The Last Line of Defense
Calvin Otis saves a touchdown
I don't think it's a stretch to say Columbia's secondary will look a lot different this season. 2007 starters, (when they weren't hurt), JoJo Smith and Eugene Edwards are graduating. Senior Chad Musgrove returns after a year off, hoping to build on his outstanding 2005 and 2006 seasons, (he left campus for still unreported reasons in the tail end of the 2006 campaign).
But I expect to see some personnel changes in this unit, with some players changing positions to officially join the secondary. And with those changes, you could argue the Lions have a relative embarrasment of riches in the defensive backfield.
The cornerback position is the key to any secondary, and Columbia could have a lethal combination if Musgrove and sophomore Calvin Otis step up. At 6"3, Musgrove is basically a giant at this position, and Otis is no slouch at 6"1.
As a freshman, Otis lived up to my expectations. He played in every game, had two interceptions, and singlehandedly broke up a sure TD against Dartmouth late in the game. Otis was a fabulous "get" for the recruiters last season, and you gotta love his pedigree. Mom is a Columbia Business School grad and dad is the CEO of Darden Restaurants, (they own Olive Garden and Red Lobster).
Junior Grant Jefferson has a shot to make an impact at corner as well. He had 34 tackles last season, but only one pass break-up. It was hard to tell in 2007 if he completely overcame the leg injury that kept him out of the regular lineup in 2006. But he will make a very dangerous weapon if he is healthty.
Columbia's real embarrassment of riches, as far as depth is concerned, comes at the safety position.
Junior strong safety Andy Shalbrack had a strong season in 2007 after a near rookie of the year performance, (Austin Knowlin won that honor), in 2006. Despite battling injuries all season, Shalbrack was the team's third leading tackler with 61, intercepted two passes, returned one pick for a TD, and recovered two fumbles. And I wouldn't be surprised if Shalbrack emerges from spring practice as one of the team captains.
Senior strong safety Clark Koury was on his way to a breakout season in 2007, before injuries got in the way. He was a key hero in the win over Marist with two interceptions. If he's healthy, he should make a positive impact in his final year.
Sophomore Augie Williams did a very solid job as a freshman last year, netting 50 tackles, three and half of them for a loss, in just eight games.
At free safety, junior Drew Abeyta is back. He too, struggled with some injuries last season but looked good when he was healthy.
Sophomore Adam Mehrer was also a great-looking newcomer last season and should challenge for serious playing time.
There are also some promising incoming freshmen. Peter Batesko could either play DB or wide receiver, but I think he may break in first on defense. Batesko may compete for playing time with his former rival from New Jersey, Kurt Williams from Don Bosco Prep. Ross Morand, from national power St. Xavier is another great "get" for the defensive backfield.
I expect the battle for starting slots in the secondary to be fierce this summer, and that's the way it should be.