Sports

With 11 new starters, football’s offense retools

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, September 15, 2014

With no returning offensive starters, the football team needs to adapt quickly this season. But with talent all over the field, the Bears’ attack could make more noise than some people expect.

The Bears had a potent offense in 2013, ranking third in the Ivy League with an impressive 31.1 points per game. A huge part of the team’s effectiveness came from running back John Spooney ’14, who led the conference in rushing yards per game at 130. No other player had more than 106.4.

The passing game was impressive as well, with Patrick Donnelly ’14 coming in at second in the Ivy League with 236.4 passing yards per game. Donnelly’s favorite weapon, wide receiver Tellef Lundevall ’14, placed fourth in the league with 74.5 receiving yards per game. Both Spooney and Lundevall went to NFL tryouts after the season, though neither made a team.

The 2014 Bears have some large shoes to fill, but Head Coach Phil Estes believes his offense can be an effective unit.

At the heart of the Bears’ attack is quarterback Marcus Fuller ’15. Estes compared him to Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel in a preseason interview but clarified his comments this week.

“He’s not flamboyant like Johnny Manziel,” Estes said. He instead noted that Fuller shares Manziel’s ability to “make some plays. When everything breaks down, he seems to be at his best.”

“Marcus has a really good feel for the game,” Estes said.

Fuller credited these attributes to “a combination of my experience as a player and my instincts.” As for the Manziel comparisons, Fuller said, “I have the ability to make a guy miss. … If I can do half the things he did at Texas A&M, we’ll have a pretty good season.”

But with a new quarterback, Estes knows his team will have to rely on its running game.

“We’re going to have to have a run game to make them think that ‘I can’t concentrate on stopping Marcus, I’ve got to concentrate on stopping the run game,’ and let Marcus be able to distribute,” he said.

The running back stable may seem empty with the absence of Spooney, but the Bears still have plenty of tailback talent.

Brian Strachan ’15 should receive the lion’s share of the touches as the starter. A wide receiver last season, he fits more in the mold of a speed back like Spooney, instead of a big bruiser. But he will share time with Andrew Coke ’16 and Jacob Hall ’18, whom Estes described as “unbelievable.”

But of all the Bears’ positional groups, Estes said, “the thing that I’m most happy about is the receivers.”

The Bears lost their top four receivers from last season, meaning they have little experience in their current corps, but that didn’t stop Estes from praising his players.

“I still think we’re better now, athletically and with speed, than we were last year,” he said.

Stian Romberg ’15 headlines this group, receiving specific compliments from his head coach. He is joined in the starting lineup by Reiley Higgins ’15, who had six catches last season, and Troy Doles ’16.

“We definitely have some speed out wide with Reiley and Troy,” Romberg said.

While Fuller has not played with any of these receivers before, he is familiar with them. He said he has been practicing with them for “two or three years,” and has a certain “comfortability” with his wideouts.

“You can’t teach experience,” he said. “That’s the only thing we’re lacking.”

A wild card in the receiving corps could be Alex Jette ’17. He was electric last season, being named first team All-Ivy as a kick returner and becoming the first first-year in school history to earn a first team All-Ivy spot. He has struggled with injuries this offseason, and his status is currently unknown, but he has the talent to be a breakout wide receiver.

While Estes and Fuller both spoke highly of the skill position players, no one received as many compliments from both as center John Heile ’16.

“I think John Heile at center has been great. He’s like another coach on the field,” Estes said. “He’s pointing and talking and telling everybody what they’re doing, and he’s been really really good. I think John Heile is going to be that mainstay in the center.”

Fuller had similarly glowing words. “He’s invaluable to have in the huddle,” he said. “I have a pretty good understanding of how defenses work on the back end. … He knows what’s going on in the trenches.”

“We’re the co-conductors of this engine,” Fuller added.

The rest of the offensive line is somewhat more suspect, featuring untested tackles Dakota Girard ’17 on the left and Matt Girard ’17 on the right, who are not related.

“We’ve got to throw them to the fire a little bit,” Estes said.

Overall, Estes knows the offense is not a finished product.

“We’re a work in progress,” he said. “We’re going to dumb it down just a little bit to get our feet wet.”

But Fuller had no such reservations.

“My expectations for this team are very high,” he said. He added that he hopes to “prove some people wrong,” alluding to the preseason poll that predicted the Bears to finish sixth in the league.

Estes also noted that the Bears will be at a disadvantage when they open their season at Georgetown.

“We’ll be their fourth game,” he said. “They’ll know who they are as a team and what they do, and we’re going to have to find out fast.”

The Bears may not know who they are yet, but if they play to their potential, their offense could be a pretty impressive group.

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