May 16, 2013, 3:47 PM 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 UNH with Allen Lessels of the New Hampshire Union Leader. For more on the Wildcats’ spring, including recaps, video and more, visit our CAA Football Spring Ball Central page.
CAAFB: What were some of your observations and questions heading into New Hampshire’s spring schedule?
AL: UNH went into this spring with one of the same questions that surrounded the team last fall: Who would be the starting quarterback come the start of fall camp and the first game? Another question at the forefront was who would be picking up the defensive production lost with the graduation of senior linebackers Matt Evans and Alan Buzbee.
CAAFB: Unlike many other teams around the league, UNH only made one change to its coaching staff this offseason in hiring former QB great Ricky Santos as WR coach. What kinds of benefits do you think this minimal turnover offers the team?
AL: The UNH staff has had its share of turnover in recent years, particularly at the offensive coordinator position, and has worked through it quite well. But keeping things relatively intact can only help as far as gaining familiarity with schemes and the way the team goes about its business. That said, Santos seemed to fit right in and it appeared to take him little time to get comfortable with the players or for the players to get comfortable with him.
CAAFB: As you noted, a big battle at quarterback seems to be shaping up between junior Andy Vailas and sophomore Sean Goldrich, who split time under center in 2012. Have you heard much about how this may play out come August?
AL: Check back in late August. Goldrich won the starting job last year and won the opener over Holy Cross and then was hurt in the first series at Minnesota. Vailas took advantage of his opportunity after that and the Wildcats used both quarterbacks, sometimes at the same time, as the season progressed. McDonnell wants to select a No. 1 quarterback and the race, once again, was very tight as spring football ended and promises to continue into fall camp.
CAAFB: As you also noted, a major loss for the Wildcats will be graduated senior linebacker and 2011 Buck Buchanan Award Winner Matt Evans along with classmate Alan Buzbee. Who might we expect to step in and fill these kinds of defensive voids?
AL: Shane McNeely, a rising junior, was doing some nice things at linebacker last fall and much will be expected of him. He and Akil Anderson are penciled in at the starting linebacker spots. Redshirt freshman DeVaughn Chollette opened eyes last fall as a true freshman and is coming on strong.
CAAFB: With Nico Steriti, Jimmy Owens and Chris Setian returning, the Wildcats will likely feature one of the most potent running back corps in the conference this fall. Looking across the positions, then, what do you anticipate as some of the team’s strengths and weaknesses coming out of the spring?
AL: Yes, UNH was third in the CAA and 15th in the country at 220.8 rushing yards per game last season and should be potent again running the ball. R.J. Harris was one of the top receivers in the league as a sophomore and he and junior tight end Harold Spears should lead a productive receiving group. It remains to be seen whether the offensive line is a weakness. A couple of long-term veterans are gone. There are some talented folks to take their place, led by senior tackle Seamus O’Neill, but he and a number of other offensive linemen were either recuperating from surgery or injury in the spring and could not show their stuff. The defense gave up a lot of yards and points last year and while the loss of Evans is a concern, the coaches feel some of the young players have come a long way and are ready to step up.
CAAFB: After a national-best nine straight playoff appearances, expectations should once again be high for the Wildcats this fall. With the team’s spring schedule now behind us, would you say these expectations still hold true?
AL: Yes, the bar has certainly been raised by the success over the last decade, and I don’t think anything happened since last fall or during the spring to knock the expectations down a bit. Certainly, the players talk about wanting to go deeper into the playoffs.
CAAFB: What have you heard from Coach McDonnell? Can you give us some insight into his take on his team’s spring?
AL: He seemed to be fairly happy with the spring. He was happy with the training and conditioning side of things and feels many players have come a long way. He feels he has two quarterbacks who can win in the CAA and beyond, but wants one of them to grab the starting job and run with it. He was disappointed to be missing so many offensive linemen during the spring. He says the defense wants to redeem itself and he was happy with the way it ran to the ball, disrupted things and created turnovers in the spring game. Some of that, of course, was a result of all the injuries on the offensive line.
CAAFB: What questions still remain in your mind moving forward?
AL: Settling on a quarterback for the Sept. 7 opener at Central Michigan is a big one. Vailas had the better numbers a year ago, but the coaches seem to like the way Goldrich runs the offense. The defense must improve on last year. With a core of returners that includes junior Nick Cefalo at free safety, seniors Cody Muller and Jay Colbert on the ends and young players such as defensive backs Casey Andrade and Hayden Knudson in the backfield and Julian Turner on the line, it has the potential to do that.
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