Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Preseason Practices Underway

The 2017 Hobart Statesmen enter their 124th season of play and are hard at work preparing for the upcoming season.

HWS Athletics uploaded a short video of preseason practice clips that feature SR WR Brandon Shed, SR LB Almamy Conde, among several others. While the incoming FY players haven't yet been applied to the roster as of this posting, I would expect that to happen in the next 24-48 hours.

You can see the highlights from practice here.

Hobart Football Class of 2018

I noted SR RB Joe Letizia has switched from #25 to #1, SO WR John DelliSanti is now #9 and SO QB Ryan Hoffman is now #10 and SO OLB Jayson Prince is now #20. There may be a couple of other changes, but those jumped out at first glance.

Some bad news is incoming FY WR / DB Jack Daley of Wakefield, MA has apparently suffered a potential season-ending injury at the start of camp. Hoping for the best for Jack and his extended family.

An intra-squad scrimmage is scheduled for Saturday at 3:30 PM ET. I'll provide some eye-witness reports on how it goes this weekend.

A week from today D3football.com will release it's 2017 preseason online preview magazine, "Kickoff". Please consider buying a subscription as you won't be disappointed. It's definitely one of a kind when it comes to D3FB coverage (and I wrote a couple pieces too).

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Camp Opens Today!

OK Hobart Football Fans, today's the day. The Statesmen open camp as they prep for their 124th season of gridiron action. A group of 110 young men from across the nation are checking into Geneva for the 2017 season. Expectations are high as Hobart comes in ranked 14th in the D3football.com preseason Top 25.

Speaking of D3football.com, SR RB Joe Letizia earned a spot on their annual Kickoff Preseason Preview online magazine. You can order yours here. I wrote the Liberty League and NEWMAC team capsules, as well as conducted an interview with SR QB, Co-Captain and 1st team preseason All-American Shane Sweeney for this publication, which will be available on August 22.

Kickoff against Brockport is coming up fast, so make sure to take a look at the Eagles, as well as the rest of the Statesmen's opponents soon.

I'll work on getting some updates from camp, as well as the annual scrimmage against (soon to be Liberty League associate member) Buff State.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sweeney, Shed and Schmidt Earn D3football.com All-American Honors

D3football.com released it's preseason All-American team today and there were three Statesmen recognized:

SR QB Shane Sweeney - 1st Team Offense
SR WR Brandon Shed - 1st Team Offense
SR P Rio Schmidt - 2nd Team Specialist

A link to the preseason team list can be seen here.

Congratulations to these Statesmen players! Only 11 more days until preseason camp opens!

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Pre-Preseason Preview 2 - Roster (Over?) Analysis

HWSAthletics.com recently updated the Hobart College Football roster for this upcoming season. The current roster of SO, JR and SR players comes in at 64 Statesmen, but a large (~44) incoming FY class will push the roster to nearly 110 players, one of the largest in recent years.

One of the aspects of the 2017 roster I really liked seeing is that it's more specific with respect to player positions than we've seen before, other than specific game-day starting lineups and such.

As of today, the roster break down (in alpha order by position) is as follows:

1 C
6 CBs
6 DEs
3 DTs
3 FBs
3 FSs
6 ILBs
2 LTs
2 LGs
2 NGs
6 OLBs
1 P
3 QBs
4 RBs
2 RG.
2 RTs
3 TEs
10 WRs

Let's take a closer look, starting with the offense:

OL - Effectively Hobart has it's two deep set at G and T, and the good news for Statesmen fans (and QBs), is that four starters come back from last season. Part of that was due to injuries, but either way, an experienced OL is a great thing no matter what. The one aspect that will need to be settled in preseason camp is whether or not SR OL Liam Murphy will be taking over at center? He has backed up three time all conference Nick Testani '17 and has yet to see varsity action. He does know the system well and is in good hands with OL Coach Mike Green '14, a former center himself (and a third team D3football.com All American to boot) as his position coach. Either way, a competition for the best five players, whomever they may be, is likely.

RB - Although some may argue RB was under-utilized in 2016, Hobart will once again have depth and experience in the backfield this season. What remains to be seen is if one or more high-profile recruits makes a splash here? In lieu of that you can expect JR Tynard Barfield and SR RB Joe Letizia leading the charge.

WR - The deepest group on the team, mostly because of how many WRs the Statesmen like to spread the field with. Other than the obvious return of All American SR WR Brandon Shed, the second and third WRs in the Hobart offense will be determined during camp. The most experienced upper classman is JR WR Joe Barrocas who tallied 13 catches for 130 yards and a TD. There are a lot of talented SO WRs (six total), but for now SO WR Isaiah Hill stands out due to his three catch, 62 yard and a TD performance in 2016.

QB - SR QB and Co-Captain Shane Sweeney is the starter, but SO QBs Ryan Hofmann and Zach Brotzki will compete for backup duties. FY QB Matt Maute could be in the mix as well.

TE - SR TE and Co-Captain Zach Withers adds another dimension to the Hobart attack given his size and speed. JR TE Matt Woods had a good SO season, catching 16 passes for 127 yards and two TDs.

