Apr 16, 2013, 9:24 AM EDT
Editor’s Note: Over the course of April and early May, CAA Football will check in with local journalists and bloggers covering our 11 schools to get their take on their respective teams’ spring practices and spring games. Today we hear from Mike Barnes of William and Mary’s student newspaper, The Flat Hat. For more on the Tribe’s spring, including recaps, video and photos, visit our CAA Football Spring Ball Central page.
CAAFB: You’ve been following the Tribe all spring. What were some of your observations and questions heading into Saturday’s Green & Gold game?
MB: The main storyline heading into Saturday’s Green & Gold Game was the continued search for progress. After a 2-10 season, the College is looking to turn things around in all three phases of the game. On defense, the Tribe lost two key members of the secondary – B.W. Webb and Brian Thompson – and will look for the continued improvement of the young linebacker corps. On offense, the College will look to find some semblance of consistency at quarterback. Questions also abound at special teams considering the Tribe’s lackluster kicking game last year.
CAAFB: What was the environment like at Zable Stadium on Saturday?
MB: The best thing about a new year is that it’s a new year. Zable was buzzing on Saturday, ready for a new season and happy that the slate is now clean. Official attendance was estimated around 2,000.
CAAFB: What were your general impressions of Saturday’s game?
MB: I thought Saturday went well – you could definitely see some progress in all three phases. The story of the day was the defense. Five players got sacks, and the unit as a whole looked quick and aggressive. The offense started a little slower. Head coach Jimmye Laycock used five different quarterbacks on Saturday, and none of them really got in any rhythm. Wide receiver Tre McBride still managed to shine no matter who was throwing the ball. Special teams was the most obvious success, and the easiest to judge. Redshirt freshman kicker Heath Saunders hit a 47-yarder, while Kuhn connected on 2 of 3.
CAAFB: Kevin Rogers was hired as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in March. What changes have you observed on offense since his arrival?
MB: After observing a stalled offense for the last two years, Laycock decided that it was time for a change. The biggest change, according to Laycock, has been the terminology. The offense may not end up looking that different, but it will sound differently. It will be interesting to continue to observe Rogers’ work, and his influence will become more and more evident as the season draws nearer.
CAAFB: Can you comment on some of the position battles – particularly at quarterback given last season’s three starters – and who stood out to you on Saturday?
MB: Quarterback is always a mystery at William and Mary. You never know how it’s going to turn out, and Laycock holds his cards close to the vest until the week before the opener. To be honest, I’d be pretty surprised if he announced the starter before the week of the West Virginia game. That being said, it’s anyone’s ballgame.
This year is an even more open competition than ever. Five, count ‘em five, quarterbacks are said to be in the mix. Redshirt freshman Steve Cluley and sophomore Christian Brumbaugh got a lot of action in the spring game and looked to have solid mechanics. They are in the mix, but the main competition is likely between three quarterbacks who each started portions of last season. Senior Brent Caprio entered last season as the starter and has performed well for portions of last season, but he’s been injury prone and looked a little slow on Saturday. Senior Michael Graham is in a similar position, having started sparingly over the last two years, but is very experienced. Graham also had trouble finding a rhythm on Saturday. Sophomore Raphael Ortiz – arguably the most impressive quarterback from last year – is recovering from a shoulder injury but should be ready to go by the fall. In short, it’s still anyone’s game.
CAAFB: Looking across the positions, then, what do you anticipate as some of the Tribe’s strengths and weaknesses coming out of the spring?
MB: Tough to tell at this point, but the Tribe should be set at running back and wide receiver. Keith McBride returns at tailback, while Tre McBride and Sean Ballard return at wideout, with all three expected to produce. Linebacker should also be a strength with Airek Green and Luke Rhodes returning. The offensive and defensive lines look to be improved, but it’s always tough to tell at those positions.
CAAFB: You spoke to this back in February, but what role do you now see the incoming class having on the team?
MB: I think it’s a good class, and they should be a great help in providing some depth, especially along the offensive and defensive lines. There’s always the possibility that some of the offensive skill players could redshirt. It still seems like a good group to me.
CAAFB: As another follow-up to February, have there been any changes in the expectations for the team with its spring schedule now behind us?
MB: I don’t really think so. I think this team is expecting to get back on the right track, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The last two years have been disappointing, and Laycock & Co. are working to make sure that this year is different.
CAAFB: Can you give us some insight into Coach Laycock’s take on Saturday, and his team’s spring in general?
MB: Coach Laycock has been around for a long time, so he didn’t make any grand sweeping statements about the spring game. He liked how things were progressing and is looking for continued improvement, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
CAAFB: What questions still remain in your mind moving forward?
MB: I’m really interested to see how the defense turns out. They graduated a pretty accomplished group of defenders, but there is some younger talent in the secondary and with the linebackers. The offense will be a toss-up once again: If they can get the right guy under center (and keep him healthy), they might have a shot thanks to the talent around them at the skill positions. I’ll also be really interested to see how different the offense looks under Rodgers and whether any of the more battle-tested quarterbacks break out under his tutelage.
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