May 6, 2013, 10:19 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 talk Stony Brook with Greg Logan of Newsday. For more on the Seawolves’ spring, including recaps, photos and more, visit our CAA Football Spring Ball Central page.
CAAFB: You’ve followed the Seawolves over the course of the spring. What were some of your observations and questions heading into the spring?
GL: Obviously, Stony Brook has to replace three major weapons on offense – running back Miguel Maysonet, wide receiver Kevin Norrell and quarterback Kyle Essington. So, my major focus has been on what they are doing to reload on offense. Defensively, they lost starting safeties Dominick Reyes and Cedric Moore, so the secondary is another question mark. Finally, longtime placekicker and punter Wes Skiffington is also gone. So, all those losses represent a steep challenge as the Seawolves move into tougher CAA competition.
CAAFB: You were on hand for Sunday’s spring game. How would you describe the atmosphere at La Valle Stadium?
GL: Well, spring football at Stony Brook isn’t the same as at a big-time school like Alabama or Notre Dame. But it was a beautiful day, and there were a couple hundred curious folks like me anxious for a football fix at the end of April. When the move to the CAA becomes a reality in the fall, I’m expecting a marked increase in attention for Seawolves football even over the past couple of playoff seasons.
CAAFB: What were your general impressions of Sunday’s game?
GL: As I wrote for Newsday, the defense dominated despite a scoring system that gave the offense a 33-30, victory. There were 15 offensive possessions, and only one reached the end zone for a touchdown, while two others ended with field goals of 42 and 29 yards by Graham Ball on his only attempts. The most pleasant surprise was the work of the secondary. Returnees Christian Ricard and Naim Cheeseboro and transfers Mike Martinez and Zedrick Gardner formed a very effective four-man rotation at the two safety positions and the rover back. Ricard excelled at the rover spot near the end of last season, and he and Cheeseboro are a pair of big hitters. Except for a couple of long runs, the front seven also did a great job controlling the line of scrimmage. Given the caliber of offense played in the CAA, the performance of his defense had to be very reassuring to coach Chuck Priore, who said he also expects three or four incoming freshman defensive backs to compete for playing time as backups.
CAAFB: The Seawolves will need a new star running back following the departure of Miguel Maysonet. There has been a lot of hype around Marcus Coker, so would you comment on him and anyone else who could step in and have an impact in the program’s powerful run game?
GL: You’re exactly right about Coker, who transferred from Iowa, where he was second in Big Ten rushing in 2011. Coker broke a 43-yard run and totaled six carries for 64 yards in the scrimmage. His backups right now are Jamie Williams and transfer James Kenner, but incoming freshman Tyler Fredericks from Lawrence High on Long Island has what Priore views as the goods to compete for the backup spot behind Coker. In contrast to last season, when Priore pretty much split the offensive plays down the middle between Maysonet and Coker, there’s a strong possibility the lion’s share of carries will go to Coker, a punishing runner who thrives in a workhorse role. But Priore believes in using two backs to keep his players fresh, so the backup to Coker is a key position.
CAAFB: As you noted, two other major losses were QB Kyle Essington and WR Kevin Norrell. Who should we expect to fill those voids? Would you touch on some of the other position battles as well?
GL: Adrian Coxson, who transferred from Maryland and played sparingly last season, should start and expand his role this season. But Temple transfer Malcolm Eugene, who redshirted a year ago, will also start and is the one the coaching staff hopes will emerge as the kind of deep threat Norrell represented. There will also be a shift in the passing game to feature the tight ends more than in the past, especially because of the arrival of Florida State transfer Will Tye and 6-8 freshman Connor Davis. The new starting quarterback is Lyle Negron, who actually started Stony Brook’s first-round FCS playoff win over Villanova when Essington was injured. Negron hasn’t yet shown he can throw the deep ball as well as Essington, but while he was inconsistent in the spring game, he earned Priore’s test with a strong performance throughout spring practice. Junior transfer Conor Bednarski saw a fair amount of action and showed his arm strength, but he’s expected to redshirt this season. That leaves redshirt freshmen Carlos Hernandez and Pat D’Amato to compete for the backup position. Hernandez probably is the better passer, while D’Amato is a threat to run.
CAAFB: Looking across the positions, then, what do you anticipate as some of the Seawolves’ strengths and weaknesses coming out of the spring?
GL: Without a doubt, Stony Brook will be very strong on the offensive and defensive lines. The Seawolves return all five starting offensive linemen, including tackles Michael Bamiro and Scott Hernandez, guards Cody Precht and Fernando Diaz and center Mike Lisi. The defensive line is also an experienced group. End Victor Ochi stood out in the spring game with two sacks, and the pair of Junior Solice and Leston Simpson will rotate at the other end. Linebackers Jawara Dudley and Grant Nakwaasah are strong in the middle of the field.
CAAFB: You spoke to this back in February, but what role do you now see Stony Brook’s sizeable incoming class having on the team?
GL: Priore made it clear that he expects big things from freshman running back Fredericks along with several defensive back prospects who should add speed to the secondary. Couple that with transfer safety and rover Gardner and Martinez and transfer wide receiver Eugene, and it would appear that he’s done a good job filling in the areas where the Seawolves lost key contributors.
CAAFB: Expectations are high for the Seawolves this fall. With the team’s spring schedule now behind us, would you say these expectations still hold true?
GL: The ever-present breakaway threat represented by Maysonet the past three seasons simply can’t be replaced, and Norrell made long touchdown passes seem routine last year. In that sense, Stony Brook might not be as exciting on offense as it was and will have to grind it out a little bit more with a ball-control attack. But the defense looks as though it can get better and better, which is vital to Stony Brook’s chance of being successful in the transition to CAA Football. Even if Negron spends the majority of the season handing off to Coker and running more of a ball-control passing game, the Seawolves have the horses up front on both sides of the ball to be a legitimate title contender.
CAAFB: What have you heard from Coach Priore this spring? Can you give us some insight into his take on his team’s spring?
GL: Priore remains very confident in the running game that has been the trademark of his years at Stony Brook, and he believes he now has a physical defense good enough to win a championship. It’s not his habit to play freshmen, so, the fact that he has a few coming in that he expects to contribute right away is an indication of how the Seawolves’ recruiting has expanded to gear up for the move to the CAA. He’s anxious about the increased competition, but there was nothing magical about the past two playoff seasons in the sense that it was based on a solid foundation of talent and a physical, run-oriented approach to the game. Priore now has a program in place that is built to last.
CAAFB: What questions still remain in your mind moving forward?
GL: The two biggest questions going into Stony Brook’s first CAA season revolve around the passing game and the improved level of competition. The player with the most pressure to show he can produce is without a doubt Negron. Hernandez missed a portion of spring practice with a hamstring problem, but if Negron should falter, Hernandez has the passing ability to step in. Negron said it seems as if Stony Brook is throwing more than ever, which indicates the urgency Priore feels to get the passing game going, but if Negron develops a rapport with his tight ends, the Seawolves might turn out to be even more diverse on offense. They’ll have to be because Stony Brook will see multiple FCS Playoff-caliber opponents in the CAA. The routine routes the Seawolves recorded in the Big South are a thing of the past. But where it had to be near-perfect in the Big South, a loss or two won’t kill Stony Brook’s playoff chances in a multi-bid league like the CAA.
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