No Doubles Means the Tigers Have to Prepare on the Double
BY JAY GREENBERG
The order–winning a repeat Ivy League title after losing five All-Ivy players on defense–is tall. And time is short. The NCAA has banned two-a-day drills, which will deny the Tigers six practices, plus their later start-of-the-school year than any member of the Ancient Eight but Dartmouth will cost Princeton a few days of camp.
Fast and physical has been the motto of the Bob Surace era. So, with a reduction in preparation for the physical, the Tigers have to work faster than ever. We’re not suggesting the two-minute drill will now be a one-minute drill, but 60 seconds is about all the Tigers are permitted to feel good about the pre-season poll that considered them a co-favorite with Harvard. Voting took place before news broke of John Lovett’s surgery and the poll rarely has proven accurate besides.
The only value to the Tigers in all those votes is how they reflect growing respect for the program. People now assume Princeton can find replacements for big graduation losses. But the actual replacing, well, that’s a job.
So, starting Wednesday, its chop, chop–offensive linemen should not take this literally–to be ready for San Diego, an FBS playoff first-round winner in 2016, on September 16 on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium. In their back seven, the Tigers have just one full-time starter–cornerback Chance Melancon–returning and only 23 practices to morph a lot of good candidates into winners.
“We can’t waste time in practice,” said Coach Bob Surace. “When we do a drill, if a guy is sore and feeling sorry for himself, that is going to hurt us.
“I was fine (from a safety standpoint) with the way we did doubles. Our second practice in a day was not a physical practice ever. With no contact, we could get mental reps at a high tempo. As it is, we will hit in 13 of the 23 practices. But only in one–an intra-squad scrimmage on September 2–will the bulk of it be live work.
“Sometimes there has been an overreaction to some of the issues [football has] had. Concussions can be prevented by practicing the way we do. But I’m fine if we go to singles, just wish we could come in earlier.”
There is much to do to make the Tigers well-to-do again come Thanksgiving, champions for a third time in five years.
“Installing habits and discipline is what camp is about,” said Surace. “But the biggest thing is building depth. How can we get to 50-75 players that we can count on? Getting through a 10-game season with no bye week takes 25 offensive and 25 defensive players at a minimum.
“We got a lot closer to that number in the spring. Lifting, we have our most guys ever over 1000 (combined pounds in three kinds of lifts). That is a measuring stick; we feel like the strength part is getting there. The players know the expectation for conditioning that allows us to start running from the get-go on August 23rd.”
The widest-open competition is for the cornerback spot opposite Melancon, where the apparent next ups–juniors TC Schneider and Ben Novello, plus sophomores Will Johnson, Tyler Campbell and Phillip Frost may have to fend off challenges from freshmen Delan Stallworth, CJ Wall, Matthew Winston and Austin Carbone, all of whom may prove precocious enough to claim spots on the two deep.
Sophomore free safety T.J. Floyd was a nickel back on 75 per cent of the snaps as a freshman. An excellent spring by junior Ben Ellis eased concerns about replacing the graduated Dorian Williams at strong safety.
Not one starting inside linebacker returns. But the projected first-teamers on the inside– Mark Fossati and Thomas Johnson–were in the rotation (albeit Johnson playing the edge), and the projected first-team outside guys, Mike Wagner and Quincy Wolff, started nine of ten games between them at the SAM. Good springs by inside backers John Orr, Ed Rudinski, and Jackson Simcox offered preliminary reassurance that there will be depth.
The return of defensive end Kurt Holuba, the Bushnell Cup runner-up, provides the huge blessing of a significant pass rush while the back seven goes through any growing pains. But graduated nose tackle Henry Schlossberg was another all-conference player who must be replaced. Juniors Joey DeMarco, Jake Strain and Simeon Lane all have promise to either man the middle or settle into roles on the outside, where senior Khalil Bryant and sophomore Matt Hampson should push for playing time, as will sophomore Jay Rolader at the nose.
Returning to a championship offensive line is an extraordinary nine men who were in the 2016 two-deep. And, as senior Joe Rhattigan’s carries became limited in a hobbled senior season, freshman Ryan Quigley received 22 carries spelling Charlie Volker, promising Princeton a potent one-two running-back punch for 2017.
Junior wideout Jesper Horsted, who had 30 receptions a year ago, showed game-breaking ability. But 88 catches graduated along with Isaiah Barnes, James Frusciante and Trevor Osborne, leaving a need for Alex Parkinson, Jordan Argue and Stephen Carlson to prove reliable or better.
The catching role of the tight end likely will be expanded as the torch is passed from blocking behemoth Scott Carpenter to Graham Adomitis. That includes in the red zone, the game plan for which becomes a huge camp priority with the loss of Lovett, a virtually-automatic touchdown machine.
Chad Kanoff, an NFL prospect, becomes the quarterback for the whole field and there will be no void in leadership. But it will be impossible to replace Lovett’s running, receiving, throwing, and blocking skills all in one body, so newly-promoted offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson will spend camp time learning who can best do what, devising different ways to get the ball into the end zone.
Players report on Monday, the 21, will meet on the 22nd, and be on the field Wednesday the 23rd, starting at 3:30 pm.