Make no mistake: this Yale football team will have the ability to score points in bunches. The question is whether the defense will be able to prevent each game from turning into a shootout.
Saturday’s scrimmage with Princeton demonstrated the explosive capabilities of the Eli offense. Alvin Cowan ’04 showed no ill effects from the leg injury that kept him sidelined after the second week of last season, leading the team on consecutive scoring drives in the second quarter.
With the quarterbacks wearing red practice jerseys over their uniforms to keep them from being hit, one of Cowan’s primary assets — making plays while scrambling outside the pocket — was severely limited. Last season, Cowan set a Yale record by accounting for six touchdowns — three running and three passing — in an opening day victory over San Diego.
Saturday, Cowan displayed his prowess in the pocket, showing that he also can be effective even when stationary.
“Every QB would tell you that you have to try and work to be good on everything that you do,” Cowan said.Ê”I would never want to be characterized as a guy who does one thing better than another. I would want to try and be considered good at everything. Outside the pocket or inside, I think it’s important for the team to have a quarterback who can do both. It just allows you to keep defenses off balance.”
Jeff Mroz ’05 also played with the first-team offense and converted three consecutive third-down passes — although one was called back due to penalty — when the running game stalled and left the offense in third-and-long situations. Although he will begin the season as the backup, Mroz has already shown he can lead a team to victory, and he will be an invaluable asset coming off the bench.
The duo of Robert Carr ’05 and David Knox ’06 will split the touches from the backfield, and the tandem could provide the Elis with one of the top ground games in the Ivy League.
Ê”Robert Carr is a returning first-team All-Ivy player, and David Knox is an outstanding back in his own right,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “We plan on using them both and hope to have fresh legs in the fourth quarter of every game and fresh legs for 10 games.”
Saturday, Siedlecki exploited the possibilities of having two stud backs on a goal line play in the second quarter. After the Yale defense forced a Princeton fumble inside the Tiger 25, the Eli offense turned to Knox, who helped bring Yale to the one-yard-line on the strength of a string of solid runs. On first-and-goal, Siedlecki sent Carr into the backfield and had Knox line up on the right side of the line as a receiver. Instead of looking to Knox again, however, Cowan pitched the ball left to Carr, who found the corner of the end zone.
To a man, the Elis admit that the strength of this team resides in the offensive skill positions. With Nate Lawrie ’04, a returning second-team All-Ivy tight end, and a deep and talented receiving corps led by P.J. Collins ’04, Ron Benigno ’04, Ralph Plumb’ 05 and Chandler Henley ’06, the Elis will have no shortage of weapons with which to attack.
Ê”I fully expect all those guys to be relied on in different situations,” Cowan said. “They make for, hands down, the most talented receiving corps in the league. Nate [Lawrie] is obviously someone that defenses are going to have to make special concessions for, being an All-Ivy guy and an NFL prospect. Hopefully, that allows Rob Carr and David Knox to run all over things.”
But the fate of this Eli team will hinge on how the rebuilt defense holds up. Last year’s entire defensive line — four All-Ivy selections in first-teamer Jason Lange ’03, second-teamer Stuart Satullo ’03 and honorable mentions Luke Mraz ’03 and Mark Patterson ’03 — has graduated, leaving an enormous void. Bryant Dieffenbacher ’04 and Willie Cruz ’05 will be called upon to shoulder much of the load.
“The big perceived weakness in our defense is our defensive line and defensive ends, but I know this will not be a weakness for our team this year,” Dieffenbacher said. “We will be starting a lot of guys who do not have much experience at these positions, but the D-line and D-ends have greatly improved since spring ball.”
The linebacking corps will be solid, especially up the middle with Ken Estrera ’04 and Ben Breunig ’05, but if the linemen have problems generating a pass rush or stopping the run on their own, the Elis will be forced to put more men in the box and consequently lose flexibility.
ÊAnother question mark will be the secondary, particularly the void left by the knee injury to returning second-team All-Ivy member Barton Simmons ’04. Saturday, the Elis allowed a 40-yard touchdown pass with just seconds left in the first half.
“Obviously, Barton’s [Simmons] injury was a huge loss to our defense because he is a veteran leader that really solidifies our secondary,” Estrera said. “When an injury like this happens, it provides an opportunity for someone else to step up, and this was not a problem with the talent our team has.”