During last year’s spring camp I wrote,
Spring practice is about a lot of things. It is a time to teach and work on fundamentals. It is a time to install new things. It is a time for young players to get lots of reps. It’s a chance for players to try out new positions. And it’s a chance for coaches to do a lot of evaluating. Typically a lot of fourth year players and established starters don’t fully participate.
There were some differences between this year and last year besides the Florida location. Most notable perhaps was greater participation of veteran players. At one position, offensive line, there really aren’t any veterans, at least not 4th or 5th year guys. Four 5th year OLs are graduating [O’Neill, Meschino, Piotrowski & Thorn] and not expected back even though 3 of the 4 have remaining eligibility. There was not a single 4th year o-linemen on Guelph’s 2013 roster.
Guelph is really dealing with some gaps or “hiccups” in recruiting. The 2010 recruiting class only included four OL recruits, none of whom were still in the program by the 2012 season. Obviously that 2010 class was affected by the resignation of Kyle Walters and the uncertainty that existed until Stu Lang was hired.
O-Line recruiting was a top priority for 2011 but further coaching changes hindered it once again as the two primary OL recruiters, OC Perry Marchese and OL Coach Carl Tolmie both resigned unexpectedly at the peak of recruiting season. The 2011 recruiting class did include a pair of two-way linemen prospects in Matt Nesbitt and Matt Toppan. Nesbitt, one of Kevin MacNeill‘s London recruits, started his first OUA game as a freshman at DT. Necessity forced his move to the O-Line where he started four more games as a freshman. Toppan, who redshirted in 2011, has probably dressed and played in a dozen games the past two years. In 2013, he was used regularly as a blocking TE, an extra OT really.
In addition to Nesbitt and Toppan, 2011 walk-on Zachary Bader-Shamai has also added valuable depth to the o-line. He won the team’s Unsung Hero Award in 2011 and dressed in several games in 2013.
Back in 2010 Guelph had a 6th year senior in OT Andrew Crosby [OUA All Star]. In 2011 & 2012 there was veteran OG/OT Matt Richardson [OUA All Star]. Then the four 5th year guys in 2013 [two OUA All Stars]. Now the Gryphons will enter the 2014 season with a single player in his 4th year of eligibility [Nesbitt] and a large group of 3rd year players. It was very encouraging to hear that Matt Nesbitt was showing “great leadership” at the Florida camp.
Given the loss of four vets it really isn’t surprising then to hear from OL Coach Mike MacDonald that the O-Line got off to a rough start in Winter practices. They do face one of the best and deepest D-Lines in the CIS. That’s something that should be a positive in getting them ready for OUA play. Anyways, the key is that the OL group finished camp strong according to MacDonald.
This camp was crucial to getting the O-Line quality teaching time and reps to improve them as a group. One standout was 2nd year OL Steve Mburanumwe. He got all the reps at left tackle and “really improved by the final day with some great run blocking”. I also saw a video clip that showed him put a veteran starter on the ground in pass protection. That, and the fact I heard that Matt Nesbitt “showed great leadership”, are the sort of things I was hoping for from this camp.
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A focus on fundamentals was also a priority on the defensive side of the ball according to DC Kevin MacNeill. Teaching fundamentals and “getting everyone schooled up on the playbook” that is. When it comes to teaching fundamentals, MacNeill was ably assisted by coaches Brian Cluff [DL], Gregg Butler [DB] and Adam Grandy [LB]. The defense was able to get a lot of new things “installed”.
According to DC MacNeill, “so many guys stood out it’s hard to just name one”. He did share that freshmen Justis Croasdale, Riley Baines and Jailon Bell were all notable performers.
While MacNeill may not want to admit it there was area with the trip to Florida that he was disappointed with. The DC was “out-fished” by assistants Grandy and Cluff. Just kidding K-Mac 🙂