Monday, August 31, 2009

Off and running

As the game tape from Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage was broken down before their eyes, Jordan Farrell and the other tailbacks were eager to show that they were better than their numbers (21 carries, 69 yards) made them look.

On Monday (the final afternoon practice as Yale shifts its practices to the morning), the running backs got the opportunity for atonement. They did not disappoint, ripping off a series of impressive runs against Yale's defensive unit.

"Personally, I came out with a chip on my shoulder," said Farrell, who ran for two touchdowns in Saturday's scrimmage. "I think the running backs did too because as a whole we got a bad rap on Saturday because a lot of little mistakes. All around, the running backs did well, we did our assignments, we had a couple of cuts that went the wrong way simply because it was wet.

"I think we wanted to get better as a unit and I think it started today. We were in the huddle today, getting on the linemen a little bit not so much in a hard way but just so they execute a good block. I know I took a screen pass and it was blocked out perfectly and there was nobody there for 20 yards so that is the type of thing where you come back to the huddle, give them a pat on the shoulder and I think it just revolves around momentum."

The running backs got a lift from the return of Rodney Reynolds. The starter coming out of the spring, he has been nicked up in the fall camp and was held out of Saturday's scrimmage. He joins Farrell, Alex Thomas, Brandon Scott, Ricky Galvez and some promising freshmen led by Mordecai Cargill to give the Bulldogs a multitude of options at tailback.

Monday's practice was the first since the coaching staff came up with a two-deep chart. While I was not privy to the depth chart, I do have two eyes and was able to see who was seeing the most action and who was lining up with players who are expected to be starters.

Free safety is a position I am curious to see who emerges as a starter to replace Steve Santoro. Bedford Booth and John Pagliaro saw plenty of time there as did Jesse Reising. It was interesting to see Yale secondary coach Rick Flanders put four freshmen out in the secondary at the same time with Kurt Stottlemyer and Russell Perkins at corner while former Hopkins star John Powers and Ryan Falbo manned the safety spots. Something tells me that you will be seeing those four out on the field this season either as defensive backs or on special teams.

With one exception where a missed assignment allowed Matt Battaglia to come unblocked up the middle, the play of the offensive line was rock solid during the scrimmage against the defense.

One of the most consistently effective pass rushers was junior Sean Williams while sophomore Carter Deutsch is working his way up the rotation on the defensive line, which may be the team's strongest position in 2009.

Brook Hart looked pretty good, throwing touchdowns to Reid Lathan and Peter Balsam while Patrick Witt also had his moments.

It will be interesting to see how things shake out in the next few days as Yale prepares for Saturday's scrimmage against Union College at the Yale Bowl.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Depth chart coming soon

The intrasquad scrimmage was held yesterday and there certainly were some players who helped themselves.

According to my unofficial stats, junior Dan Walsh had a team-high five tackles. Classmate Chris Stanley, a defensive back, had a sack and dropped an interception. I was also impressed with sophomore linebacker Nick Schneider. Sophomore defensive tackle Jake Stoller, who I think is primed for a breakout season, had a pair of tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Junior Jesse Reising had four tackles and an interception

The freshmen defensive backs continue to earn praise from Yale coach Tom Williams with Kurt Stottlemyer, Collin Bibb, John Powers, Ryan Falbo (who always seems to be around the ball like graduated free safety Steve Santoro) are among those who could find themselves on the initial two-deep chart.

Offensively, it is still a work in progress. The quarterbacks fumbled seven times (losing two of them) and threw three interceptions. The four QBs (Brook Hart, Patrick Witt, Rich Scudellari and Bryan Farris were a combined 18 for 43 for 160 yards although there were at least a half dozen drops).

Freshman running back Mordecai Cargill had a nifty 16-yard run which was reminiscent of another Yale runner who wore No. 28 but the running backs managed just 53 yards on the other 20 carries. Bruising Jordan Farrell showed he can provide the short-yardage threat the team lacked last season when a shoulder injury forced him to miss the entire season. Farrell had two short TD runs and Cargill also had a scoring run. Sophomore Alex Thomas, who rewrote the Connecticut high school rushing record book during his days at Ansonia High, was the second tailback to see time after Farrell. He ran for 22 yards on five carries and also caught three passes. He was knocked out of the scrimmage after a devastating hit by junior safety John Pagliaro but looked to be fine.

