Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Five Questions, Defense

In the second part of some pre-season questions to consider for the 2012 Hoyas, this column focuses on defense and special teams.

Ten returning starters on offense gives the 2012 Hoyas a lot of options entering the season. While the defense sustained some significant graduation losses, there is still a lot of returning talent to look forward to.

With that in mind, five questions to consider with the season approaching:

1. Is Jordan Richardson Georgetown's Next Defensive Star? Ononibaku, Buzbee, Etukeren, Schaetzke. The front lines of the Hoyas have featured some outstanding skill position players in recent years. With the graduation of Andrew Schaetzke, the emergence of DT Jordan Richardson is worth watching.

Richardson started nine games at tackle last season. He is big (6-2, 300) and quick for his size. The Georgetown media notes called him a "disruptive force" as a freshman, and his 24 tackles were a promising start considering he was just a freshman. With John Porter and Peter Daibes fighting for a role on the DE position vacated by Schaetzke's graduation, an effective presence in the middle is essential. Much as Micharel Ononibaku turned the corner as a sophomore, a big year by Richardson could be invaluable to a defensive line that will be tested in the second half of the season.

2. Rushing Defense. For those looking for a secret to the Hoyas' eight game turnaround from from 2009 through 2011, look no further than rushing defense. A defensive unit  that stops the rush limits third down conversions, limits time of possession, and limits teams from taking over games. In 2009, Georgetown was not very good at any of these, allowing 208.2 yards per game on the ground. In 2010, that number fell to 144.6. In 2011, the numbers were outstanding, holding opponents to 98.6 yards a game on the ground, among the top ten nationally. Dustin Wharton and Robert McCabe can provide tackling support off the line, but it's up to the men up front to limit that opening burst and force those second down and nine plays rather than second and three.

The progression of the schedule is ideally suited to building that number, opening with Davidson and Wagner, then on to Yale and Princeton, picking up the pace with Brown and Fordham, than diving into the PL schedule, where the top three PL teams will all be looking to the run to get things done.

3. Turnovers. Another statistic that has showed marked improvements over the past three seasons, the defense will again be counted upon to force turnovers. This was the case in three key games last season where the defense set the tone for the win: a three INT game that turned the tide against Colgate, forcing five turnovers to stall Holy Cross' efforts to come back in that game, and four turnover versus Fordham. Those three games, all against strong PL offenses, was the difference between 8-3 and perhaps a 5-6 finish. Driving the defense to get the ball will be a key performance indicator for 2012.

4. The New Secondary. Georgetown's biggest defensive challenge in 2012 is replacing three starters on the  back line of the secondary. Together, Wayne Heimuli, David Quintero, and Jayah Kaisamba accounted for 142 tackles last season and six of Georgetown's 17 interceptions. The pass defense bent, but did not break last season, and the depth chart has the level of talent where the new starters can work their way into the job. Stephen Atwater and Malcolm Caldwell-Meeks figure to be keys to rebuilding the lines, with sophomore Javan Robinson not far behind. Junior transfer Rohan Williamson is worth a closer look as well.

5. Wanted: Kicker. By now, you've read that the lack of depth in placekicker has led Georgetown to host an open tryout to find a backup for junior PK Devon Papendrew. It's not an insignificant need--graduated kicker Brett Weiss accounted for 79 points last season and the Hoyas need a consistent option on PAT's and mid-range field goals. If that's Papendrew and the newcomer gets plenty of halftime practice kicks, great, but if Papendrew gets hurt or is ineffective, a game or two could come down to effective kicking, both on scoring plays as well as kickoffs.

With Papendrew's lack of any in-game experience, even the pre-season media notes were hedging. It noted that Papendrew was the "likely" option at PK--not a ringing endorsement when you're the only kicker entering camp.  

Yes, there are some open questions for the defense, but there is experience waiting to make the difference. And notice there's no talk in this article about the immediate need for freshmen to fill the gaps. That's a pleasant (and welcome) byproduct of depth that will serve the Georgetown defense well as it grows and matures this season.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Foot In The Door

They don't make kickers like they used to.

