Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Wish List for 2007

Okay, we're back after a long holiday break that I hope everyone enjoyed. I admit I went onto SideLion Pass a few times to re-watch some of the Columbia football wins and listen to that final drive against Brown. I still get nervous when Rocholl lines up for the winning kick. I know there have been some technical problems with the service, but I'm really glad we have those audio and video archives to help us through the long off-season, (kickoff is still 255 days away).

(Of course, we also have basketball and I am a big fan of college hoops. I have been to 3 games already and will be at both the Princeton and Penn games later this month. But I will leave the commentary on our round ball team to the real experts; I don't pretend to know enough about bball to write about it here).

A lot of readers have rightfully started to focus on recruiting. We're still a few months away from getting that full list of incoming freshmen players, (last year the official release came out on May 5th), but we certainly already know what our needs are... or do we?

The conventional wisdom is that the Lions need the most help on offense. There's no doubt the offense was the weaker of the two units last season, and the running game in particular was almost totally ineffective all year long.

But the good news is the offense definitely improved as the season went on. Using freshman Pete Stoll as a blocking fullback freed up tailback Jordan Davis for some nice runs in the Cornell and Brown games. And who can deny the turnaround QB Craig Hormann enjoyed at the end of the year?

The Lions biggest skill position loss is at wide receiver where Nick DeGasperis departs due to graduation. But the wide receiver corps looks good overall with Ivy League Rookie of the Year Austin Knowlin, rising sophomore Taylor Joseph, and rising senior Tim Paulin all coming back.

The biggest weakness remains the offensive line, and now Columbia will have to contend with the graduations of All-Ivy Matt Barsamian and guys like Daniel Palmer and Usche Osadebe. The problem with the offensive line is that it usually takes about 2 years for a high school player to really learn how to play that position at the collegiate level. So the Lions still have to grab as many offensive line prospects as they can, but we can't expect any of them to make an impact in 2007. Any O-line improvement this year will be on the shoulders of last year's starters. Center Mike Partain will be a senior this coming season, and I think he has a chance to be a team captain. Rising junior Mike Brune could also have a break-out year. And a lot of us would like to see last season's freshman, big Moose Veldman, get into the lineup as a sophomore.

On special teams, Columbia desperately needs someone who can return the ball effectively. Good field position is a huge part of the game in Ivy League football, and the Lions offense needs as much help as it can get. Otherwise, the kicking duties seem safe with the feet of Jon Rocholl.

But my biggest concern for 2007 and a recruting priority for me is the defense. The 2006 Lion defense was outstanding in every way. Even better, the unit featured a bevy of top-flight freshmen and sophomore stars like Andy Shalbrack, Justin Masorti, Drew Quinn, and Phil Mitchell. There was also some great contributions from more part-time players, especially freshmen Lou Miller and Matt Bashaw.

But Columbia's defense is losing five senior starters who were so effective on and off the field, that I am truly dreading their graduations. The Lions were particularly strong up the middle with nose tackle Todd Abrams, mlb Adam Brekke, and free safety Tad Crawford. They're all gone in 2007 as is senior breakout star Darren Schmidt and sparkplug Justin Nunez.

Columbia won't be able to repeat last year's stellar defensive performance unless:

1. 2006's key nucleus of freshmen and sophomores, Shalbrack, Masorti, Quinn, and Mitchell, step up and play even better.

2. Defensive coordinator Lou Ferrari pulls out another Darren Schmidt or two from the current sophomore and junior class and turns them into an immediate impact player.

3. Eugene Edwards and JoJo Smith improve in the secondary. They both showed promise as juniors in 2007, but we'll need a lot more from them in '07 even if Chad Musgrove comes back, and that looks like a long shot.

4. We recruit 1-2 freshman stars at the level of a Shalbrack and Masorti, especially on the defensive line.

As you can see, it's going to be a tough list to follow. But if the Columbia coaches are able to do better than expected with item #4 and bring in a slew of freshmen defensive stars, then it'll be that much easier to achieve numbers 1-3.

You've heard the cliche: "defense wins championships," and I'm a big believer in that. I'm hoping the Lions amazing 2006 season on defense will go a long way toward convincing some of the on-the-fence recruits to sign on.

Will this be a 1996 or a 2000 kind of Recruiting Class?

Columbia won its last two games of the season in 2006, something it did in 1992 and 1996 as well. The recruiting class that came in after those two emotional season-ending wins in 1992 made up the core of the 8-2 1996 team, (although it should be noted that the 1996 team's best player, Marcellus Wiley, was recruited a year earlier and only ended up playing with the '96 team because he sat out the '95 season). Those two wins in 1992 over Cornell and Brown were very memorable for anyone who was sitting in the stands and I think that really helped push guys like Rory Wilfork to come to Columbia.

The 1996 team won its last two games also in dramatic fashion at home against the Big Red and Bears. But four years later, the seniors on the 2000 found themselves at the end of disappointing 3-7 season despite the record-breaking year from junior running back Jonathan Reese.

So, here's hoping the final two wins of 2006 will produce a group of players that by 2010 will bring Columbia a championship or two.


