2006 Football Preview: Grading the Positions

Offense:

Quarterback: The good news is that starting quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 had a perfect 2005, completing 100 percent of his passes. The catch is that when Polhemus fires his first pass on Saturday afternoon, it will be only the second of his entire collegiate career. Polhemus no doubt showed promise during a single series at the tail end of last year’s blowout at Columbia, where he flashed his signature speed with a dazzling 25-yard run. Otherwise, little is known about the 21-year-old who spent his first two years in the Elm City in the shadow of Jeff Mroz ’05 and who will see his first big game action since leading Philips Exeter to a perfect season in 2003. Polhemus beat out Ryan Fodor ’09 in the waning days of pre-season practices, but the cannon-armed sophomore will stick around on the varsity squad after getting considerable playing time during the Aug. 31 scrimmage against Princeton. Grade: Incomplete

Offensive Line: With first-timer Polhemus lining up under center, a solid and experienced offensive line could make the difference between a smooth transition and a frighteningly jittery September. Luckily, the entire Mroz bodyguard crew from 2005 is back up front, with veterans LT Ed McCarthy ’07 and LG Brett Crandall ’07 leading a line that only allowed 11 sacks in 2005. With the towering four-year starter McCarthy, who was just named top offensive tackle in all of Division I-AA football by the Sports Network, anchoring a mature crew, the prognosis here is quite positive. Grade: A

Tight Ends: When starting tight end Alex Faherty ’06 went down with a groin injury before the first snap of 2005, the job fell in the hands of junior Dave Miller ’07 and sophomore Langston Johnson ’08. Both filled in for a while, with Miller even stepping it up with a touchdown in the season opener against San Diego, but neither was a presence on the offense during Faherty’s four-game absence. Now that Faherty has graduated, Miller and Johnson get another chance to prove their mettle. Grade: B-

Running Backs: Mike McLeod ’09, 2005 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, picked up right where he left off last fall when he exploded for two touchdowns, including one off a 59-yard run, on the FieldTurf at the Princeton scrimmage two weeks ago. The New Britain sensation rushed for 689 yards and six touchdowns in his freshman year, the last of which was a five-yard rush that capped off Yale’s dominant first half and, at the time, seemed to slam the door on Harvard at The Game. On the other hand, Jordan Spence’s ’07 final play of 2005 was forgettable, an end zone fumble in the first overtime that all but secured the Elis’ historic collapse. Still, the small yet scrappy five-foot-eight senior’s 468 yards were good enough for eighth in the Ivies. Yet there is little beyond the two studs at the top of the depth chart, and barring some unforeseen emergence in the backfield, the Bulldogs may be doomed to repeat as only sixth-best rush offense in the Ancient Eight. Grade: B

Receivers: The Cornell backfield might still be having nightmares about Ashley Wright ’07. The All-Ivy receiver terrorized the Big Red at the Bowl last September, tallying three touchdowns and tying a school record with 198 yards. But this was a mere day in a season full of accolades, in which Wright nabbed top ranking in just about every receiving category imaginable — catches, yards, touchdowns, and yards per game. The void left by receiver Alex Feiereisen ’06 and Chris Denny-Brown ’08, who is taking this semester off, will be filled by 2006 captain Chandler Henley ’07. The 2004 honorable mention All-Ivy wideout is back in action after missing all of last season with a collarbone injury. Henley was a good receiver, with 73 catches over three years, but only time will tell how he gels with Polhemus. Grade: B+

Defense:

Defensive Tackle: What the D-Line lacks in depth, it makes up for in experience. The Elis return two starters and will look to Brandt Hollander ’08 to help lead the defense this season. The all-Ivy honorable mention awardee has 72 career tackles and five career sacks to his name. Hollander started all 10 games last season and was the most prolific interior lineman. Defensive tackle Kirk Porter ’08 is another starting lineman who returns for the Bulldogs. Porter’s 21 solo tackles are the most of any returning lineman. Grade: A-

Defensive End: The Bulldogs need leading pass rusher Brendan Sponheimer ’07 (54 overall tackles) to guide a group of talented ends who lack Sponheimer’s game experience. Chris Wright ’07 played just half of last season due to an injury, and Michael McGinity ’07 will transfer from the linebacker spot. If the Bulldogs get strong contributions from Kyle Hawari ’09 and Brady Hart ’09, this may be a solid position for Yale. Grade: B

Linebacker: The loss of Lee Driftmier ’07, who led Yale last year in tackles (54 solo, 89 overall) and tied for the team lead in interceptions, will be hard to recover from. It will be up to Bobby Abare ’09, Michael Woodson ’07 and Chris Barry ’07 to compensate. Bobby Abare led all rookies last year with 14 solo tackles and 31 total and shared Special Teams Player of the Year honors with his brother, Larry, so he may be able to step up to fill Driftmier’s void. Grade: C+

Secondary: The secondary position took the biggest hit with the graduation of the class of 2006. The Elis lost four starters, including Nick Solakian ’07, who recently had surgery and will not be able to play this year. John Coombs ’08, a reserve DB and special teams player, and Larry Abare ’09 represent the most experienced candidates for the secondary positions. Until the coaching staff can assess how well the new safeties and cornerbacks can stand up to game pressure, the defensive backs are major question marks for the Bulldogs. Grade: C

Special Teams:

Placekicker: The Bulldogs return kicker Alan Kimball ’08, who struggled with his field goal attempts last year. He capitalized on just five of 10 opportunities, landing himself tied for last place in the Ivy League standings. Kimball showed more promise kicking points after touchdowns, going 27 of 30 during the 2005 season. His 90 percent PAT completion put him fourth among Ancient Eight placekickers. Kimball’s best showing came at Yale’s 37-3 blowout of Columbia, when he nailed three field goals. Grade: B

Punters: Wide receiver Ashley Wright ’07 doubles as the Elis’ primary punter. Wright averaged 34.1 yards last year, putting Yale at the bottom of the Ivy League punting statistics. Wright’s career-best punt, a 64-yard bullet, came at San Diego in the Bulldogs’ 2005 season opener. Backup punter David Silberstein ’08 lacks experience but could provide depth to Yale’s punting if called upon. Grade: B+

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