FIVE QUESTIONS FOR PRINCETON FOOTBALL ON THE EVE OF SPRING PRACTICES
The 12-session spring practice schedule opens Tuesday, March 6, for the Princeton football team, which is looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued season that ended in disappointing fashion. The Tigers will practice through April 7, which is set to be their annual Spring Game, and will focus on a number of areas to build upon before closing the book on the 2017-18 academic year. The full practice schedule can be found below, and then we look at five questions of interest for Princeton as it prepares for the spring.
SCHEDULE (weekday practices start at 4:45 pm; Saturdays start at 9:30 am)
Who steps forward on the offensive line?
Princeton returns plenty of experience in most position groups heading into the 2018 season, but the one that loses the most starters is the offensive line. Senior Mitchell Sweigart started every game of the last three years and was a first-team All-Ivy honoree this season. Classmate Erik Ramirez started 20 straight games, including every one during the 2016 championship season, and he earned All-Ivy honors last season. Richard Bush may have only been in his first year as a starter, but his experience at the center position allowed him to transition to that role and keep the up-tempo offense rolling. Position coach Andrew Aurich has a plethora of options at each spot, but the sooner guys grab a starting role, the sooner the group can form chemistry. Nobody expects a starting front to be determined during the spring, but a handful of reserves do have a chance to make a strong statement heading into the fall.
How do the young defensive backs evolve?
Freshman CJ Wall started every game at cornerback, earned Rookie of the Week honors twice and claimed All-Ivy honorable mention. Classmate Trevor Forbes started every game at nickel, and he earned the team’s top defensive freshman award at the season-ending team banquet. Both Delan Stallworth and Sultaan Shabazz earned playing time during the second half of the season, and highly touted recruit Matthew Winston never got to show his best after a preseason injury. Realistically, their performances were solid for freshmen, but coach Marvin Clecidor will expect far more next season, especially with the graduation of two-year starter Chance Melancon. One of the surprises of the 2016 Ivy championship team was the play of cornerback James Gales, who made his big jump in the offseason; the Tigers would love to see at least one similar step forward from one of the afore-mentioned players before next fall.
Speaking of James Gales, is there a junior who could make a similar jump?
Gales wasn’t an unknown in 2015; he played every game in the cornerback rotation and on special teams. It’s just that few could have predicted him to develop into arguably the league’s best cover cornerback the next season. Head coach Bob Surace (who just happened to be one of those to predict the Gales jump during training camp) is looking for similar progress from his current junior class, and two players to keep your eye on could be tight end Graham Adomitis and safety Ben Ellis. Both were first-year starters last season and gained important experience, but increased production from both would benefit both sides of the ball. There are plenty of other names to watch, from rotational players to those who rarely saw the field — they all know they only have 10 Saturdays left.
While Jesper Horsted hits, who catches?
Jesper Horsted was part of a record-breaking offensive unit last season, but his focus will be on catching line drives instead of touchdown passes this spring. The All-Ivy outfielder is back with the baseball team, which means there are a lot of open reps for his position mates. Stephen Carlsonestablished himself with arguably the greatest season by a No. 2 receiver in Ivy League history, and Tiger Bech thrives in the slot over the second half of the season, but an offense that moves as fast as Princeton requires more options. Juniors Jordan Argue and Alex Parkinson both had strong early-season moments, but they could never break into the top group. They’ll have their chances over the next five weeks, as will freshmen Jacob Birmelin and Cash Goodhart, who now have a full season of offensive knowledge to build upon.
While Chad Kanoff trains for Sundays, who throws?
Surace and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Sean Gleeson won’t expect anybody in the roster to match the 2017 performance of Chad Kanoff, whose record-setting season earned him the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year award. Still, they need to see who is ready to throw passes on Saturdays, while Kanoff hopes to throw on Sundays. The quarterback field this spring for Princeton will have combined to throw for a total of 11 passes at the collegiate level, so this is their opportunity to make an early statement heading into the fall. You would figure Kevin Davidson — who has all 11 of those passes — would have the slight edge going in, but Zachary Keller, Cole Smith and John Tracy will all have plenty of chances to lead an offense that has dominated the Ivy League over the last 20 games.