Friday, April 09, 2004

Sneak Preview

Bowl game tough to top
Twelve Falcon Facts You Need to Know

I just got back from my lunch break not too long ago. As has been happening fairly frequently lately, I had a harder time than usual forcing myself back into the office. I have very little work to do this afternoon, and it's a beautiful day outside. The sun is shining, and the temperature is in the low 60s. I'd much rather be at home, writing this entry on my laptop while sitting outside on my balcony, enjoying a cold beverage.

Since that obviously isn't happening, all I can hope is that it's this nice again tomorrow. I think it's supposed to be, at least according to the Weather Channel. Tomorrow I don't have to waste away in an office, and I'll be spending a fair portion of the afternoon out in the elements, whatever they may be. If you're looking for me tomorrow afternoon, you'll find me at Doyt Perry Stadium in Bowling Green, taking in BGSU's spring football game.

The NCAA permits each Division I-A football team to hold fifteen practices sessions each spring. Most teams (or maybe all of them) generally culminate these practices with a "game" that's held in their stadium and open to the public. The coaches divide their roster into two teams which scrimmage against each other with some modified rules--a standard rule change is that defenses aren't allowed to hit the quarterbacks, who are considered down when touched.

For the most part, coaches don't install too many new plays during the spring game, since anyone (including scouts from opposing teams) could be watching. It's a chance for the players to get some reps in a game-like environment, though. For fans, it's a chance to get a football fix during the time of year dominated by NBA basketball, NHL hockey, and Major League Baseball. It's also a chance to get a look at some new guys stepping into the roles of departing seniors and to see how the team is shaping up for the coming season.

For me, it's also an opportunity to break out my sweet #21 Cole Magner jersey. I thought about rocking the helmet as well, but I think that might be a bit much for an exhibition game. It'll see some action on Saturdays this fall, I'm sure.

The Falcons look to be in good shape for next season. They won the MAC West Division last year, finishing the season 11-3 with a victory over Northwestern in the Motor City Bowl. The only losses were to defending national champion Ohio State (by one touchdown, on the road, with the game coming down to the wire) and twice to MAC Champion Miami. There are sixteen starters returning from that team, so there's definitely a solid core of experience.

However, there are definite questions about the team, and the spring game will provide our first real look at potential answers. One of the departing seniors is QB Josh Harris, who will be calling signals on Sundays next year (actually, next year he'll probably be standing on the sidelines in a baseball cap, holding a clipboard, but at least he'll be an NFL QB--a good one after a couple of years for development). His replacement will be redshirt sophomore Omar Jacobs, who has some big shoes to fill. From the limited amount he's been able to show so far, though, it looks like he's more than capable of stepping right into them. He's definitely got the physical tools (great arm, good runner), but it remains to be seen if he can become the leader that Josh was on (and off) the field. BG has a stable of good young quarterbacks if Omar should stumble or go down with an injury.

[Here Jon pauses in his writing to knock on wood...until his knuckles bleed. He believes Omar will be a star, even better than Harris by the end of his career (and Jon loves Harris, so that's saying a lot), and wants him to be ready, willing, and able to lead the Falcons.]

One key ingredient in the success of a quarterback is a good offensive line. The Falcons have several players returning along the line, but injuries will keep several of them out of the spring game. Their places will be taken by the "Five Blocks of Granite," all freshmen who redshirted last year but appear to have great promise. The experience they get, taking snaps while the upperclassmen recover, will be invaluable down the road.

The receivers, of course, will be great if Omar can get them the ball. The corps is led by senior Cole Magner, the "Alaskan Assassin," who is BG's jack of all trades (he was recruited as a QB). Just call him 7-11, because he's always open...and he catches everything.

Defensively, one area that was exposed last year was pass defense with the secondary. A large part of this was due to injuries, which resulted in some players being out and others playing out of position. That secondary takes another hit this year with the loss of all-MAC cornerback Janssen Patton. However, senior-to-be Keon Newson is a star in the making, and there is plenty of potential in the defensive backfield. A new DB coach has plenty to work with.

In the box, there's plenty of experience returning up front. All four starters along the defensive line are back for this year. The linebacking corps took a hit with the graduation of Mitch Hewitt, but Ted Piepkow and captain Jovon Burkes saw plenty of action last year. The depth at linebacker may be a little thin, so the Falcons can't afford any injuries. Redshirt freshman Jenkins Reese should see some time, and is said to be a good one.

Special teams should be fine. Nate Fry returns to handle the punting. Placekicker Shaun Suisham needs to get better, though. He had a great season two years ago, but fell off a bit last year. He needs to return to form or else Coach Brandon may be tempted to attempt many fourth-down and two-point conversions. The return teams should also be decent, with many starters working back there.

All in all, I can't wait to see the spring game. I'm hoping to see good things from our younger players and to begin to see how everything is going to fit together for this year. Sounds to me like a great way to spend a nice afternoon.

No comments: