Most teams would be concerned if their previous season’s only returning wide receiver finished the year with three catches for 17 yards. However, most teams don’t have two of the top eight rushers in the Ivy League.
Despite losing all three starting wide receivers to graduation, the Elis look to be in good shape on offense with superstar running back Mike McLeod ’09 and quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08. McLeod led the Ivy League in rushing with 1,364 yards, and Polhemus finished with 424 rushing yards on only 74 carries. Polhemus even managed to outgain every Dartmouth running back. Having a dual threat at quarterback was a huge advantage for the Bulldogs last year as Polhemus demonstrated a unique ability to make something out of nothing. Unsurprisingly, the Bulldogs will once again rely primarily on their rushing attack to carry the offense.
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”13686″ ]
But the Elis will have to find some way to replace the production of Chandler Henley ’07, Ashley Wright ’07 and D.J. Shooter ’07 or risk becoming completely one-dimensional on offense.
The graduates will no doubt be missed. In last year’s nail-biter against Brown, Wright set up McLeod’s game-winning touchdown run with an impressive 71 yard reception. Wright ran a short route near the line of scrimmage, broke a tackle, and then sprinted to the five-yard line before finally being brought down. Without a gamebreaker like Wright at wide receiver, opposing defenses will not suffer the consequences of selling out against the run.
In fact, even with All-Ivy first team selection Wright catching balls, the Bulldogs finished last in the Ivies in passing offense with only 143.7 yards per game.
This year, the Elis will look to better last year’s production while completely rebuilding their receiving corps. Currently, the leading candidates to start are Chris Denny-Brown ’08, Jarrett Drake ’09 and John Sheffield ’10.
“I think that John Sheffield will contribute greatly to this team,” Polhemus said. “He has great hands, runs crisp routes and can make catches in traffic. Expect to be hearing his name a lot. Also, [Denny-Brown] has come in and started right where he left off. He’s a speedy receiver who has a good knowledge of the game and can make some acrobatic catches.”
After finishing third on the team in 2005 with 32 catches for 366 yards, Denny-Brown missed all of last year due to injury.
With little proven talent at wideout, the Elis are counting on Denny-Brown to set an example for their young receiving corps. In addition to starting at wide receiver, Denny-Brown will do double duty as the team’s primary punt returner.
“Chris Denny-Brown is definitely the leader of the new receiving corps and has had an excellent preseason,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “Jarrett Drake gets better every day and is working extremely hard in practice. John Sheffield will fill a diverse role as hybrid H-back, tight end and wide receiver.”
The Bulldogs will also be relying on a talented freshman class to provide depth behind Denny-Brown, Drake and Sheffield. Jordan Forney ’11, at 6’4” and 191 pounds, has the size of a prototypical wide receiver and will be given the opportunity to showcase his talents in the season opener against Georgetown on Saturday.
Despite the lack of a big-name threat at wide receiver, national voters don’t seem too concerned. This is the first time in Bulldog history that the Yale football team made the national Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) preseason rankings, with a 24th place spot in the FCS Coaches’ poll.
“It’s an honor to have people show you that kind of respect,” captain Brandt Hollander ’08 said. “Now we have to go out and prove that we deserve it.”