Now let's take a look at the defense:

DL - Hobart probably could use more depth in the interior line, and this was worked on in the offseason, recruiting wise. To be fair, the players returning at DT and NG positions like SR NG and Co-Captain Zackary Robak and JR DT Sean Moore should be poised for big seasons. While the call out of NG may have some Statesmen fans thinking the defense could try some different formations, I'd be surprised to see DC Coach Backhaus '00 move to far away from what has been Hobart's standard 4x4 set. More on that soon.

DE - The Statesmen have added depth here and saw players like JR DE A.J. MacFarlane and SR DE Brandon Ball emerge and really excel in 2016. Ball finished seventh on the team in tackles with 49 and led the defense with 11.5 TFL.

ILB - SR LB and Co-Captain Almamy Conde will hold down the middle again alongside SO LB Jedh Downey who surprised some by being the first FY starter at ILB for Hobart in quite some time. Downey had an excellent season and probably should have won the LL's ROTY award (not surprisingly it went to an offensive player, RB Sean McAllen of WPI, as those awards are often apt to do). Otherwise the Statesmen have good depth and experience here, with two SRs and two SOs filling out the roster.

OLB - The biggest question mark I have going into camp is who will fill the two open starting OLB roles for Hobart? JR OLB Kai Brandford and SR OLB Will Hoffer did each start one game a piece in 2016 and should be leading candidates, but there will be a lot of competition vying for these spots from players like SO OLB Jayson Price and SO OLB Josh Walker.

FS - Another opportunity for a first time starter in some time will be at FS. JR FS CJ Boleware backed up former Co-Captain Matt Cragg '17 last season but SO FS Marco King has converted from QB and got playing time at FS in 2016 also. King will look to transition to become a QB for the defense, not an uncommon route to take. Classmate SO FS Jack O'Shea will also vie for time.

CB - Hobart returns two of its strongest defensive players here in SR CB Tommy D'Antonio and SR CB Daryl Scales. Adding depth are two SO and two JR players, including JR CB Sam Wheeler who appeared in 10 games for the Statesmen in 2016.

The list for special teams is pretty short:

SR P Rio Schmidt returns to bolster the punting and potentially KO game, but otherwise, Hobart will look to incoming recruits such as FY PK Kyle Hackett and FY PK/ATH Wylie Sherman to take over the kicking duties now that Sean Kirshe'17 has graduated.

That's it for now on the roster. We will revisit this once the Class of 2021 are posted. Camp opens in less than 3 weeks, so we'll lay low until then. Enjoy the rest of summer - it's almost FOOTBALL SEASON!

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Pre-Preseason Preview - Defense Will Be Key in 2017

The #14 Hobart College Statesmen will likely enter the 2017 season as favorites - to repeat as Liberty League Champions and by default of the associated automatic qualifier - to return to the NCAA playoffs. While it's obviously a long way to November 18th, Statesmen fans and friends have high expectations after last season's 9-2 record and Hobart proving they could go toe-to-toe with perennial powerhouse, now #2 Mount Union.

With several All-American accolades going to SR QB Shane Sweeney and SR WR Brandon Shed, four of five starting OL coming back, as well as key players coming back at TE, WR and RB, the Hobart "Air Show" offense will once again be a force to be reckoned with.

The "hype" around the offense is valid, but what I think may get overlooked, but is equally, if not more important, is how will the Statesmen defense perform in 2017? While they do return six starters, including five players who earned some form of all-conference recognition in 2016, losses to graduation at DE (James Hedger '17), DT (Jake Russell '17), OLB (Michael Harper '17 and Marcus Jemison '17) and FS (Matt Cragg '17) leave some big shoes to fill.

While we wait to see who wins those starting roles in preseason camp, I thought it may be interesting to take a look at the overall defensive statistics from 2016 compared to a couple of past playoff teams - the 2012 and 2014 squads (which is high bar to measure against, given they were arguably the two best teams in Hobart history). There are some pitfalls to doing this exercise, but I think the data provides some potential insights that could help Hobart get back to the Elite 8 (and potentially further).

To be fair, it's very difficult to compare units over time, namely because of players like Tyre Coleman '15 and a handful of other all-time greats, among other factors. While the Statesmen defense of 2016 didn't perform statistically as well as those 2012 and 2014 units, 2016 was probably the most competitive year that the LL has seen in about eight seasons. SLU, WPI and USMMA had some of their best overall offensive squads in recent years. A punch-less Dickinson was replaced by a high powered Brockport team that led the Empire 8 in scoring with 38.1 PPG and averaged 432.4 YPG on offense in the out-of-conference slate also.

Based on that, perhaps you can take these statistical shifts with a grain of salt, and every season is different. I do think the numbers tell an interesting story, however, and will leave it up to you whether you agree (or not).

The first and most obvious difference was points per game allowed (PPG).

The average PPG allowed by the 2012 and 2014 Elite 8 teams averaged out to ~17 (barely rounded up). One caveat there is that the 17 PPG allowed is inflated due to the lopsided losses to UST (47-7) and Wesley (41-13) in the final playoff games of those respective seasons.

Regardless, let's look at it this way - those NCAA quarterfinal quality units only allowed opponents two scores a game on average.

