Forgive members of the Yale football team if they happen to sport a chip on their shoulder pads.
Much has been made of the players lost from last season — the leading rusher in Yale history, the leading receiver and the leading point scorer, not to mention four members of the First-team All-Ivy defensive squad.
This year’s Bulldogs know they have big shoes to fill and frankly, they are tired of hearing about it.
“We are not thinking about who we lost,” said Keith Reams ’02, one of the receivers taking over for Eric Johnson ’01 and Tommy McNamara ’01, two of the leading receivers in Yale history. “It is our season right now.”
Johnson, McNamara, running back Rashad Bartholomew ’01 and offensive lineman Matt Proto ’01 are the main personnel losses the Yale offense must overcome this year.
Because of the toll graduation took on the team, many pundits have picked the Bulldogs to finish in the lower half of the Ivy League. But this year’s Yale squad is not taking stock in what the media has to say.
While many new starters may be untested, they are nearly as talented as those who just graduated, said center David Farrell ’03, a returning starter.
“Being under the gun right now is what we really need. We are just itching to play,” he said.
Here is a breakdown of the 2001 Yale offense:
In 2000, Peter Lee ’01 faced the same task many of his teammates are dealing with this year — how to replace one of the great players in Yale history, in his case, quarterback Joe Walland ’00.
Lee responded with one of the most prolific passing seasons in Eli history, setting a school record with 192 completions and tying the mark for touchdown passes with 19.
While the team will count on him to put up more stellar numbers, Lee also will need to be a stabilizing influence at the helm of an inexperienced offense.
Lee must stick to Yale’s offensive game plan and not try to force things to happen, head coach Jack Siedlecki said. Yale was second in all of college football last year in turnover ratio, in part because of Lee’s wise decision making. The senior threw only nine interceptions all season, the second lowest total of any regular starting quarterback in the Ivy League.
T.J. Hyland ’01, who competed with Lee for the starting position before last season, will serve as the team’s backup signal-caller. After a couple of early lapses, Hyland looked impressive in Yale’s scrimmage against Union Sept. 1.
The offensive line this year will feature a mix of veterans and inexperienced players. A trio of seasoned veterans — center David Farrell ’03 and guards Kyle Metzler ’02 and Ben Sproul ’02 — anchor the inside of the line. At the two tackles, Matt Lewis ’03, a converted tight end, and Nick Sinatra ’03 are expected to assume the starting duties.
“We are much more athletic on the offensive line than most teams are, but we are nowhere near as big,” Siedlecki said. The line will have to make up for its lack of size by utilizing its speed and agility in protecting the quarterback.
Siedlecki sees his inside three of Farrell, Metzler and Sproul as first team All-Ivy candidates, if they stay healthy. The trio also needs to take a leadership role on the offense, especially in aiding the development of Lewis and Sinatra, who have seen very limited action at the varsity level.
Jay Schulze ’03 and Pat Bydume ’04 will split time at the tailback position. By having the two play equal time, Siedlecki hopes to have two pairs of fresh legs to run at opposing defenses late in the game.
Schulze rushed for 399 yards on 89 carries last year while backing up Bartholemew. Bydume, third on the team in rushing last year with 102 yards on 36 carries, is regarded as the better runner of the duo, and Schulze the more effective pass protector.
James Keppel ’02 will round out the backfield serving as a pass-catching fullback. The senior back, slowed by a knee injury all last year, will attempt to regain his sophomore year form, when he earned First-team All-Ivy honors catching 32 passes for 345 yards.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
While it will be hard to improve upon last year’s wideout corps, which featured Yale’s first and third all-time reception leaders, this year’s wide receivers hope to capitalize on their quickness.
“We have a lot of speed, more so than we have had in my three years here,” Reams said. “One of the keys offensively is to make runs after the catch and get downfield.”
Reams and Billy Brown ’02 will headline Lee’s new set of targets, which also will include Ron Begnino ’04 and P.J. Collins ’04. Reams and Brown — fourth and fifth on the team in receiving last year — have missed time this preseason with injuries, but are expected to return to practice today and be ready for the season opener Saturday against Towson.
At tight end, Jeff Ditman ’02 will assume the starting duties for the second year in a row. Last season, the sure-handed receiver caught 11 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
The kicking game has been one of Siedlecki’s biggest concerns this off-season. The strong-footed Justin Davis ’02 returns to handle kickoffs this year, a role he has filled for more than two seasons. Davis has the power to boot the ball deep and his size makes him an above average tackler for a kicker.
Davis will take on a new role this year, replacing Mike Murawczyk ’01 as place kicker. In the Union scrimmage, Davis was solid on point after attempts and he has the power to split the uprights from further distances. But to succeed, the place kicking will need precision in all aspects — solid blocking, an accurate snap, a good hold, and straight kick from Davis.
Nate Lawrie ’04 will most likely take over the punting duties from Johnson, who holds the school season record in average yards per punt.