He’s a solid player but I think he can be better than a solid player,” said Surace.  “He is athletic, explosive, strong, all the things you want. 

“He has to be in the top few guys in this league in terms of strength, speed, explosiveness. At this point of his maturity we have to get him to play to that.  And he has shown flashes.”

The Tigers, who haven’t made game-breaking runs or passes for two years, could use some flash. And Powers has the ability to get outside and provide a one-two punch.
           
“Jonathan is short, stocky strong, primarily a run-you-over inside runner but we can use him in multiple rolls,” said Surace. “Will is a good inside runner but he is really quick and gives us the outside run, something we haven’t had since I’ve been here.”

Depth at almost any position is something Surace hasn’t had since he’s been here either.  To build it, 15 freshmen were playing by the end of the 2011 season. Mill’s absence with a back injury in the final four games enabled eight carries for Powers and three for Esposito, a short sample but a good one.
           
“Even [three] definitely helped,” said Esposito.  “The speed of the game is tremendously different than high school, anything to get your feet wet helps.”

Said Powers:  “We got time on special teams the second half the season and the carries, that was a bonus.   You come here thinking you can do it and now we know we can do it.

“They told us from the get-go about Brian moving over.  I’ve had a mindset about this opportunity the whole preseason.”

So has Sharp, who knew a horse when he saw one last year and doesn’t see himself as a one-man cavalry to the rescue.   


“Chuck is our best player and one of the best in the league,”  said Sharp. “Everybody is trying to step up, push themselves harder, I’m not the only one. 


“Getting a little bigger, a little quicker doesn’t mean anything if you can’t translate it to the field.”


Tiger Tails: TE Alex Powell (shoulder) sat out the week, may return for the noon intrasquad game April 28 that completes spring drills. . . WR Shane Wilkinson has been limited with a tight hamstring but that is the position of Princeton’s greatest depth, as has been demonstrated during practices. “We are executing our pass game better right now than anytime I have been here,” said Surace after Thursday’s practice. “All three quarterbacks [Quinn Epperly, Connor Michelson, and Malik Jackson] threw well and [Matt] Costello and [Seth] DeValve have made highlight catches two practices in a row. Our coverage is tighter, a product of the timing of our routes and accuracy of our throws. I hope we continue to build on this.

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's Not Secondary to the Tigers' Improvement

BY JAY GREENBERG

Vital to Princeton to moving forward this season might be Brian Mills re-learning how to run backwards.

“When I was watching his high school film after getting the job [before the 2010 season], he jumped out as a guy who could be comfortable playing running backor defensive back,” said Coach Bob Surace. “He had the length, the body type, and the speed should we ever have the need.”

There is no need to explain to anyone who watched the Tigers in 2011 what was their ultimate downfall. A defense that improved markedly against the run was riddled for 270 passing yards per game and an even more telling 8.4 yards per pass.

Princeton has to start batting some passes down. So, even though Chuck Dibilio, who suffered a January stroke, may not be able to resume his all Ivy running back career, Surace hasn’t batted an eyelash over his plan to move Mills '14 from the offensive backfield.

Confident freshmen Will Powers and Jonathan Esposito can supply running depth behind Akil Sharp '14, the coach continues the experiment with Mills on a practice field an appropriate few hundred yards from the Frick Chemistry Laboratories.

From the beaker, Mills hasn’t entertained any regrets about the position switch, even after learning of Dibilio’s misfortune. After two weeks of spring drills, his only second thoughts areabout where he is supposed to be and in what coverage.

“It’s a different mechanic running backwards,” he said. “And the coverages are much different, more complex, than in high school.

“But I tossed the idea around in my head even before I met with Coach Surace. If I was needed on defense, I was all for it.”

He can always still get his hands on the ball by intercepting it. And he remains a primary candidate to return kicks. Besides, if it turns out Mills struggles in Reverse, he can always shift back to Drive.

In 53 carries in 2011, he ran for 252 yards, 48 of them on one play down the sideline at Harvard that looked like a touchdown until Mills’ back seized up. Not only did he get caught from behind at the Crimson 38 but had the ball knocked loose and Harvard recovered.

“He’s a very competitive guy, wanted to get as far as he could,” said Surace. “If he wasn’t, he probably would have crumpled at the 50 and we would have had the ball there.”

