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Richardson, receivers dominate in preseason’s first two-a-day action

August 22, 2009

Though today’s visit was my first, this morning’s practice marked the seventh day of TCNJ football’s preseason training camp.

Oh, baby.

The squad’s AM training period marked the first installment of the preseason’s two double sessions. The Lions are scheduled to follow the morning workout with tonight’s 8:00 pm practice under the lights at Lions’ Stadium. A late start means I’ve got a lot of ground to make up, though I’ll chronicle the rest of the team’s progress toward its goal of a postseason berth.

I spent most of the day watching the quarterbacks and receivers work to improve a passing attack that averaged just over 207 yards per game (fifth in NJAC).The unit should thrive under the leadership of four different three-year lettermen at wideout, headlined by senior captain and two-time All-NJAC performer Cam Richardson (2nd-Team ’08; HM ’07). Offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta’s second season as offensive coordinator should only yield improvement for a Lions’ offense that posted 27 points per game (fifth in NJAC). Entering his final season in Trenton, Chris James’ performance may be the linchpin of the unit’s success, and he’ll look to improve upon a mediocre 2008 campaign during which he completed fewer than 56% of his passes (12 TDs, seven INTs).

Here are some notes and observations from earlier today:

  • Senior wideouts Mark Gardner, Colin Weber and Erick Hendrickson accompanied Richardson during reps with the first-team offense.

Gardner may be the most physically gifted of the four. The 6’3, 195 pound Texas-native’s wide frame and long limbs should make man-to-man coverage difficult for more compact corners. Largely the beneficiary of his track experience, the two-sport letterman’s game also features excellent breakaway speed, making him a likely favorite as a possession target and vertical threat, should Acosta choose to stretch the field.

Weber and Richardson’s are phenomenal route-runners, most evidenced by how consistently they’re able to separate themselves from DBs out of breaks. Weber may be on the taller side, though he doesn’t lack the athleticism and agility to get low and maintain his balance during distinct changes of direction. Richardson is probably the most complete target on the offense. The guy does everything.

Though the team’s outstanding talent at the position tends to overshadow Hendrickson, his gritty toughness and work ethic compensate for marginal shortcomings in athleticism.

  • Earlier in the morning, slick conditions were clearly bothersome during position drills.

Just about everybody fell down in change-of-direction exercises. Though 2009 features significantly fewer two-a-days than previous years, I’m sure the grind of an otherwise intense camp is taking its toll. Especially for the receivers, and especially for their legs.

  • During screen drills, Richardson and Weber hauled in most of the balls.

It makes sense that the two are the most likely targets for a series that demands exemplary vision and first-step quickness.

  • I was impressed with the regimen that the program’s training staff has implemented, requiring that injured players stick to a strict rehabilitation program,that utilize resistance training and core work.

It would be easy to write off the improvement as a minor upgrade, but I’ll be willing to bet that the team will be able to maintain its depth better than it has in previous years. I haven’t heard about any major injuries, mostly hamstring pulls and other soft-tissue ailments. Kavan Latham’s injured (–) has sidelined the junior defensive tackle a majority of the week, but this minor ailment may be the team’s most serious health concern.

  • Not much of a surprise, but James had himself a day.

He’s never failed to deliver throws with velocity, but he looked more accurate than I’ve seen him in quite some time. I’ve seldom seen the touch he displayed on a lob over Richardson’s shoulder on a corner route during the morning’s one-on-one session vs. the defense.

  • I was disappointed to see so little of senior quarterback Bill Picatagi, who had to take himself out of drills early in the day.

His teammates told me that the 2007 transfer from Pace has been prescribed mild diuretics for an ongoing heart condition. Not a big cause for concern. James should start, though Acosta often works Pic (history’s worst-ever nickname for a quarterback) into the mix to operate the offense’s read option rushing attack. Neither I, nor anyone that I talk to can put a finger on it, but he almost guarantees  positive yardage on every carry.

  • Overall, few balls hit the ground while the first team took the field.

Though that’s not to say that the Lions’ secondary is soft. The defense returns a number of starters and finally gets senior captain Ryan Flannery back from last year’s (–). If
you’re concerned, don’t be. He hasn’t lost a step.

  • Matt Krieder looks like he’ll be the defensive backfield’s rising star.

After brief stints at fullback and linebacker, the junior safety from Delran High seems to have found his niche. He accounted for the unit’s lone takeaway, coming up with an opportunistic interception
while lined up against Richardson. He definitely knows what kind of talent he’s facing, but he seems up for the challenge.

I’m regretfully not going to be able to make it to tonight’s practice, another unique opportunity to get an early read on a Lions’ squad just one short season removed from a share of a much-coveted conference title. Sure, it’s easy to look good in August (i.e. Hard Knocks’ courteous portrayal of an abysmal Kansas City Chiefs), but first impressions bode confidence and suggest big improvements after a disappointing 4-6 finish in 2008. I’ll be at tomorrow’s practice, paying particularly close attention to the defensive secondary that hopes to integrate young talent into a core of seasoned veterans.

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