At Thu Jan 04, 05:44:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis. Look for DiBernardo to move from RT to LT next year. He was first team all state NJ at Westwood High, and will now have two years under his belt (he started at RT for the seocnd half of his freshman year). I think he'll be a good one if he can bulk up to the 290 to 300 range. Brune and Partain will be good players. Russell starting playing better at TE late in the season, but we need more from Evangelist. I am less worried about our defense; we have alot ofinterchangeable parts and a great scheme, and it is easier to get first years on the field on the defensive side of the ball than on the offensive side. And we just have to use MA as a Brad Smith/Antwon Randle El type this year. He is too good to languish on the bench. Usually we have some info on early admits by now. Has anybody heard anything?

At Thu Jan 04, 05:57:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do not rule out DeFazio. If his back recovers, he could be the best offensive lineman the team has next year.

At Thu Jan 04, 10:50:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think O-line could be much stronger next year. This years group had excellent senior leadership but only had 1 year in the new system. Marino's schemes are complex and as the year went on you saw improved execution from all positions. Look for next years line to improve with time in the program and a little winter weight lifting. I agree that its possible to move DiBernardo to LT but also consider than Partain could anchor 1 side and Seiler could move to the center slot where he started one time last year. Savic and Lipovsky are both huge and have tackle wingspan. Getting Veldman going and DeFazio back will be a big addition as well. The coaching staff will have a lot of flexibility to move some of the younger guys around. More competition for the spots will improve the play of all these kids no matter where they are in the rotation currently.

A lead blocker will make our "A" back more effective. If we had a little more speed at QB we could also run more "zone read" type run plays and look for MA to fit in here with some packages. Like the line though, Hohrman will be better next year, get the ball out quicker and be the man for 2007.

I agree we need another receiver to step up and fill the big shoes of DeGasperis. There are at least 3 guys that are ready for the task that are currently on the roster. Look for our TE production to increase next year in Marino's scheme.

Defense wins and our turnover ratio improvement last year is a great example of just how effective takeaways help the win column. A big NT with the ability to play 2 gaps will help Coach Lou turn the backers loose. Hopefully, he will groom one or find one in recruiting. Brekke had a great year and will be a challenge to replace. Jake is right, defense is strong when its strong up the middle, so we'll need big time plays from our free safety next year.

When is the spring game?

At Thu Jan 04, 09:39:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

It is encouraging to hear some other optimistic assessments of the offensive line. Clearly, a more effective running game could have given CU 2-3 more wins this past season.

I think the spring game is sometime in late April. It should be a spirited contest this year for sure.

At Thu Jan 04, 10:51:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mastoris will be the next Des Werthman, by next year. L Miller will be a big time player, and Quinn will step into Brekke's shoes. We need a big NT. DeFazio or Veldman could be the NT.

At Thu Jan 04, 11:37:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

It seems more than plausible that we will see some position shifts next year from O-line to D-line and vice verse. The idea of DeFazio or Veldman on the D-line is intriguing.

And I love when people compare Masorti to Werthman... mostly because I believe I was the first to do it. (see my comparison in the comments section below the September 16, 2006 post titled "D is for Dominant").

Of course, if there's anyone who believes they made the Masorti-Werthman comparison before 9/16/06, I will gladly acknowledge them!

At Fri Jan 05, 09:21:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we should hope that MA can be the next FORAN (Princetons jack of all trades/QB). Hopefully next year he can be the kickoff returner also (that is one weakness we should be able to address). We need to recruit TE's in this class. We are have only 3 and 2 of them were hurt last year (Evangelist and Steele). We need to improve our depth (get to atleast 90 players on the roster). We also need a couple more DB's as next years secondary will be mostly seniors. Finally we need to get as good leadership from next years senior class as we did from this years. The team did not get down during the streak and won the final 2 games. I will be happy if Masorti can be half the player Werthman was (he only needs to play LB, not LB , RB , K that Des did).

At Fri Jan 05, 09:16:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, Masorti was a RB in one of the most competitive leagues in PA and had close to 1000 yards his Sr year. Maybe he could help out with our running game, if, at least, on a parttime basis. His toughness as a LB is pale compared to his ability as a RB. He either ran around you, over you, or through you, all the while dragging you behind him if you happened to latch on to him.

We need to utilize all the strenghts of all the players with such a small roster.

At Sat Jan 06, 01:24:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, have Bashaw gain 20 pounds and move him to the offensive line. As good a first-year DE as he was, he's far superior on offense. He and DiBernardo could be two of the top offensive linemen in the league.

At Sun Jan 07, 07:49:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I take credit for the Des/Masorti reference. Remember when Des absolutely pulverized a D back from Brown when Des ran out ot the tailback slot? It was actually pretty funny.

At Sun Jan 07, 09:26:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

possible recruit -

At Sun Jan 07, 10:20:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting, good speed and reasonable size. looks as though he has significant return experience which could be useful to our group.

At Tue Jan 30, 12:39:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous 494949 said...

hi all, good to see that there is some belief in columbia football.
on recruiting, it is a crap shoot. kind of like Forest Gump's life is like a box of chocolates theory. you never know what you are going to get. i can tell you that the coaches neer in a million years knew what they were getting when i signed on.

At Thu Feb 01, 12:26:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

49494949: Is this Des?


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