What could go wrong in 2011 too often did. Princeton’s record stayed at 1-9 largely because the opposition couldn’t go wrong throwing. The Tigers had just three interceptions in 10 games.

“I haven’t had one in two years,” said strong safety Mandela Sheaffer '13. “I need to be on the ball more.”

So does the other expected starting holdover in the secondary, cornerback Khamal Brown '15, who tackled well in a baptism of fire as a freshman but didn’t get many breakups. “He’s a little conservative,” said Surace, “we’re pushing him to make more plays on the ball.”

Actually, Surace defensive coordinator Jared Backus, and secondary coach Jim Salgado have been pushing everybody to make plays on the ball for two seasons. The emphasis hasn’t changed but with three seniors who played a great deal graduating, the cast of characters has.

Taylor James '14, is Mills’ main competition for the corner job opposite Brown while Phil Bhaya '14 and Jimmy von Thron '15 are competing at the weakside safety position. Mike Zeuli '15 whose season ended with an ACL tear at Penn, should regain significant playing time and Surace says Robbie Templeton '15 and Jakobi Johnson '15 have had terrific off-seasons in the weight room. Trocon Davis '14 and Greg Kohles '13 are in the mix as well.

“I think it’s a good group, the one that during the winter [strength and conditioning] came the farthest of any of our positions during the winter.”

But it also is the one that has the farthest to come.

Of course pass coverage can only be as good as the pass rush, which in 2011 was average. The team’s two best defensive linemen Caraun Reid and Mike Catapano, play the interior, so Princeton needs more pressure from the edges, meaning from Matt Landry '13 and particularly Andrew Starks '13 whose all-Ivy potential was waylaid by an injury suffered in week four at Hampton.

“I would say Andrew was still productive but until the Penn game, not as explosiveas he can be,” said Surace, who courageously is predicting an improved pass defense. That means nothing if the coach’s bravado isn’t matched by the candidates.

Sheaffer’s otherwise excellent winter was unfortunately interrupted by his arrest in Bowling Green, Ohio, on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and obstruction of official business. He not only was cleared but received an apology from the Bowling Green University campus police chief.

“It was unfortunate and not fun,” said Sheaffer. “But everything played out the way it was supposed to and justice was served.”

Surace found the initial news of the arrest – over a misunderstanding by a campus policeman who saw Sheaffer sitting on a front porch – incomprehensible. He is one of the most responsible players on the team, on the field almost to a fault.

“Mandela wants to do the right thing to the extent that it makes him think a lot,” saidthe coach. “For two years, has been a big safety who lines up right and makes the tackles, but the other day on a three-on-three drill he came up and made a big play on the ball, what we’ve been waiting to see.

“We need him to play with that kind of confidence.”

TigerTails: Chuck Dibilio, on campus totake a fall semester final for which he was preparing when he suffered a strokein January, watched practices Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. The search for the cause of the blood clot, likely critical to his return to the field, continues this week with separate heart and lung tests. . . . WR Shane Wilkinson, nursing a calf strain, has had limited participation. . . . “Brad Megay had a terrific day [Sunday], can’t say enough about it,” said Surace about the senior defensive lineman. “If he can step up, he’ll be a bigplayer for us. He’s one of those guys who kills it in the weight room, is in the best shape of anyone out there. It looks like the light bulb is coming on for him.”

Monday, April 9, 2012

Two Might Be Better Than One

BY JAY GREENBERG

The competition to open the season as Princeton’s No. 1 quarterback is almost as wide open as Coach Bob Surace will be to criticism should either Quinn Epperly, Connor Michelsen or Malik Jackson not clearly win the job.  

Plan B for 2012 is to regularly supplement the rollout ability of Epperly '15 with the pocket throws of Michelsen '15 or Jackson '14. It is a concept Surace insists hardly flies in the face of conventional wisdom when a coach knows best his quarterbacks’ strengths and limitations.

“Florida won a national championship playing both [Chris] Leak and [Tim] Tebow,” said the coach.  “LSU got to the national championship game using two.

"I don't believer there is any one way to approach the position in terms of repetitions. With the number of teams that use the Wildcat formation, I don't see quarterbacks getting thrown out of rhythm."
        
