BC Hopes for Bounce Back In 2012
By David Wheatley
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The 2012 football season represents a critical time for Boston College. After a dismal 2011 season, Frank Spaziani’s job security took a major hit.
Saying that Boston College’s 2011 football season was a disappointment would be a major understatement. Heading into 2011, the Eagles were thought by many to be able to compete for the ACC Atlantic Division title. Head Coach Frank Spaziani had hired offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers to inject life into an offense that had been very flat under Gary Tranquill the year before. Senior running back Montel Harris was projected by several experts to be the Offensive Player of the Year in the conference, while linebacker Luke Kuechly was almost a lock to be a first team All-American for the second consecutive season.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, about the only thing that went according to plan was Kuechly’s performance. Harris had knee surgery during preseason, and was only able to play in two games. After a sub par performance by the offensive unit through the first two games, Rogers took an indefinite leave of absence from the team for “health reasons”. Furthermore, a string of injuries forced many true freshmen into starting roles for the bulk of the season. With almost nothing going the way they had hoped, the Eagles finished the season 4-8, missing out on a bowl game for the first time in the 21st Century.
As the Eagles participate in spring practice over the next few weeks, it is time to examine the areas of concern that BC must solve if they want to return to a bowl game in 2012.
As expected, the production of the offense will be the main concern for Spaziani. Over the past couple of months, the Eagles offensive staff has undergone a major overhaul. Rogers, tight ends coach Dave Brock, running backs coach Ben Sirmans and wide receivers coach Ryan Day have all accepted positions at other institutions. In order to fill the vacancy left by Rogers, Spaziani has hired Doug Martin to run the offense in 2012. Martin spent last season as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at New Mexico State. Under Martin’s leadership, NMSU’s passing offense ranked in the top quarter of the FBS in 2011. With an entirely new staff in place, the first priority for the offense will be for the players to get acquainted with the new system and terminology.
“We’re a multiple, one-back offense, which means we base out of a one-back, but we can easily, through shifts and motions and personnel changes get into two-back sets just as easily," Martin said of his new scheme. "But we will have a very physical, downhill running game. I’d describe the passing game as a West Coast passing game. The tempo of the offense will be a lot different, we’re much more up-tempo, fast out of the huddle, perhaps some no-huddle parts to the offense also. Just a lot quicker tempo than what they played at, a lot more shifts and motions, a lot more diversity to the offense than what they’ve had. I’m going to do everything in my power to make us an effective offensive football team.”
In addition to the task of learning the new offense, the Eagles also have some personnel issues on offense which must be addressed. In all likelihood, Chase Rettig will remain the starter at quarterback, although it is possible that backup Josh Bordner will receive some snaps as well. At wide receiver, BC will return most of their personnel, with the exception of Ifeanyi Momah. In what many considered to be a baffling decision, the NCAA chose to deny Momah, who tore his ACL in the first game of the year last season, a sixth year of eligibility. Spiffy Evans, a sophomore who was mainly used to return kicks in 2011, will be looked upon to play a much larger role in the passing game, and potentially be Momah’s replacement.
As far as individual players go, the biggest concern for the offense will be the health (knee) of Montel Harris. Harris’ knee problems can be traced back to as early as November of 2010. After injuring his knee in a game against Virginia, Harris had an arthroscopic surgery to scope out the problem. Initially, the medical staff at BC thought he may have been able to play in the Eagle's bowl game against Nevada a couple of motnsh later, but he ended up not being ready. After participating for one week in preseason last season, Harris re-aggravated the injury, and had to undergo a second surgical procedure. Despite the second surgery, Harris was only able to play in two regular season games in 2011 before the injury forced him out again. BC was able to get the NCAA to grant Harris a medical hardship waiver, which allows him a fifth year of eligibility. Last week, after BC’s first spring practice of 2012, Harris again complained of knee pain, and as a result has been shut down for the remainder of the spring. From a medical standpoint, it doesn’t seem likely there is much to be done at this point except to tell Harris to stay off it until he’s healthy, and hope that when he gets back on the field the injury doesn’t pop up again. It is easy to see the pattern that has emerged regarding Harris’ knee. If the pattern continues, it is likely that his football career may be over. If the pattern ends and Harris can somehow stay healthy for the 2012 season, he has a decent shot at breaking the ACC’s all-time career rushing record.
If there was anything positive to take from Harris being injured in the 2011 season, it is that three other running backs on BC’s roster were able to get valuable experience. Juniors Andre Williams and Deuce Finch, as well as sophomore Tahj Kimble, carried the load in Harris’ absence and performed admirably. They even showed flashes of brilliance, particularly evident when Finch rushed for 243 yards versus Maryland. Finch is a big, powerful back, and his running style could fit nicely into the downhill running game that Doug Martin wants to establish.
On the offensive line, center Mark Spinney is the only player BC needs to replace. Sophomore Andy Gallik would be the most ideal candidate for the position, but he struggled in his appearances in 2011. Spaziani has indicated that starting guard Ian White will be given a look at center during spring practice.
In 2011, the defense was the strength of the Boston College team. However, a big reason for the defense being the strength of the team was linebacker Luke Kuechly. Kuechly has chosen to forgo his senior year in Chestnut Hill. Instead, he has entered the NFL Draft, where he will likely be a top 20 pick. To fill the void left by Kuechly at middle linebacker, Spaziani has turned to sophmore Sean Duggan. Duggan, who attended the same high school as Kuechly, started several games at outside linebacker as a true freshman in 2011. Spaziani feels that Duggan has both the physical and mental tools to be a successful MLB at the FBS level. If Duggan is not up to the task, it is likely Spaziani will turn to true freshman Steven Daniels or red-shirt freshman Nick Lifka.
The defensive line for BC is also an area of concern. Over the past couples of seasons, the Eagles front four have been above average against the run, but have not put nearly enough pressure on the opposing QB. To make matters worse, Max Holloway, the Eagles top pass rusher from 2011, has elected to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. With only one defensive line recruit in the 2012 recruiting class, defensive coordinator Bill McGovern will need his lineman to show substantial pass rushing improvement in 2012. The Eagle did get some good news this winter, when DL Kaleb Ramsey was granted a medical hardship waiver, giving him a fifth season of eligibility. Ramsey, a starter in 2010, missed most of the 2011 season due to injury.
In 2011, the Eagles had terrible luck in the secondary. During the preseason, both of their projected starting safeties left the team. To make matters worse, in the second game of the year starting cornerback C.J. Jones was lost for the season with a knee injury. Consequently, three true freshmen saw significant playing time in the secondary. The three, cornerbacks Al Louis-Jean and Manny Asprilla, and safety Spenser Rositano, were often exposed by opposing offenses. However, with a year of experience under their belt, McGovern hopes the three will learn from their freshmen mistakes.
The 2012 football season represents a critical time for BC. After a dismal 2011 season, Frank Spaziani’s job security took a major hit. BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo has insisted that Spaziani is his coach. But, if the team does not show significant improvement in 2012 in the win and loss columns, many football experts predict that Spaziani’s departure is imminent. Only time will tell.