This week, The HOYA noted that a tryout will be held at month's end because, with one kicker on the roster with no in-game experience, the Hoyas enter 2012 mighty thin at kicker. Never mind that they'll have two kickers on the roster with no in-game experience, they need depth, now more than ever.

The notice:

The Georgetown University football team will be holding open tryouts for placekickers on Thursday, August 30 beginning at 4 p.m. Tryouts will be held at Multi-Sport Field, as the Hoyas coaching staff is looking to add depth at the position.

Those interested in participating in the open tryout should contact Georgetown Director of Football Operations Justin Brown by calling 202-687-6700

Such was not always the case.

Kickers were not as disposable back in the day, pro or college.

From 1968 through 1986, the Dallas Cowboys had only four placekickers in 19 seasons--Mike Clark, Toni Fritsch, Efren Herrera, Rafael Septien. In the next 25 seasons, they've gone through 21 more. During that same era, the Washington Redskins had just two kickers--Curt Knight and Mark Moseley. Since  then, a parade of names from Max Zendejas to Graham Gano...22 in all.

So it is with the Hoyas. The 1980's and 1990's had their run of veteran kickers: Jim Corcoran, Erich Beringer, Tom Timperman, Anthony DeGuzman.

But in the last 15 years, just two kickers have finished their careers as four year players, and only one played in all four seasons. It's become a position where recruits don't last very long and the Hoyas are often looking to walk-ons and transfers to fill the gap.

Let's go back to 1997, where the Hoyas added arguably one of its best kicking prospects ever, St. Francis Prep's Peter Carbonara. As a freshman, Carbornara was named all-conference after just one season, but left Georgetown and ended up enrolling at New Hampshire, kicking for the Wildcats before he was dismissed by UNH in the off-season. Carbonara was replaced by Paul Wiorowski, who kicked for two seasons before graduating. In the Patriot League era, however, kickers have come (and mostly) gone:

  • 2000: The Hoyas turned to a second year law student, Marc Samuel, who kicked for two seasons. Samuel was no rookie, having kicked for two seasons at Kentucky, but classes still took precedent over football.
  • 2001: Bryan Bobo, a regional All-County selection from Palm Beach, joins the roster. Unable to move up the depth chart, he plays only two seasons.
  • 2002: Michael Gillman, recruited by (but did not play for) Florida, joins the team. Though his stats were up and down (18-35 field goals over a three year career), he was the Hoyas' best option at the position. A walk-on, Anthony Soric, joined the team but does not see action.
  • 2004: Eric Bjonerud's four seasons (2004,05,06,07) finally provided stability in the position. 41 of 44 in PAT's, 13 of 20 field goals (though only one longer than 34 yards), he also punted for parts of two seasons. Reserve kicker David Corak made it one season with limited play. 
  • 2007: The PK kicker position was a point of emphasis in Kevin Kelly's first recruiting cycle Georgetown brings in two of the best local kickers to succeed Bjonerud, but neither made the grade. Kilgo Livingston, an all-WCAC kicker at DeMatha, played in one game as a special teams player and left the team. Casey Dobyns, a two year all-MIAA kicker at Georgetown Prep (also known for his summer internship as a European fashion model), played sparingly and transferred to Richmond in 2009. In their place, the Hoyas reached out to the soccer team in Jose-Pablo Buerba, who had not played American football before joining the team. 
  • 2009: Georgetown adds two kickers in Kris Zabioleff and David Conway. Zabioleff lasts one year, does not start. Conway was on the bench for three seasons.
  • 2010: With Buerba graduating, Georgetown finds a replacement in Brett Weiss, a  lacrosse player who transferred from Maryland. Weiss turns in some of the best  numbers since Marc Samuel over the past two seasons, earning second team all-Patriot League.
  • 2012: Junior Devon Papendrew is the lone kicker on the roster after Weiss and Conway graduated.
Is there a Marc Samuel or a Brett Weiss out there among the student body? Is there someone from another team interested in a two-sport commitment (e.g., can Jabril Trawick kick a consistent 40 yard field goal)? Or is there someone from the team itself that can step up? Two of the greatest Georgetown kickers of all time held other positions on the team--Augie Lio (1938-40), an offensive lineman, blocked (and kicked) his way into the College Football Hall of Fame, while Jim Corcoran (1978-81) was a safety who who could punt and kick with the best of them. 