Surace certainly didn’t baby Michelsen in the 2011 season finale, putting him in the game to throw only his fifth collegiate pass – and first in five weeks – with the Tigers down seven points, facing third-and-13 at the Dartmouth 24, and fewer than five minutes remaining.

Michelsen threw an interception that in a better season, with more on the line, would have thrown Surace under the bus, never mind that the Tigers’ wheels already were spinning after Epperly lost five yards on a second down rollout. The coaches had fully prepared Michelsen to throw the pass he did, just not to the underneath linebacker spotted too late.              

Still, the chances of success by the freshman were less than ideal, of course. After Epperly, in his first start after having received selected second-period series in relief of Tommy Wornham since mid-season, had run for a pair of second-quarter touchdowns, the option offense had effectively stalled in the second half. But Surace doesn’t believe that was when the game turned.           

“What really made me the dummy was letting Quinn throw the interception [on second and twelve at the Princeton 40, the Tigers looking to build on a 14-9 lead] before the half,” the coach said. 

“The two minute drill hasn’t been run by Quinn and I put him in a situation he wasn’t ready for.  He puts it up for grabs, it’s run back and Dartmouth ends up ahead at the half.  Things were going well and I got greedy.

“We were playing six freshmen on offense, were up and really excited, so to go in behind was deflating.  I said at the half if that situation comes up again, we can’t have him throwing the ball.  It’s the kind of throw Quinn is going to get better at.”

If aged football wisdom argues that Michelsen was thrown to the wolves, Surace believed the freshman has an arm that could have tossed the ball right past them. 

“Connor was going to take a certain number of throws [throughout the game] but every time those situations came up we were in a situation where we decided to just run the ball and punt,” he said.  “Quinn was throwing well some of those jump passes and sprint-out passes, but at third-and-13 that’s not a good call.

“At that point of his development, he’s not making the throw we thought Connor could. I would do it again, if I had played Connor more.”

Such is the way things seem headed in September even if Epperly’s legs, his experience gained a year ago and a more demonstrated leadership presence make him the slight frontrunner early in spring practice.

“I’m a lot more comfortable with what is going on, really worked with my reads and progressions with Coach [James] Perry,” Epperly said.

Michelsen, says Surace, has the arm and the touch to be as good as anybody in the Ivy League.  

“But you can always get more accurate and I need to work on my running,” Michelsen said.  “Looking at film with Coach Perry, he’s the smartest coach I’ve ever met in my life.”

Jackson '14 is the wild card, no longer as literally as he was a year ago, when Surace compared him to Nuke Laloosh, the Tim Robbins-played Wild Thing in the movie Bull Durham.  Jackson, who got a later start in his Princeton career because of micro-fracture knee surgery, has been taming his arm and has become better than just a long shot in the competition.

“It’s not rocket science, if you want to become a better thrower you have to throw,” said Jackson. “It’s hard to sharpen your technique when your knee is going out on you.

“Through the combination of my knee being healthy and just having proper techniques, I can see the results. Sometimes I still will mess up, but it’s a process. This is an opportunity. Like coach Perry says, all you get is a shot and then it’s what you do on the field.

Surace believes three candidates will be pared by one after the April 28 spring game, leaving two standees to take on a freshman comer. (The 2016 class will be announced in mid-April.)

At the first spring practices over the weekend, all holdover candidates looked sharp, viable and capable of making opposition game-planners spend time preparing for more than one quarterback.

That’s a benefit of having two, along with a depth of experience should one become injured.  Surace is confident he has three outstanding competitors, if not yet one polished quarterback.  As long as teammates don’t choose between them and the quarterbacks continue to treat each other with respect, a battle for the team’s most important position will help the Tigers compete better come the season.  

“It magnifies every practice rep,” said Surace. “That will help them handle the stress of tight games.”

Tiger Tails: DT Caraun Reid, while doing all the drills, was held out of reps during two first practices with a hamstring issue.  He may be ready for a fuller workload Tuesday . . . Backup defensive lineman-linebacker Rob Basile is out indefinitely with a pulled hamstring. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It's Time for Candidates to Spring Forth

BY JAY GREENBERG

Between the 20-yard lines and until the fourth quarters, Princeton had a decent season in 2011.  The Tigers were within a touchdown in the fourth quarter in five of the nine losses, proving almost as competitive as they were ultimately frustrating. 

