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... and WHO ELSE is going to tell you?
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This is part two of a four-part series previewing the 2011 Columbia Lions and the players you should know. Scroll down for part one and my entire league overview for the season
Brackett lets one fly (Credit: SGLCKGC)
Columbia's offense of course lives and dies with returning 1st Team All Ivy quarterback Sean Brackett.
Brackett was Columbia's leading passer and rusher in 2010, and he brings a competitiveness and confidence few Lions QB's have shown in the past.
He also has very good smarts, as his very low percentage of passes intercepted, (just six picks in 287 attempts last season), shows quite clearly.
With six wins already under his belt as a starter, Brackett has a chance to become the winningest Columbia QB in 50 years.
When Brackett isn't on the field, the Lions just aren't even close to being in sync.
And when they practice without "live" QB drills, were Brackett can really run and pass, you don't really get an idea what the team can do.
That's why preseason or practice games don't tell you much about this team.
In addition to the mystery of whether he's going to run or pass on every play, Brackett brings a very strong arm to the table and great low-to-the-ground speed that helps keep him from taking shots to the head.
Brackett was named a team captain this year, a rare honor for a junior. His teammates believe in him and are ready to follow where he takes them.
Backing up Brackett are a number of players, all of whom have the tough job of trying to keep team continuity if Brackett is lost to a team molded in his image.
Senior Jerry Bell has a great arm and good maturity, but has rarely been able to show that with a team that practices with Brackett and by Ivy rules, doesn't really have the chance to practice too often anyway. But I expect Bell to remain the top backup for this season.
The other two most likely backups are both freshmen, Kal Prince and Percee Goings. What Goings has going for him, (no pun intended), is he is a speedy runner who could conceivably make a smoother fit with the offense if Brackett is out. Prince was a highly-rated high school prospect with good height who looks like a pocket passer all the way.
Of course, who replaces Brackett is a question everyone in the program is hoping not to have to answer until 2013.
Nick Gerst in the end zone (Credit: SGLCKGC)
Injuries, both past and present, are plaguing this unit and that's a major concern for a team that doesn't want Brackett to HAVE to carry the ball more than 10-12 times per game.
Junior Nick Gerst is already a fan favorite after somewhat limited duty last season because of a hamstring issue. He was held out of two scrimmages in training camp as well.
He did carry the ball 69 times for 350 yards and two TD's last year and he had 13 receptions on the season.
Joining him at the top of the depth chart, and also on the injury list, is sophomore Marcorus Garett, another speedster with lots of talent but who had just eight carries in 2010.
He too was held out of training camp scrimmages.
Whether Gerst or Garrett are ready to play full contact in four days and for the whole season is a key question. And it's one that won't be answered by two-deeps or press releases, we'll have to see it on the field.
The backups all have their merits. Senior David Chao is a smart and strong runner, sophomore Bruce Grant is a major speedster, and freshman Alec Fisher has impressed so far in practice.
Another big issue and question is will Columbia have a fullback to use in those short yardage situations when they don't want to put Brackett at the mercy of a defense with eight men in the box.
I have always been high on returning senior FB Nico Papas and his abilities. Perhaps this will be the year he gets a chance to replace the vastly underrated Nathan Lenz who graduated in May.
But Papas may have competition in freshman Steven Silvio, who comes from a strong high school program and has the size to make an impact.
Either way, a credible weapon at the fullback position is something the Lions need this season.
Jeff Adams #76, protects Brackett (Credit: SGLCKGC)
LT Jeff Adams is the star, but co-captain Bob Hauschildt is the leader of one of the best and most experienced offensive lines Columbia's fielded in years.
Under line coach Ed Argast and head coach Wilson's tutelage, this unit seems to get better every year.
But the rest of the pundits don't give the front five enough credit, probably because the stats lie a little when it comes to sacks.
You see, the NCAA counts all rushing attempts for lost yardage by a QB as a sack... even though the tackles for a loss may have nothing to do with pass protection.
A QB like Brackett is thus going to get "sacked" a lot more than a pocket passer, good O-line or not.
Anyway, after Adams and Hauschildt, who is moving to center this season, there is junior Scott Ward, who started most of last season, Xander Frantz also started a lot last year, former starter Kyle Stupi adding depth and the big and talented Jimmy Yukevich with the well-schooled junior Alec Kosminskas fighting for time on the field.
Despite questions by the other Ivy watchers, Columbia should feel good about this offensive line.
Casting a giant shadow: We miss Andrew Kennedy
Tight ends are the completely opposite story.
The graduation of Andrew Kennedy leaves this unit without one of most talented players ever at the position.
Bad luck has played a role too.
Good looking TE Chris Mooney left the team and another great prospect was lost to concussions a few years ago.
Sophomore Zack McKown was the winner of the most improved offensive player in the spring, but I still don't see him as an impact player this year.
Sophomore Hamilton Garner and converted senior QB Kevin Lenehan may also get a chance to play.
And freshman Sean Coffinger has great height at 6-5, but he's just 225 pounds and... he's a freshman.
Columbia will likely use an extreme spread formation much of the time and not even have a tight end on the field for long stretches of several games.
Let's hope that works...
Paul Havas and Mike Stephens
The big news is that co-captain Mike Stephens is back for a 5th year after last season's injury and he is raring to go.
His stats from his last non-injury season are deceiving because he shared the field with all-time leading Columbia WR Austin Knowlin.
But make no mistake, Stephens is dangerous and very much in sync with Brackett and the offense.
Senior Kurt Williams showed a lot of talent and put up good numbers last season in addition to being one of the best athletes on this Lion squad. He could and should only get better.
After Stephens and Williams, the picture gets murkiers for what should be a 3-receiver or more offensive set on almost every play.
5th year senior and converted QB Paul Havas got some playing time at WR last year and showed his amazing speed a number of times. I would not be surprised if he gets that #3 spot on the depth chart.
Freshman Connor Nelligan is also a serious talent who probably won't stay off the field for long.
Sophomore Louis DiNovo got some high praise from Stephens in an interview published yesterday, so don't rule him out either.
I also like the job WR coach Aaron Smith has done over the years. He's a soft spoken but smart guy who is getting the most out of his guys.
The biggest question is whether this offense can do what's necessary to survive without Kennedy. Doing so will take some serious re-tooling of the playbook and puts a lot of pressure on Offensive Coordinator Vinny Marino.
If Marino ever wanted to choose a season to shine, this would be it.
Top 100 Moments of 2010
#4: Kickoff Perfection
Longtime Columbia fans know that it ain't over 'til it's over. And even after Columbia came back to take a late 20-17 lead over Cornell there was still the matter of the kickoff to deal with.
But Greg Guttas' kick was so bouncingly perfect that the Big Red fumbled it away Ryan Murphy recovered it for the Lions.
If you watch to the end of this same video I posted yesterday, you'll see it for yourself.