Yesterday, this newspaper ran a lengthy article about Quakers quarterback Gavin Hoffman. The day before that, we wrote about the depth of Penn's receiving corps. And as anyone familiar with Penn football knows, the biggest story out of this year's camp has been Kris Ryan and the high-ankle sprain he suffered several weeks ago. Ryan, Hoffman and the receivers. They're critical to Penn's offensive success this season, but just as crucial are the five men who will line up in front of Hoffman each week. Ryan got his cast removed yesterday. Although Penn coach Al Bagnoli described him as "very doubtful" for Saturday's contest at Lehigh, he should be fine once the Ivy League games start popping up on the schedule. He should, and probably will, be the best running back in the Ancient Eight once again this season. Hoffman is likely the preseason favorite to capture the first team All-Ivy quarterback spot, and with Doug O'Neill, Rob Milanese, Jason Battung, Colin Smith and friends, the Quakers have depth at wide receiver that no other Ivy squad can match. In terms of skill positions, Penn has a leg up on the competition. But as the graphic on the front of this sports section tells you, there are merely two days to kickoff, and the biggest mystery for this 2000 edition of the Pennsylvania Quakers is how the offensive line will perform when they step onto the field this weekend. Of the five men who will line up across from the Lehigh defensive front, four did not start for Penn last season. Only left guard Sam Gottesman will return from last year's starting line. The others -- right tackle Jeff Hatch, right guard Randy Parker, center Matt Dukes and left tackle John Zepeda -- are virtual unknowns to Quakers fans. Hatch, a senior, did not even play on the offensive side of the ball until this season. When you consider the inexperience of the line, coupled with having Ryan on the sidelines, it could be a long day for the Penn rushing game on Saturday. "Not having Kris and having a young offensive line against a very experienced defense, we have reason to be very concerned," Bagnoli said. Well, Bagnoli is right, there is definitely reason for concern. The Engineers are ranked No. 21 in the ESPN/USA Today Division I-AA poll. So Saturday's game would be a tough matchup for the Quakers any way you want to look at it -- with or without Ryan, with a young line or with an offensive front of All-Ivy studs. Perhaps it's best this way. It's tough to know what to expect from this quintet of linemen. Their inexperience could turn out to be a non-factor this season -- allowing Hoffman time to read defenses and hit his receivers and opening up holes large enough for Ryan and Mike Verille to bust through like freight trains. It is unlikely, however, that this year's line will be able to replace the leadership and skill of last season's group, which included All-Ivy performers Carmelo Rubano and Jason Lebron. But unlike last year's Quakers, this year's team will not be thrown into the Ivy fire in the first week of the season. For the first time since 1994, Penn will face a non-league opponent in its opening game. And for only the second time since 1955, the Red and Blue will actually have two games to gear up before meeting their first Ancient Eight foes. The first two games could serve as a learning experience for the linemen, allowing them to feel more comfortable before Dartmouth comes to town. With a slew of talented returning players at the skill positions and with a new pass-friendly offense installed by new offensive coordinator Andy Coen, the Quakers could put up a lot of points during this year's Ivy campaign. But much of it depends on a group of five men who have never lined up side-by-side in a game situation. This year, however, at least they have time.Comments powered by Disqus
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