“We were in the red zone 42 times and scored 14 touchdowns,” said Coach Bob Surace. “Teams scored 24 out of 35 against us. 

“While teams didn’t get into the red zone as much as the year before, those are not winning numbers.”

They don’t lie – it is a violation of the Princeton Honor Code.  On the other hand, there is nothing in there prohibiting stealing a football from the opposition.  But after a glance at the 2011 statistics, you might guess otherwise.

Except for the three interceptions in one game against Bucknell, the 14 the Tigers threw were not as ruinous as was their failure to get more than just three picks themselves.  Princeton also lost four more fumbles than it recovered from the opposition.

Basically, the Tigers didn’t bend nearly as much as they had in 2010, yet ultimately broke regardless. Their average deficit of only 40 yards per game was not reflected in a second consecutive 1-9 record.  But they aren’t going to turn that around without getting more turnovers.

So as spring practice begins April 6, the Tigers will resume working during more than just stolen moments at taking the ball away. “I’ve told the coaches we have to be better at it,” said Surace.

He did not have to inform them to look for some underclassmen who can earn significant positions, primarily at quarterback, running back and in the defensive backfield.

Chuck Dibilio, the 1092-yard rusher as a freshman who suffered a January stroke, is not in school and may not be able to continue his career depending upon still-undetermined medication requirements.

“If Chuck is not back, we may not have the best runner in the league,” said Surace.  “But Akil Sharp ['13] is a 5-yard per carry guy and so [in limited touches] were [freshmen] Jonathan Esposito and Will Powers.

“We have young players coming in. I think we’re going to be pretty good there.”

The coach is confident enough about that to be trying running back Brian Mills '13, who was on his way to paydirt on a 48-yard run at Harvard when his back gave out to effectively end his season, at cornerback this spring. “If he is not the answer there, we could always move him back,” said Surace.

Mills is not the only player going from offense to defense. So are wide receiver John Ed McGee '14 and running back Kevin Navetta '13 to the secondary and fullback Jason Ray '14 to linebacker.  The defensive front seven – where Garrit Leicht '15 is poised to replace the graduated Steve Cody at middle linebacker and defensive end Matt Landry '13 got more snaps than the graduated starter Dan Fitzsimmons – appears to be the strength of the team, particularly against the run. But Surace is concerned about depth. 

Not so much on the offensive line, were a number of underclassmen got plenty of work last season towards replacing the graduated Matt Allen and Kevin DeMaio. But that doesn’t leave running back and secondary as the positions compelling the most attention.  The Tigers need a quarterback. And at the end of spring practice, they probably will have two.

“On April 28, I think we will have a leader in the clubhouse,” said Surace. “But if we were playing Lehigh in the opener right now, I would see us using more than one quarterback.

“Quinn Epperly ['15] is strong athletically, sharp mentally.  We’re excited to see him progress throwing the football.

“Arm strength-wise, Connor Michelsen ['15] is going to be one of the best guys in the league. Connor has to shore up his decision-making and his leadership.           

“The ball comes out of the hand of Malik Jackson ['14] like a Juggs gun.  Whoomp. And his accuracy has improved. He is going to get himself into the mix.

“I think the snaps will be split during the spring and after that the numbers will be down to two. At training camp, we will put a freshman into the mix to see what he can do about making it a three-man derby.”

Key Tigers such as wideout Connor Kelley '14 and safety Mike Zeuli '15  are rehabbing knee injuries and won’t practice until the summer.  DE Mike Catapano '13, is on semester leave, to return in the fall. 

But Surace knows Catapano is one of his two best returning players on defense – with Caraun Reid –  and Kelley has a chance to be the best on offense. So their absences will enable opportunities to a lot of hopefuls to educate the coach as to their abilities.  Impressive work in the weight room this winter has to come onto the field.  And it’s not just starting jobs that are available.

“Our starting seven on the front line of defense will hold its weight league-wide but we need depth there,” said Surace.  “And on the back end [secondary], we need guys to emerge.  I will say this about the [defensive backfield], I’m more confident than I was in December that somebody will challenge.

“When Harvard and Penn lose a guy, with the next guy there isn’t much difference.  I think we are seeing that depth develop on offense – we have a group of receivers that can consistently give you 3-5 catches and every once in a while give you nine – but we need it on defense, too. 

“We need guys to separate themselves. And that’s what spring practice is for.”