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In a league of talented quarterbacks, secondary key to success on Columbia defense
As every team in the conference seems to have a competent signal caller, having a solid defense, especially a competent secondary, is more important than ever before.
In football, the job of the defense is simple: get off the field and allow your offensive skill players to win the game. If Columbia’s defense can put the football in the hands of Sean Brackett, one of the elite quarterbacks in the Ivy League, the Lions have as good a shot as any team to contend for the title in 2011. Whether or not they do depends largely upon the success of the Lions’ secondary.
The New York Times on August 27th aptly referred to 2011 as the “Year of the Quarterback in the Ivy League”. Each team within the Ancient Eight has a quarterback on its roster with considerable talent, experience, or potential.
For example, in June, Harvard senior quarterback Collier Winters beat 36 other collegiate quarterbacks in an accuracy competition hosted at the prestigious Manning Passing Academy. Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck of Stanford and Boise State’s Kellen Moore were among the quarterbacks that took part.
Furthermore, Ivy League favorite Penn returns its starting junior quarterback Billy Ragone, an athletic signal caller who was a first team All-Ivy selection in 2010.
Brown’s senior quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero, who threw for 18 touchdowns, totaled 2,709 yards passing, and was a first team All-Ivy selection in 2009, now returns after missing the final seven games of 2010 due to injury.
Cornell’s offense will be led by promising sophomore Jeff Mathews, who was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2010.
Yale senior Patrick Witt, who transferred to the Bulldogs after his spending his freshman year at Nebraska, had a strong 2010 campaign, averaging over 246 yards a game and earning a second team All-Ivy selection. Witt is likely to break every notable Yale passing record in 2011.
It’s clear that Columbia’s success in 2011 will be very dependent upon whether its defensive backs can prevent Ivy League quarterbacks from turning conference games into offensive shootouts.
The challenge of containing opponents’ air attacks is compounded by that fact that Columbia has lost three of their top defensive backs—Adam Mehrer, Craig Hamilton and Calvin Otis—from 2010. Between those three players, the Lions are losing 148 combined tackles from last season. In addition, no player on Columbia’s current roster had an interception in 2010.
Despite the significant losses on defense, the team has confidence in the players that remain.
“We lost some guys, but there are guys who are ready to just step in and fill those roles,” senior wide receiver Kurt Williams said.
The opening day starters will be senior cornerback Ross Morand, strong safety Neil Schuster, senior free safety A.J. Maddox and junior cornerback Brian DeVeau.
While Morand was chosen as one of the four captains of the team, Schuster will act as the primary communicator within the secondary, reading plays before the ball is snapped and helping align the defense. Morand had four interceptions in 2009, Schuster recorded 55 tackles (third on the team) and recovered two fumbles in 2010, Maddox saw significant time as a backup corner in nickel formations in 2010, and DeVeau has been a versatile player for the Lions. In his first season, he provided depth in the secondary at cornerback. After switching to wide receiver in 2010, the coaching staff decided to have DeVeau return to play cornerback in his junior season.
Moreover, the entire Lions defense must become accustomed to the defensive schemes of new defensive coordinator Chris Woods. Despite the many challenges the unit faces, they are confident about the players on the roster, the strategy that their coaches have implemented, and their ability to outperform their opponents. The players believe their greatest hurdle will be overcoming the inconsistency that plagued their 2010 campaign.
“By now we know what Ivy League football is all about,” Morand said. “There are going to be very tough and competitive football games. Going week by week, it’s about how we perform. It’s all about us. If we execute the way we know we can, nothing should be a problem.”
By Spencer Gyory, Columbia Spectator