The best case scenario is that Papendrew can take over and give the Hoyas two strong years in the position. Recruiting for the four year kicker, however, remains as elusive as ever.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Five Questions, Offense

Over the four years of this blog companion to, we've posted some thoughts as to the pending questions for the offense each season. This year, depth has answered many of the more pressing questions.

The Hoyas enter the 2012 season with arguably the most depth since the club which rolled through the 1999 season en route to a 9-2 record. Strength at quarterback, depth on the line, and players ready to step up in the defensive backfield were all strengths of one of the best teams of the modern era at Georgetown, one that set the table for the move from the MAAC to the Patriot League.

Is 2012 ready to join this company, and complete a four year turnaround not seen on the Hilltop in generations?

To start, here are five questions.

1. Quarterback: Who's Number 2? Three years ago, Isaiah Kempf replaced James Brady late in a 28-3 loss to Lafayette--it was Brady's last game on the field in a Georgetown uniform and the first of three seasons of Kempf platooning at alongside Scott Darby. With Darby graduated, the starting role is all Kempf's, but a one quarterback setup is increasingly uncommon for Georgetown. Excepting Matt Bassuener in 2007, one would go back to J.J. Mont in 2000 for the last season with a dominant quarterback all season.

Kempf figures to be the starter this season, but his backup (and possible successor) bears watching. Underclassmen Aaron Aiken and Stephen Skon had no pass plays in 2011, with Aiken managing six yards on two wildcat formations. That Aiken wasn't moved to another position as a junior a la Keerome Larwrence or Tucker Stafford is a sign he's still in the mix, while Skon needs to step up in practice to be a legitimate #2 prospect. While three freshmen figure to spend 2012 studying game film, Aiken and Skon need to be ready if the call comes in or if Kempf is hurt. It's worth watching if either gets some fourth quarter time in the opening games against Davidson and Wagner to burnish their in-game credentials.

2. Can The Rush Game Step Up? 2011 was a productive year for a Hoya ground game which has struggled mightily in recent years, yet its leading rusher failed to reach 500 yards on the season in a running-back-by-committee model under former coordinator Dave Patenaude. With Vinny Marino at the helm, he's going to have to work among some similarly-sized RB candidates (Wilburn Logan, Dalen Claytor, Brandon Durham, Joel Kimpela ,etc.) and settle on a starter to the position, while relying on Nick Campanella and freshman Troye Bullock to drive the fullback position to its advantage--a skill lost in some colelge sets these days. With just under 150 yards a game last season, this is a group poised for even more on the ground.

3. Can The Offensive Line....Stop right there. This year, no question: the OL will be fine.

4. Who Leads The Receiver Corps? A lot of coaches would like to have eight returning receivers, but Georgetown needs one or two go-to receivers in 2012. It ought to come from any of the four seniors, including Max Waizenegger, who led the team in receptions last year, or senior Jeff Burke. I'm also holding out hope that a pair of talented players whose college careers were interrupted can make their senior years special: Brandon Floyd and Kenneth Furlough. Each has the talent to have a big year and have to work to get it.

5. What Is The Marino System? With new offensive coordinator Vinny Marino, this will be an early point of emphasis this season. Marino's 2011 team at Columbia finished last in the Ivy League and 108th nationally in total offense, but this was Columbia, after all, and the Lions have long struggled in that category. Marino inherits a veteran team capable of considerable firepower on the field, so it will bear watching how Marino adjusts the sets frequented by Patenaude and how the Georgetown offense adapts to his game plan. Control the game plan, control the turnovers, and control the red zone, and memories of a 7th place finish at Morningside Heights will be ancient history.

Next week, five questions for the defense.