After the men's football team lost back-to-back games to Dartmouth and Columbia last November, taking the team out of championship contention, the question of who would replace All-Ivy quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero '11.5 this year began to surface. And the graduation of several of the team's strongest receivers only added to doubts about the offense's competitiveness in the Ivy League this season.
But these challenges do not seem to have deterred a team ready to charge into the season with a fresh core of both new and experienced players.
"We don't really deal with the guys that have left," said Head Coach Phil Estes at the Ivy League Football Media Day Teleconference last month. "It's about the guys that we have."
Coming in as starting quarterback is Patrick Donnelly '13, a veteran of the team who is no stranger to leading the Bears' offense. Donnelly got playing time two seasons ago when Newhall-Caballero was out due to a wrist injury. In eight games that season, Donnelly racked up 411 passing yards and 114 rushing yards.
Donnelly has an "outstanding arm" and a "great knowledge of our offense" that will enable him to play effectively in a variety of offensive schemes, Estes said.
And with the personnel changes that are inevitable in a college program, Estes said the team's variety of offensive strategies may be the focal point this season.
Another key change to the squad is the graduation of high-powered receivers like Alex Tounkara-Kone '11.5, who ended his final season with the Bears with a team-high 590 receiving yards.
Despite that loss, Estes said he was confident in the team's ability to adapt.
"We have a group of talented kids," he said. "And we've had some people who have really stepped up to fill that (wide receiver) role."
Jordan Evans '14 - whom Estes called the "sleeper that's been in the wings" - will be one of those new faces, coming in to complement the skills of veterans Tellef Lundevall '13 and Jonah Fay '12.5 with his "fast, good hands."
Estes said the Bears will mostly be playing with three receivers this year, which Donnelly said would still leave the team with "more than enough weapons" and allow the offense to spread opponents out defensively.
Though this shift is certainly a change for a Brown team, which has used spread formations with four and five receivers in recent years, Donnelly said the personnel changes give the Bears "more of a chance to mix things up."
Offensive Coordinator Frank Sheehan said the squad will also increase its emphasis on physicality and running the ball more effectively. The Bears finished sixth in the conference for rushing offense last season with 1,261 rushing yards overall.
Bruno's rushing attack will be led by standout running back Mark Kachmer '13, who led the team with 569 rushing yards last season. He will be joined by Spiro Theodhosi '12.5, a "great north-south runner" who was out with knee problems for two years, Estes said.
"Our running game can really help us," Estes said. "We need to hang our hats on keeping the ball moving."
It will be important for the team to not focus too heavily on either the rush game or pass game, but instead on how to best combine their strengths to create an offense that is both effective and difficult for defenders to read, Sheehan said.
"It's tough to move the ball 80 yards at four yards a clip," he added. "We're like the Jekyll and Hyde of Ivy football - we may be playing 'I-formation' one week, shotgun position the next."
A trifecta of solid tight ends will help power the reconfigured offense as well. Alex Harris '13, Andrew Marks '14 and Alex Viox '15 will give the team "a flexibility on offense we haven't had in the past," Estes said.
Though they each have different strengths and can take on varying roles, the combination will allow them to create mismatches on defense, he said.
Going into last year's game against Dartmouth - the second to last of the season - the Bears had gone six weeks without a loss and were only one game behind league leader Harvard. A 2008 championship repeat was not out of the question and hopes were high, but the Bears fell to their next two opponents to end in a four-way tie for second place. With this collapse behind him, Estes said he was excited for the season and believed strongly in this year's team, explaining that sports writers "always pick us in the middle of the pack, but we still end up near the top." The Ivy League Football Preseason Media Poll predicted a fourth-place finish for Brown, with Harvard coming in first for the second year in a row.
Donnelly echoed a similarly positive sentiment. "A lot of people who write about Ivy League football have said Brown's offense is down," he said. "But I think we can prove a lot of people wrong."