I think this two scores per game stat is a key measuring stick, especially when you consider national contenders such as the Purple Raiders typically only allow one score per game (actually Mount Union allowed around 9.5 PPG in the 2016 regular season, but they did allow 25.5 PPG in the playoffs) on average.

In 2016, the Hobart defense allowed 23.45 PPG, or more than three scores a game on average (which put more pressure on the offense, hence a lot of those close call comeback games). While passing yards allowed only differed by about 30 YPG and passing TDs allowed amounts were negligible, there were some potentially relevant differences in the amount of rushing yards and TDs allowed in 2016.

The playoff squads of 2012 and 2014 both allowed under 100 rushing YPG (97.8 YPG in '12 and 87.5 YPG in '14) during their respective seasons and only allowed about 2.6 yards on any given carry. The 2016 defense allowed 159 rush yards per game and 3.6 YPR, which isn't a lot more in some respects but you can see a difference that adds up over time (e.g., how you call plays on 3rd and 5 vs. 3rd and 3). Also, the 2014 defense only allowed 6 rush TDs in 11 games, while the 2016 version allowed 19. The 2014 Statesmen allowed one rushing TD in the JHU game and two to Wesley in the Elite 8 to finish the year with 9.

In the LL rankings, the defenses of the '12-14 era usually ranked in the 1-3 range of key stats whereas the 2016 version tended to average in the 5-7 range, depending on the category. Some of that difference had to do with some exceptional units of last season's LL opponents (e.g., RPI, SLU and MMA had some of their best defensive units in several seasons), but some of it also falls on a "bend but don't break" style the Hobart defense played in 2016.

Sacks were also down from 43 in 2012 and 39 in 2014 to 31-33 in 2016 (LL stats show 31 but HWS has 33). INTs also dropped from over 10 per season in 2012 & 14 to only six in 2016 (which was last in the LL in that category).

Both of these categories are ones I imagine new DC Coach Backhaus would like to see go up, which combined with a more stout rushing defense, would put the Statesmen in rarified air, as far as the potential for another special season goes.

While it's no surprise that if a team plays the run tough, rushes the passer and forces turnovers you win more ballgames, hopefully the above puts things into perspective as we head into the 2017 season. I think this year's Hobart defense has a lot of potential but there are some X factors that need to be worked out.

Fortunately there's a strong combination of experience - SR LB and Co-captain Almamy Conde and SR DT and Co-Captain Zack Robak up the middle along with SR DBs Tom D'Antonio and Daryl Scales in the secondary and SR DE Brandon Ball on the end - and youth - with SO LB Jedh Downey, JR DE/DT AJ MacFarlane and JR DT Sean Moore - "comin' atcha" in 2017.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Monday, July 10, 2017

D3football.com Tabs Statesmen 14th in the 2017 Preseason Poll

The preseason accolades keep coming in for the Hobart College Statesmen, this time as the 14th ranked team in the D3football.com Top 25.

A link to the poll can be seen here.

This is the highest ranking for a Hobart team since the 2014 preseason ranking of 12th. The highest preseason ranking for the Statesmen was in 2013 when they were ranked 7th.

With about four weeks until players check in for preseason camp, I'll start working on the 2017 Hobart Preseason Preview soon.

Where did Hobart get ranked again?

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Coach Backhaus Named DC, David Lands at Muhlenberg

Yesterday HWSAthletics.com announced the promotion of LBs Coach Aaron Backhaus '00 by HC Mike Cragg to fill the open Defensive Coordinator (DC) position left by former DC Kory David. Regardless or not a national search was actually conducted (as reported by FootballScoop.com back in early June) or not, this is a great move on a number of levels.

The Mike Cragg coaching tree has grown to an impressive number over the years, with former Statesmen such as Scott Yoder '01 and Kevin DeWall '00 taking over their own programs at Shenandoah University and Endicott College, respectively.

Several former Statesmen players have joined the staffs of each program including Art Garvey '12, Tom Elder '13 and Drake Woodard '12. With five Hobart graduates working as coaches (the latest being newly minted WR Coach Jack Pfohl '17), there will certainly be plenty of familiarity and continuity for Hobart student athletes going into the 2017 season.

Backhaus joined Cragg's coaching staff in 2004, working part-time while also pursuing a Master's in Education at Alfred University and working full-time as a counselor in Geneva. He has participated in Hobart's rise to a perennial Top 25 program during that time, producing some of the greatest LBs in Statesmen history. A link the announcement, and Backhaus' strong resume, can be seen here.

Congratulations to Coach Backhaus!

In other news, Coach Kory David has apparently landed at Muhlenberg College where he was named "interim DC" to fill in while current and long-time HC Mike Donnelly battles leukemia. A link to that announcement can be seen here.

You can read about Coach Donnelly and his fight, named #DigInForDuke, to raise awareness as part of the "Be The Match" and the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation to encourage individuals ages 18 to 44 to join the national marrow registry.

I'd like to wish all three of these men the best, but especially Coach Donnelly, as he awaits a bone marrow transplant and undergoes treatment in Buffalo.

That's all the news for now. Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!