Speaking of youth, sophomore Lars Knudsen and freshmen Chris Smith and Allen Harris are in the mix at receiver although junior Jordan Forney has been the top guy at receiver so far in the fall camp. I'd expect Gio Christodoulou to figure more into the offensive game plan in 2009. The potential of having Thomas and Christodoulou on the field at the same time would add some big-play potential to an offense was lacking in that department last season.

As I mentioned, the depth chart is currently being put together. Williams said the players would see it on Monday. I asked him when I would get a look at it and he played coy so I would expect I may not be privy to such info until shortly before the season opener against Georgetown. Yale will start having the starters and top reserves playing together now that the coaching staff will have a sense of who will be seeing the bulk of time.

The positions I am most curious about are:
1. Offensive line: One starter back from a unit that struggled last season
2. Quarterback: Should be an interesting competition with incumbent Brook Hart being pushed hard by Nebraska transfer Patrick Witt, senior Rich Scudellari who would love the chance to finally prove that he is more than just one of the Ivy League's most reliable holders and sophomore Bryan Farris who was running neck and neck with Hart in the spring.
3. Free safety (with Adam Money and Drew Baldwin the likely starters at corner and Larry Abare a lock to start at strong safety, there is one piece remaining in what could be a top-notch secondary). Other than possibly tailback, this is the position where I think there is the greatest probability of having a freshman in contention for a starting spot).
4. Linebacker: I never really considered either Brady Hart or Travis Henry to be defensive ends a year ago despite what the roster sheet said. The hard-hitting Henry will line up next to linebacker Paul Rice more often than not and it will be interesting to see who fills the other linebacking position.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Special guest

Defending Pilot Pen women's singles champion Caroline Wozniacki, at the request of Yale football coach Tom Williams, stopped by Clint Frank Field shortly after 2 p.m. to speak to the Yale team.

Williams has been trying to arrange one of the players to come over and speak to the team since he was at the Yale Bowl taking part in the WTA publicity stunt with Wozniacki and Flavia Pennetta playing inside the Yale Bowl, which was turned into the "world's largest tennis court."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Let's go to the polls

Yale received four votes in the Sports Network Preseason FCS College Football Poll.

The Bulldogs were one of four Ivy League teams to get votes. Harvard is ranked 23rd with 504 points while Penn (56 points), Brown (32 points) and Yale are in the "others receiving votes" category.

Appalachain State, which picked up 79 of the 158 first-place votes, finished first with 3,853 points seven first-place votes and 61 points ahead of defending FCS national champion Richmond.

Just a reminder that Yale will hold an intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday beginning at 12:30 p.m. Hopefully reports of impending rain for Saturday are inaccurate so the scrimmage can go off without any problems.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Yale Bowl tennis court video

Here is a link to the video of the Flavia Pennetta-Caroline Wozniacki exhibiton on Yale Bowl Monday afternoon the was posted by the WTA Tour.

Tom Williams does a great job. Really shows a lot of personality here and went along with the act very well.

Roster talk

The 2009 roster has been up for a couple of days and I finally had a chance to take a closer look at who's back and who's not.

Let's start with who is not on the roster. Of the 85 underclassmen on the 2008 roster, 75 have returned. Here's the breakdown of who is not on the roster.
Player Position Year in School (in 2008)
Michael Gabriel OL Freshman
Jake McCrary RB Freshman
Jason Pelletier DB Sophomore
Wes Phillips DB Junior
Nick Simmons DL Sophomore
McConnell Smith WR Freshman
Matt Smock DL Junior
Wells Stewart K Junior
Grant Todd DB Junior
Ryan Vandersloot WR Sophomore

Looking at the names, McCrary, Simmons and Smith were all key contributors on the junior varsity team but receiver and defensive line may be the 2009 Bulldogs' deepest positions (along with tight end). The early reports on the Yale freshmen running backs makes me think that may be the position where first-year players make the biggest impact so while Yale will miss those players, I think the Bulldogs' depth shouldn't take a hit.

