While the insidious machinations of Wharton courses are still a few weeks away, the members of the Penn football team are in the midst of dealing with a learning curve of their own. With their season opener just 16 days away, the Quakers are working furiously to adjust to a new offensive system, a slew of personnel changes and -- as always -- the bumps and bruises that come along with the start of preseason practice. The Penn coaching staff has been running its players through the gauntlet since they returned to West Philadelphia. The Quakers have been practicing twice every day since last Friday, often with full equipment and contact. "Right now we're just trying to work on getting better," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "We've got some positions where we need some growth and where we have relative inexperience. We're also in the process of adjusting to a new offense run by a new offensive coordinator in Andy Coen." Although Bagnoli claims there aren't many "philosophical differences" between Penn's new offense and the one designed by Chuck Priore -- who left Penn after last season to take head coaching responsibilities at Trinity College -- there are still a bevy of adjustments that the Red and Blue must make. Coen served as an offensive assistant at Lehigh for the past six seasons and helped architect a balanced attack that led the Engineers to the first-ever win for a non-scholarship school in the Division I-AA playoffs. "We'll feature a little bit more sophistication in terms of the passing game, where I think we were a little more sophisticated in the running game last year," Bagnoli said. It's lucky for Penn that it brings back an experienced quarterback in junior Gavin Hoffman. The signal-caller is coming off a campaign in which he broke the Penn single-season records for passing yards (2,328) and completions (200), but he is also now getting used to his third offensive scheme in as many seasons. Hoffman transferred to Penn from Northwestern before the 1999 season. "Gavin's doing real well considering this is his third different offensive system," Bagnoli said. Hoffman's targets look to be in tip-top shape as Penn has a solid corps of returning wide receivers. Senior captain Doug O'Neill will head a group that also includes Hoffman's favorite 1999 target, junior Rob Milanese, as well as junior Colin Smith. The Penn backfield also boasts a nucleus of returning talent. Junior tailback Kris Ryan, who led the Ivy League with 1,197 rushing yards last season, will return to the Franklin Field turf this year, but he is currently watching practice from the sidelines. Ryan went down with an injured ankle on Monday, and coaches were nervous that the 235-pound back might have broken a bone in his left leg. As it turns out, Ryan just has what Bagnoli termed "a pretty good ankle sprain." "It's a moderate ankle sprain," Bagnoli said. "We're being very cautious about bringing him back. We're not even sure that we'd want him to play against Millersville [in a scrimmage to be held on Saturday]. We just want him to be healthy." Matt Thomas, who was second on the team to Ryan in rushing yards last season, has opted not to return to the Quakers this year. So, with Ryan looking on for the time being, senior Mike Verille and sophomore fullback Todd Okolovitch have gotten more than their share of practice time over the past week. On both the offensive and defensive lines, Penn has lost a number of key players to graduation. As a result, these still-sultry days are important for the Quakers coaching staff to decide who will get the starting nod come opening day. This Saturday, the Red and Blue will travel to Millersville, Pa., to take on Millersville in a preseason scrimmage. Both that contest and the season opener at Lehigh will take place on natural grass, so Penn has spent a good chunk of its practice time on the live stuff on Bower FieldComments powered by Disqus
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