Another Primary Concern: The Secondary
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In the last two seasons, Columbia has lost the following outstanding defensive backs to graduation:
Adam Mehrer (CREDIT: COLUMBIA ATHLETICS)
When I say “outstanding,” I mean three of the best defensive backs Columbia had in the past 10 years.
Each one was All Ivy.
Each were great at their primary job of covering the pass, Otis being the best at that.
Shalbrack was the best hard-hitter.
Mehrer was the best at making that TD-saving tackle… and he was a great ball hawk.
When Shalbrack graduated in 2010, a lot of fans expected the Lion pass defense to show a real drop off.
It turned out there were some declines – opponent pass completion rates were higher, interceptions were down – but there were also some improvements –TD passes allowed were way down and passing yardage allowed was a bit lower.
I attribute Columbia’s very solid 2010 pass defense to three things:
1) The emergence of A.J. Maddox and Kalasi Huggins at the corner position after injury-plagued previous years as impact-makers on the field. They complemented the premier CB, Calvin Otis, quite well.
2) Excellent contributions from the rotating crop of younger players including Ross Morand, Neil Schuster and Steven Grassa.
3) The hiring of veteran Big 10 coach John Gutekunst to oversee the secondary
With Otis and Mehrer leaving, the pressure will be on all of last year’s improving players to step it up even more.
One wild card could be junior Christopher Thomas who made a big splash in the spring game with his athletic pick-6 that won the game for the blue team.
Another wild card is 5th year senior Mike Murphy, but he appears to be more slated for special teams.
I generally like what I’ve seen from sophomores Marquel Carter and Chris Alston.
But Gutekunst has a lot of very experienced players to work with as he puts together his best starting unit for the fall.
Morand has had about as much hard-earned experience as you can get for a rising senior. Who can forget his trial by fire in the 2009 game at Lafayette?
Morand was good then, but he’s even better now and at 6-2 and 187 pounds it’s going to be hard to keep him out of the starting lineup.
Maddox had a fantastic 2010, but at 5-9 it’s going to be hard to keep him ON the field all the time at the corner position.
Morand, Huggins, Schuster and Maddox could end up being the first all-senior secondary in recent Columbia memory. I suspect Grassa has a very good chance to start as a junior this fall.
As much as the Lions must put the emphasis on stopping the run in 2011, they obviously can’t forget about pass defense. And with so many experienced quarterbacks returning to run Ivy offenses this year, the stakes will be even higher than usual.