The Quakers come into 2012 with unusual depth at offensive skill positions, lots of new names on defense, and a chip on shoulders all around. Enough familiar faces return on both sides of the ball for another run at an Ivy title.
Most of the key components return from Penn’s third-ranked Ivy scoring offense last year, in addition to several skill players who suffered season-ending injuries in 2011, to complement third-year starting quarterback Billy Ragone.
QB: Ragone will be under center for his penultimate year of eligibility looking to improve upon a solid, if inconsistent, 2011 campaign. The Chesire, Conn., native finished fifth in the Ivy League in average passing yardage and passing efficiency. Ragone doubled his number of pass completions and attempts from 2010. He was also the Quakers’ second-leading rusher.
“After last year, as coaches, we’re humbled, and as a quarterback, he’s humbled,” offensive coordinator Jon McLaughlin said. “He’s working at the details, he’s taking less for granted and I think that’s really permeating through the offense.
“One of the things I look at last year regretting is maybe asking him to do some things he wasn’t comfortable doing,” McLaughlin added. “But I think this year’s a different story. I think his confidence level is that much higher.”
Senior Andrew Holland, who moved into Ragone’s backup position after Ryan Becker injured his knee this offseason, is a more conventional pocket passer than Ragone.
RB: The Quakers enjoy the deepest rushing attack in the Ivies, boasting three running backs who have at least 690 career yards on the ground. Senior Lyle Marsh returns after playing in just six games over the last two seasons due to injury — he suffered a broken collar bone in 2010 and fractured an ankle in 2011. Senior Jeff Jack returns after rushing for 165 yards last year and finishing fourth on the team in total offense.
It’s senior Brandon Colavita, however, who figures to be the opening day starter. The Sewell, N.J., native led Penn with 665 rushing yards last season, good for fifth in the league. If the threesome can stay healthy, look for the Quakers to improve upon their fourth-place finish among the Ivies on the ground.
WR: Despite the graduation of 2011’s top receiver, Ryan Calvert, the Red and Blue still have plenty of experience to back them up. After missing all of 2011, junior Conner Scott returns and should be an instant target for Ragone.
Also returning are junior Ryan Mitchell and fifth-year senior Joe Holder, who were second and third, respectively, for Penn in receiving last season.
TE: One of the Quakers’ biggest question marks is the tight end position. Fighting to fill the shoes of three-time All-Ivy Luke Nawrocki will be senior Ryan Allen and sophomores Mitch King and Ryan O’Malley. Allen has two career receptions, two more than either King or O’Malley.
OL: The offensive line may have lost first-team All-Ivy Greg Van Roten to the Green Bay Packers practice squad, but it has gained continuity. Four starters return, although junior Jake Schwertner has switched from left guard to Van Roten’s old spot at left tackle.
“We’re a work in progress still. If we keep working we can have a good offensive line,” said McLaughlin, who also coaches the line. “We need some backup and second-string guys to develop so that we can get to our seventh, eight, ninth offensive lineman, [and] we won’t miss a beat.”
The defense is younger than the one that finished third in the Ancient Eight in total defense a year ago, but defensive coordinator Ray Priore is confident his crew has the athleticism to make up for what it lacks in experience.
“I don’t think with a young defense you install everything at once, so we’re gonna build as we go,” Priore said.
CB: This year’s cornerback crew is an experienced one with two seniors, Justyn Williams and Dave Twamley, as projected starters. Williams started every game last year, and finished with 42 tackles, the fifth-best tally on the squad.
Twamley keeps the starting role that he earned last mid-season when junior Evan Jackson was injured. He ended last year with the second-most passes defended.
Juniors Kris Martin and Dan Wilk will support the starters. Martin will transition from being primarily a special teams player.
S: For as mature as the Quakers are at cornerback, their youth is showing at safety. The now-graduated Matt Hamscher was second on the squad in tackles in 2011 with 51, and had two interceptions.
Projected to fill the void are sophomores Drew Harris and Dexter Davis, each of whom has limited game experience. Evan Jackson, who recorded seven tackles before his season was cut short after three games due to injury, transitions from cornerback to safety to provide the position with more experience as he fully recovers.
LB: Senior Steve Lias performed admirably at linebacker in 2011, and he’ll be looking to build off of last season’s strong play. He had 10 tackles against Princeton and finished the year off with 34, missing three games due to injury.
He’ll be teamed with junior David Park, who played in nine games last season, recording three tackles for a loss and two sacks.
DL: Despite the loss of Jared Sholly, who had 45 tackles and six sacks last season, you have to look no further to find the heart of the Quakers than the defensive line, where senior captain Brandon Copeland holds court.
Let’s forget for a moment the physical gifts that Copeland brings — 51 tackles, six going for a loss despite being targeted every down by the offense. He breathes life into this defense.
“When you look at what the kids’ perception of Cope is, it’s overwhelmingly positive, and there was nobody even close to him,” coach Al Bagnoli said at Penn’s media day. “So that just speaks volume of that kid, not just on the football field, where obviously he’s a terrific player, but the way he conducts himself in the locker room, the weight room, meetings.”
Senior C.J. Mooney and juniors Alex Kahn and Eric Smith will join Copeland in the rotation of defensive tackles. Flanking them will be junior Mason Smith and sophomore Mike Schmall.
Special Teams: The song remains the same for the special teams unit, which will feature the duo of sophomore Connor Loftus as placekicker and senior Scott Lopano as punter for the second straight season.
Loftus made 9-of-15 attempts last season, going 7-of-9 from 40 yards or less. Lopano averaged 37.5 yards per punt, while forcing the defense into 15 fair catches out of 53 opportunities.
Sophomore Eric Fiore is set to return punts for the Quakers, while Dexter Davis will handle kick returning duties.
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