The names of 30 freshmen have been previously reported but there is a new freshman Jordan Buxton-Punch. He is a running back who is from Alpharetta, Georgia but played prep school ball at St. Paul's in New Hampshire last year.

Linebacker Austin Pulsipher is back after a two-year Mormon mission while quarterback Patrick Witt (Nebraska) and offensive lineman Gabe Fernandez (UCLA) transferred and are eligible to play right away.

The other thing worth noting is the weight gains from last year's preseason roster to the 2009 player listing. I counted 18 players who have either gained or lost at least five pounds.

Leading the way is senior Cory Palmer, the only returning starter on the offensive line, who went from 261 to 305. Defensive linemen Patrick Moran and Joe Young added 30 and 20 pounds respectively. Senior captain Paul Rice bulked up from 225 to 240 as he moves from cornerback to linebacker. Sixteen of the aforementioned 18 have put on weight thanks to Yale's strength and conditioning coach Emil Johnson's offseason workout program. Running back Jordan Farrell (who missed the 2008 season with a shoulder injury) and offensive lineman David Bollweg dropped 10 and 7 pounds.

Yale Bowl as a tennis court

The WTA transformed Yale Bowl into the world's largest tennis court Monday as part of a promotional stunt that saw players Flavia Pannetta and Caroline Wozniacki stage a short exhibition. Photos courtesy of Pilot Pen.

Yale coach Tom Williams was also on hand.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bulldogs "on schedule"

Unfortunately, I was unable to make it out to Yale's first practice yesterday so I caught the last hour of today's practice.

Here are my impressions, the freshmen running backs look pretty good in the 7-on-7 drills as Taylor Stib, Javi Sosa and Mordecai Cargill impressed me. Stib's patience following his blockers and darting through tacklers on one run caught my eye since freshmen running backs usually tend to be in a hurry. Stib also bested his teammates in a wind sprint at the end of practice. It's hard to read too much into what I saw today because it was a no-pad, minimal contact setting in the 7-on-7 (likely a few of the runs would have been stopped for short gains in a full-contact setting) but talent is still talent and judging by what I saw today, this is a pretty talented freshman class who will be given every opportunity to earn playing time.

The 7-on-7 started with the quarterbacks misfiring on the first five passes but when sophomore Chris Morris made a nice sliding catch on a pass from Nebraska transfer Patrick Witt, it started a run of eight straight completions. The most impressive hook ups were senior Reid Lathan making a diving catch on a deep post route to haul in a 40-yard pass from Brook Hart. Freshman Dez Duron displayed his arm strength with a deep out to Shane Bannon, one of the toughest throws to make. Duron was victimized by classmate Brian Leffler, whose interception was the only turnover in the 7-on-7 drills.

It's too early to read too much about who is lining up with the first team but it did catch my eye that former Hopkins star John Powers was out there at safety with Larry Abare, Paul Rice, Tom McCarthy, Adam Money and Drew Baldwin during part of the 7-on-7 drills so he must be doing something right. Collin Bibb, Powers and Ryan Falbo are the first-year players who had pass breakups down the field according to my very unofficial stats. Freshman Allen Davis broke up one pass at the line of scrimmage when the offense was starting to get rolling in the drills.

It was weird seeing a running back (Cargill) wearing Mike McLeod's old No. 28 and a linebacker (Leffler) with the No. 44 worn by Bobby Abare for the last four years.

The team won't start practicing in pads until Tuesday and that point until the the intrasquad scrimmage on Aug. 29 (from 12:30-2:30 p.m.) will be a pivotal time for the coaching staff to come up with the nucleus of the 2009 team.

"It's typical, the defense is a little ahead of the offense because the defense is reactive and the offense is trying to figure out the execution," Yale coach Tom Williams said. "I am not surprised at all with where we are.
"Yesterday we executed better offensively but we didn't have as much in so it was very singular and they could focus. Today, we added a lot more. You could tell a lot of guys are still thinking, we are still playing fast. But on day two, I don't mind that at all. If that is going on the week we play Georgetown, we have problems so I'd say we are on schedule."

