Sitting down before Harvard’s spring game on Saturday night, I tried to plan out some key position battles I would watch, figuring that the game would be a golden opportunity to gain insight into next fall.
But instead of a long list, I came away with the impression that Crimson fans have nothing to worry about in the 2008 season. After all, it’s a good sign when the battle for the third receiver and fourth quarterback spots are among your most interesting questions heading into the fall.
This is not to say that there aren’t positions where Harvard will be green in September. Indeed, the Crimson lost three starters in the secondary and moved one of the primary backups there, sophomore Ben Jenkins, to running back this spring. But Harvard still returns junior All-American cornerback Andrew Berry and sophomore corner Derrick Barker, who played as the nickel back all last season.
Replacing the safeties is a slightly bigger concern; junior Steve Sheehan, who had 12 tackles in nine games last year, will take over in one spot, while sophomore Collin Zych, who has not recorded a tackle in his college career, will hold down that position.
Beyond those two questions, the Crimson appears to be reloaded for the 2008 campaign.
The defense returns six of the front seven, and the backups at linebacker could probably start at any other school in the Ivies.
On offense, the Crimson will have three quarterbacks with game experience in fifth-year seniors Liam O’Hagan and Chris Pizzotti, who was also a First Team All-Ivy selection last season, and freshman Collier Winters. The solid depth at the position made Saturday’s work for freshmen Matt Simpson and Cameron Ely little more than a battle for fourth-string honors.
The biggest question at quarterback, for once, is not who the starter will be. While Pizzotti and O’Hagan have split starting duties for the last two seasons, there’s no doubt that Pizzotti will lead the Crimson in the Sept. 19 opener against Holy Cross.
The real quandary is how Harvard coach Tim Murphy might use O’Hagan and Winters, a pair of highly mobile quarterbacks behind the statuesque Pizzotti. Winters ran 15 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns on designed plays in six games last season and never attempted a pass, while O’Hagan has rushed 205 times for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns since 2005.
“There could be situations where we use one of the other quarterbacks because of their mobility,” Murphy says. “And that situation might be, as an example, inside the 15-yard line where obviously the zones are compressed to throw the football, it helps to have a quarterback who can run and throw.”
Of course, there should be more of a running game to take the pressure off the passing game. Sophomore Cheng Ho and freshman Gino Gordon will be back, and Jenkins’ move to the running back position was one of the pleasant surprises of spring practice.
Those three should have plenty of holes to run through with the return of most of Harvard’s offensive line. Replacing NFL signee Andrew Brecher doesn’t look as intimidating with three starters—as well as former starter Tom Rodger—returning to the Crimson lineup. First team All-Ivy pick James Williams is back at one tackle spot, and sophomore Alex Spisak has made a smooth transition to center from the defensive line where he played last season.
The wideouts will be deep again as well. Despite the loss of Corey Mazza ’07-’08 and Matt Lagace ’08, the Crimson returns loads of experience in sophomores Matt Luft and Mike Cook along with junior Alex Breaux.
In the end, the spring game, while low on competition, was high on excitement for the Harvard program. With so many top players back—including 12 All-Ivy selections from last season—2008 is already shaping up to be a great year for the Crimson.
—Staff writer Brad Hinshelwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.