Friday, March 20, 2009

Secondary to None

Andy Shalbrack leads the Secondary (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

Following all the returning defensive backs and safeties on the Columbia roster may be a tall order for fans at the spring game.

That's because no fewer than 19 of them! Only five of those 19 are rising seniors.

If you think that hefty number means all of Columbia's key starters and backups from 2008 are coming back for 2009, you're right.

For those of you who think getting the same personnel coming back may not be such a great thing, let me remind you that Columbia's pass defense statistics for 2008 were downright misleading.

Last season, Lion opponents averaged a hefty 224 yards passing per game, a 59.2% completion percentage, and an ugly 7.3 yards per pass attempt.

That was compared to just 170 passing yards per game in 2007, and a more decent 6.5 yards per attempt.

But the biggest reason for the weaker pass defense numbers was Columbia's improved defense against the run. Opposing teams were forced to pass a lot more against the Lions, and they also had to take bigger risks.

No one game proved that more than the homecoming loss to Princeton. Ivy League rushing champ Jordan Culbreath was held to just 61 yards rushing on 20 carries, forcing QB Brian Anderson to go long with some passes. Three of those bombs connected and they made the difference in the game.

Considering Columbia started a sophomore at one corner position, Calvin Otis, and a freshman at the other, Kalasi Huggins, the stats don't seem all that bad. And Otis and Huggins played very well and improved as the season went along. They got help from another speedy freshman in A.J. Maddox, who played in all 10 games, hard-hitting fellow frosh Ross Morand, who got into 6 games, and the "old man" of the corner position, rising senior Jared Morine, who played in 8 games.

The real veteran leadership came from rising senior safety Andy Shalbrack, who had another solid season defending the pass and the run. And I thought fellow safety Adam Mehrer, now a rising junior, had a standout sophomore year.

Unlike the linemen positions, age doesn't seem to be as big a factor in the secondary. But you can't count out the other rising seniors in this group, Drew Abeyta, who spent a lot of 2008 injured, Kirk Weller and David Brekke.

A rising junior I have a special eye on is Augie Williams, who has been making a real mark on special teams but has also played well in other situations. Another rising junior who had some good moments in 2008 was Daniel Myers. Rounding out the 2009 juniors are Craig Hamilton, Mike Murphy and Rex Cole.

The other rising sophomores are Neil Schuster, Kurt Williams, Chris Paruch, and Ryan Haslett.

Like I said, it's a crowded bunch and it'll be easy to get confused following all the players in the spring game.

But it's a strong unit overall, and one that I expect will be even better this coming season. The spring game should give us the first signs of that improvement.


At Fri Mar 20, 08:33:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shalbrack is by far the best returning safety in the Ivies and will have a monster season. PS, how about some support for recent Columbia grad and Lion football fan Meghan McCain, who is being savaged by Laura Ingraham (who is as I recall a Dartmouth grad).

At Fri Mar 20, 11:25:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to see veteran players like Andy Shalbrack get some recognition. Maybe he'll get a much-deserved look for All-Ivies this year.

At Sat Mar 21, 03:52:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Saw your list of recruits coming in..I am not sure Columbia knows what a great back this Gerst Kid is. There were 4 other IVIES after him a 4 major D1's..This kid is an allstate running back from a nationally ranked high school in New Jesey(Bergen Catholic)..It has been a long time since such a heralded back has come to Columbia..I saw this kid play a few times against big time talent and you got the feeling he could score any time he got the ball..This is huge for Columbia..

At Sat Mar 21, 04:54:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have seen game film on Gerst. He played for a truly great program and making all state is quite an accomplishment in NJ, where we have one of the best HS programs in the country, especially since we are not a large state. Gerst looks very good on film. He has very good speed and is elusive. While he is not a big back, we have seen in recent years that smaller backs with speed tend to be underestimated.

At Sat Mar 21, 09:43:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re Gerst, I too have seen his film and am encouraged. All that will have to happen is for him to get some good blocking and stay healthy. Here's praying.

At Mon Mar 23, 09:59:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gerst does look great and I hope he pans out when he gets to the college level.

At Tue Mar 24, 01:30:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...




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