Top 5 questions heading into Spring Camp

Kevin MacNeill watching over his first Spring Camp as head coach Photo: Rob Massey

Kevin MacNeill watching over his first Spring Camp as head coach
Photo: Rob Massey

In college football every year you have to start over with what is essentially a new team. So there are always questions. Add the off-season coaching changes to the annual personnel changes and there could be lots of uncertainty around a program and that equals questions to be answered.

In response to my request for others to submit questions I received three emails with a total of 7 questions. Only one related to the coaching changes – How will the Gryphon D look under Coach Grandy? – while all the rest related to player personnel – i.e. the depth chart.

When I first decided to look at the top 5 questions I struggled for a few minutes to come up with five. Then once the thoughts started flowing, it was difficult to stop as I came up with ten or so. As I went through the process of prioritizing them I realized some of the questions have fairly obvious answers.  The questions that were submitted aligned fairly nicely with what I thought were the priorities.

For example, no one asked about the O-Line in spite of the fact we’re facing some significant graduation losses. None of Matt Nesbitt, Matt Toppan, Zachary Bader-Shamai or Cam Wilhelm are expected back, and they’ve all been multi-year starters. And there is a good chance that Kyle Fraser gets a shot at the CFL.

I’m thinking … the question isn’t being asked because the answers are fairly obvious. [The same reason no one asked … who will be the starting QB?] There really won’t be any surprises. Jaylan Guthrie, Arran MacRae, Eric Starczala, Daniel Urbshas and Colin Jerome look to be ready to fill those voids. Of that group only Jerome hasn’t dressed for an OUA game already. If there is one position in particular to watch it will be the Centre spot.

There isn’t a question that combined with returning OUA All Star Andrew Pickett, and possibly the veteran Fraser, we have a lot of talent in this group. The issues will be who assumes the leadership roles and how long it takes the group to gel into a cohesive unit. Those are not Spring camp questions, but things that could take until the middle of the season to be worked out.

So, what questions can we realistically hope to answer this Spring …

1. Who is back and who is not?

Spring camp will only partially answer this question at best but it’s still one of the most interesting.

With a veteran-laden team in 2015 we know that there will be lots of turnover. I think the numbers will rival what happened after the 2012 season. BUT … you never know for sure. There are lots of veterans who still have eligibility but with a degree in one hand and a Yates Cup ring on the other, many of them will be moving on. More than most people think in my opinion.

But there are half a dozen or so who are still on the fence. They planned on leaving but still have thoughts about coming back. Coach MacNeill is of the opinion that those potential 5th and 6th year guys have earned the right to take time to make their decisions about returning. He does not demand that they participate in the Winter and Spring camps.

When we see who is still around after exams and participating in Spring Camp some of those questions will be answered. But not definitively. There are always a few surprises. Both players who are back and players who move on. The final answer won’t come ’til training camp. I don’t know which, if any, of the players heading to the East-West Bowl and CFL camps will be participating.

2. Who looks ready to step up at linebacker?

We know John Rush is headed to the CFL and not coming back. Curtis Newton is likely gone too – one CFL mock draft has him as a 4th-round pick. Which players are ready to fill the shoes of two former CIS All Canadians?

LB Luke Korol

LB Luke Korol

Behind Andrew Graham, Luke Korol, Job Reinhart and John Birnie, there are only the four freshmen from the scout team – Aidan England, Ruari McGuivern, Donte Smith and Dean Yaromich.

Linebackers make up a key part of all Gryphon special teams, so even a backup LB can be expected to play lots of snaps on Specials. I really hope to see some LBs who look ready for bigger roles in 2016.

What does new Defensive Coordinator Adam Grandy do if he isn’t happy with the depth at linebacker. Will he look at moving Derek Drouillard back to LB from DE? Job Reinhart also worked some at DE late last season. Any chance that is a permanent shift? Since there may be some fluidity between the defensive end and the linebacker positions. I guess it is obviously necessary to ask the question …

3. What does the D-Line look like?

With Jordan Thompson and Blake McNeely likely finished and the possibility that Drouillard could be needed at linebacker Reza Shayani may be the only veteran at the position. It would really help if some young defensive ends stepped forward this Spring. The cupboard is not bare. There was lots of DE talent in the 2015 recruiting class, plus OUA All Rookie team selection Charlie Taggart from 2014.

If more than one of Taggart, Chris Larsen, Byron Mckinnon or Daniel Fascione are ready to play at DE it will make me feel a lot more confident about our prospects in 2016. Then, position changes could be made to put the best players on the field and not to solve problems. That would be a much preferable position to be in.

There are also some real question marks at defensive tackle. Donnie Egerter is a legit CFL prospect. He’s projected to be drafted in the 5th round by one “expert”.  I don’t believe DTs Daniel Horta, Zack Mallough or Michael Halfday are coming back.  After seeing his first career action in last year’s OUA playoffs, can Jelani Pascoe become a regular in the DT rotation? There will be a real need and opportunity for some young players to make an impression on the inside.

One DT to watch is freshman Greg Corfield, who was recruited as an OL but saw some snaps at DT in 2015. I will also be looking to see where Lukas Brennan and Sam Sedore are lining up and whether they can play multiple positions. Are some of these 2015 freshmen ready to see regular season OUA action in 2016?

4. How will our receiving corps look?

In response to questions at the FoGF receptions we’ve heard coaches MacNeill and Galloway praise freshmen receivers Kade Belyk and Colton Jones as players who are stepping up. They will be a couple of guys to watch. Another, in my opinion, will be 2014 receiver recruit Marcus Joseph.

Rec Kade Belyk

Rec Kade Belyk

Joseph was a CFC Top100-rated recruit in 2014. Some health issues, injuries and a difficult adjustment to the CIS level for a player who hadn’t played much football prior to college, have all combined to hold him back. Joseph has the potential to be a starter and an impact player at receiver. Will 2016 be the year he takes it to that level?

In actual fact, I’m really interested to see all of the receivers. Sort of in the same way, that in recent years I’ve been most interested in watching the linemen. Is the depth at the receiver position developing to the point that young players like Sam Lewis, Ben Field, Aidan Fraser or Mike Ciaverella will push for playing time?

The other aspect of how our receiving corps looks … how committed are our coaches to using tights ends as receivers and do we have players to replace the snaps of James Ingram and Patrick Gerrie. Are Alec Reid, Mark Horta, Geoff Buzrenko, (or someone else) ready to play 20 or 30 snaps a game on a weekly basis?

5. Who will be the surprise players?

Kade Belyk and Colton Jones are no longer going to be surprises. Coaches have prepared us to expect big things from them. I’ve already made the suggestion that Marcus Joseph could be another of those players. Who else is the question?

But, in my mind, this question is a little more complicated than that. It is a bit of a catch-all for a lot of questions I’ve been asked over the last six months. It is not strictly about “surprise” players. I just didn’t come up with a better way to phrase it.

It’s a way of rolling into one … What happened to Jamal Hooker? How is Mack Jones doing? Will this be the year we see Mason Swift breakout? Et cetera.

RB Jamal Hooker

RB Jamal Hooker

 

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