Sunday, June 27, 2010

Speed Demons

Treavor Scales: the man the rest of the league is trying to clone

The Speed Shift

A lot of readers have already commented extensively about the impressive speed so many incoming freshmen Lions have in abundance.

There are two important points to make about speed, Columbia football, and Ivy football in general.

First, speed has become the new hot commodity in Ivy recruiting. It's not that anyone ever didn't want fast players, it's just that this year there's a clear movement in favor of speed for as many players as possible.

This is a clear move away from the big bias in favor of size we've seen over most of the last decade.

(For some reason, only Cornell seemed to err in favor of size again this year with its recruiting class. It's not clear whether that's the result of its very late decision to hire new Head Coach Kent Austin).

I'm not sure why the league made this big shift and why it's happening now. One guess I would make is that it's become so hard to recruit quality running backs with all the tools, that the coaches have decided to focus on speed first and hope to develop the strength later.

Another idea is that the many years of favoring bigger players has led to a situation where even one speedy player on offense can really burn an opposing defense and make it look easy.

2009 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Trevor Scales seems to be a great example of the "speed kills" philosophy. Scales was just plain scary when he got into most games last year at running back for Harvard. Perhaps it was his early success during the height of last year's recruiting process that convinced the rest of the league to look for the next Treavor Scales.

For Columbia, the incoming freshmen that I think best fits that bill is Marcorus Garrett. His committment to come to the Lions late last year was met with much celebration throughout the program, and while I don't know if he'll get 12 carries per game as a frosh like Scales did in 2009, I wouldn't be surprised if he does.

Also, watch for Columbia to use some of the other speed demons in somewhat unorthodox ways based on their listed positions.

For example, the one TD scored in the Spring Game was a wide receiver end-around run by Brian DeVeau. I expect that to be a staple play for Columbia in 2010, and perhaps incoming frosh WR Bruce Grant will get some touches that way. This might especially work well for Grant because he has yet to show he will be 100% comfortable catching the ball in the traditional WR role; he was not used in that way at all at Fordham Prep.

Columbia's Speedsters

The second major point I want to make is that I when I looked back at the best Columbia teams of the last 25 years, I was surprised at just how much speed played into the success of those teams.

By that, I mean the leaders of those teams were almost always very fast and often the fastest players on the team overall.

Here's how I would break it down:

My first "best team" of the last 25 years was the 1988 squad. Yeah, I know those Lions only went 2-8, but hear me out. This was the team that finally broke the epic losing streak, and not only did it beat two Ivy opponents coming off all that futility, it also had a very talented roster and probably one of the best running attacks in Columbia history.

The speed demon on that team was RB Solomon Johnson. I can tell you that when "Solo" took the field, he truly instilled fear in opposing defenses. Along with backfield mate Greg Abbruzzese and one of the best offensive lines in Lion history, Johnson led a very potent running attack in ground-oriented Head Coach Larry McElreavy's game plans. Like Scales, Johnson was an Ivy League Rookie of the Year that season.

Six years later, the Lions finally broke through with a winning season in 1994. That '94 squad was mostly still intact for the 8-2 campaign of 1996. But one guy who had already moved on by then was QB Mike Cavanaugh, who was so fast he returned punts and even lined up at WR on some plays in '94.

The other speed demon who played both on the '94 and '96 teams were Marcellus Wiley, who came to CU as a lanky running back and was unusually fast for a defensive end. Wiley was the undeniable best player on those teams.

The 1998 Columbia team was a strong combination of power and speed, led by DB Chris Tillotson, and rookie RB Johnathan Reese. Tillotson was also fast enough to return kicks along with his duties as a major disrupting force for enemy passing games. Reese was just a frosh in '98 but he made an impact in a number of games with his speed.

The 2000 Lions were only 3-7, but they were much feared throughout the league because of Reese. #7 blew the Columbia record book apart that season with his rare combination of speed and bulk.

The 2003 Lions had good success on the backs of super-speedy offensive stars WR Travis Chmelka and TE Wade Fletcher. Defensively, DB's Steve Cargile and Prosper Nwokocha were major leaders.

The 2006 and 2009 Lions had lots of leadership on the field from all-time Columbia WR Austin Knowlin. Also in 2009, frosh QB Sean Brackett showed very impressive speed in his four starts.

Another returning Columbia player with great speed, especially for his position, is DT Owen Fraser.

Speed alone is not enough.

But it helps.

And when Columbia has been competitive over the last few decades, speed has played more than just a supporting role.


At Tue Jun 29, 08:31:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where will Owen Fraser line up this year? Will he still play inside, and be double teamed? Or will he play on the edge? From what I have seen of him in street clothes he looks like he is lean enough and strong enough to play the Mike in a 4 3.


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