Defensive tackle Matt Kelleher sat out with a sore knee and a hamstring limited fellow defensive lineman Patrick Moran but other than that, Yale looks to be in pretty good shape health wise.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Cozza to be honored at Miami

Former Yale football coaches Carm Cozza and John Pont are among eight coaches who will have "life plus 20 percent" size sculptures unveiled at Miami (Ohio) on Oct. 2.

The work is being done by Kristen Visbal to remember Miami as the cradle of football coaches.

Cozza and Pont will be among select company joining former Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian, ex-Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, Red Blaik of Army, Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns/Cincinnati Bengals, Louisiana State's Paul Dietzel and Weeb Ewbank, who coached the New York Jets and Baltimore Colts. All eight attended Miami before embarking on Hall of Fame coaching careers


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Harvard the preseason pick, Yale's No. 4

Ivy League co-champion Harvard received 10 of the 17 first-place votes among the Ivy League media and is the favorite to win the league title.

Penn, with four No. 1 votes, and Brown, with three first-place votes, were selected to finish second and third respectively while Yale was picked fourth. Princeton was fifth, Columbia and Cornell finished tied for sixth with Dartmouth ending up eighth.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Football playoffs: "Nothing imminent"

Perhaps the most interesting part of the question and answer session between Yale football coach Tom Williams, Southern Connecticut's Rich Cavanaugh and Peter Rossomando of New Haven and the fans at Hula Hanks in New Haven Wednesday for the "Chalk Talk" event was Williams' take on the potential of postseason football play in the Ivy League.

After mentioning that adding an 11th game to the schedule or having a postseason bowl game, I felt it was important to address the issue. So I spoke to Yale's director of athletics Tom Beckett on Thursday morning and the first words out of his mouth when I brought up the subject were "nothing's imminent."

My story on the subject ran in today's edition of the Register.

Here's my take on the matter. I see no way the Ivy League presidents will go for permitting Ivy teams to play in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. That would be potentially five weeks of practice and games. While a one-game addition is a nice compromise, it is also probably a long shot.

There's no question that Beckett and Williams would love to see it happen but Yale president Richard Levin has historically been in favor of status quo when it comes to this issue and I'd be surprised if that changed any time in the near future.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Back to the future

Yale will be resuming its annual preseason scrimmage with Division III Union College and will no longer play Ivy League rival Princeton.

"I thought the Princeton scrimmage didn’t make a whole lot of sense in terms of playing an in-season opponent, even in the NFL the preseason games are against regional teams or non-divisional teams," Yale coach Tom Williams said. "For me, this will give us a chance to compete against somebody else and see how we do. I think it will work out for all the parties. "

The scrimmage is planned for Sept. 5 at Yale Bowl.

I applaud this move. I never understood the logic of having two Ivy League teams play each other in the preseason. It was a case of neither team wanting to show too much so it was as vanilla as these things get. I'm not naive enough to think Yale will run everything against Union but it makes much more sense.

Players will report two weeks from tomorrow and the coaching staff is itching to start working with the players. Williams said at a panel discussion with Southern Connecticut coach Rich Cavanaugh and New Haven's Peter Rossomando Wednesday night that he believes competition makes good players better and every position will be up for grabs.

No disrespect to Southern or UNH, but most of the people who bought tickets for the event seemed most interested in what Williams had to say and more importantly, what he is going to bring to the table.

Williams said Jake Semones, a talented quarterback and son of the Bulldogs' outside linebackers coach, will prep at Loomis Chaffee. While Williams is limited in what he can say about recruits, it is safe to say that Jake Semones figures to remain on Yale's recruiting radar. Semones' daughter Catherine is a talented athlete who is expected to play soccer as a sophomore at Amity.

The last item, I asked Williams about the murder of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair. In Williams' two seasons as a defensive assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Williams never coached against McNair but he certainly knew the former Tennessee and Baltimore QB.

"I think I was just like the rest of the football world, I was shocked about the events that took place," Williams said. "I remember Steve being a gentleman, I thought he was a consumate warrior on the football field, he was a leader of his team and very well respected in NFL circles. I was just as shocked as anybody."