Notes from football media day


Monday was Penn football media day down at Franklin Field, and there seemed to be a renewed sense of optimism as Penn was voted second in the preseason media poll.

I wrote a feature in the Welcome Back issue of the DP on the new rushing-focused offense centered around quarterback Keiffer Garton. Meanwhile, fellow editor/Buzz writer Noah Rosenstein did a complementary story on the offensive line, possibly the only thing slowing down the new offense heading into the season. (We also have some other good stories on second-tier sports, so be sure to check out the new issue.)

But as always due to space limitations we couldn't fit everything into the print edition (coach Al Bagnoli spoke to reporters for roughly 20 minutes, after all). So here are some extra thoughts/tidbits I got from the team. (You can get partial audio for Bagnoli's interview and Garton's over at Soft Pretzel Logic.)

1) According to Bagnoli, senior quarterback Kyle Olson has fully recovered from his knee injury he suffered against Brown last year, and has participated in all of the team's practices. "It’s kind of an added bonus," Bagnoli said. While he could see some snaps at quarterback as the No. 2 -- "There's no doubt, Keiffer's our starting quarterback," Bagnoli said -- Olson's most important contribution will be as the punter. Last year he averaged 38.5 yards per punt, including a team-high 57-yard boot.

2) Speaking of special teams, I was very impressed with junior kicker Andrew Samson. He's gotten a lot of preseason attention after an All-American year (16-for-19 on field goals and 20-for-20 PATs). When asked if he paid attention to all the hype, he replied that "it's great to be recognized for what I did last year, but I'm not really looking into it since it's what I do during the season that matters." That might seem like he's being modest for modesty's sake, but he seemed sincere.

In short, I got the impression he was very calm, cool, collected and mature. Just the attributes you want in a kicker when the game's on the line.

3) The Quakers will be tested right off the bat. They open with Villanova, who was ranked fifth with two first-place votes, in the Football Championship Subdivision preseason media poll. "I can think of easier games to open with," Bagnoli laughingly said. At the same time, he did mention that in five of the last six seasons the rivalry game (if you want to call it that) went down to the wire, though 'Nova won them all. It'll be interesting to see if this year's game is similar to the five (average margin of defeat five points) or if it's closer to the 34-14 Villanova beating in 2007.

4) Chalk it up to his offensive line coaching experience at Penn, but new offensive coordinator Jon McLaughlin definitely seemed like a no-frills, blue-collar (as much as I hate that expression in sports) coach. He emphasized technique and fundamentals, saying "more teams lose games than win games" due to as few as "one or two mistakes." The offense he'll run as play caller won't be finesse as much as hard-nosed physical running, but I can definitely see why the players are buying into his philosophy. Looks like Bagnoli made a smart choice hiring from within.

5) Though Garton believes the possibilities for the offense are endless, they'll be ended quickly if Garton doesn't progress as a passer. Last year he was 41-for-68 with a 1:5 TD-INT ratio, though Bagnoli seemed very pleased with his improvement in the vertical passing game. While I'll believe that, if opponents stack eight in the box or shut down the perimeter let's see just how well Garton can stand in the pocket and zip in a ball 30 yards downfield.

H0wever, it seems that Garton does have the intangibles down. "He's got some of those instinctive leadership qualities that you want, that competitive people have," Bagnoli said of the junior.

Note: I got to give credit to Noah who attended media day with me and transcribed Bagnoli's, Garton's and McLaughlin's interviews.

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