KHQA BARNSTORM TOUR CAMP REPORT:
Projected Team Strengths: Size on the Offensive and Defensive Line, Team Speed, Running Back
Projected Question Marks: Defensive Backfield, Passing Game
BRAVE NEW WORLD: With Bill Reed having vacated his Offensive Coordinator duties to become the High School Principal at Auburn, CSE Football is now fully Brad Dixon's show. Really, the vibe hasn't changed all that much from last year, other than the fact that I saw Dixon (a constant whir of activity anyway and one of the most positively kinetic people in coaching) climb into the Crow's Nest to film Offensive Drills (never saw that from a head coach before) and that Alex Ebbing has taken on a much more vocal role in his assistant duties. This is a staff with really good energy. It would be a fun group to play for. This was also the Panthers first official practice as a WIVC School. I think that circumstance paints CSE with a rather large bull's eye. These are the defending West Central Conference champs and I think the kids in Brown County and Triopia are eager to prove the gap between those two leagues isn't nearly what people paint it out to be. Coach Dixon was quick to defuse any talk that his team may be any kind of "de facto" league favorite coming in but Douglas Weese in particular pointed out how excited he was to have his team make a statement against the WIVC North's best in this first season.
BIG MEN ON CAMPUS: I counted nine Panther Offensive and Defensive Linemen who weighed 210 pounds or better in practice this morning and Brad Dixon thinks his eventual starting O-Line could average 230 pounds across the front. Size isn't the only benefit here. The Panthers return four of their five starters from last year's undefeated squad, including the now fully healthy Drew Miller, who sat out much of last season early with a knee injury. Miller, who has dropped nearly 30 pounds from last season and is down to 275 pounds, is no longer wearing a knee brace and appears to be as healthy and mobile as he has ever been. To wit, Miller put on a clinic on the five-man-sled at one point this morning, lining up on the far left side and nearly spinning the sled in a circle on the sheer force of his efforts alone. Bottom line: if you are WIVC Defensive Lineman, you better not let this kid make initial contact with you. To quote Wingback Dalton Heubner: "Our Offensive Line are monsters. They have to be one of the best in the area." High praise indeed.
THE SWEATER SONG: Another 2011 MASH unit victim who looked really good today was Quarterback Seth Leezer. Leezer missed the second half of last season with a knee injury and had to sit on the sidelines powerlessly while Jonah Coggeshall filled in under center. Leezer has roared back with what must have been a heck of an off-season. He's got the knee brace off and moved really fluidly in all drills. He also worked his tail off in the off-season to get into really good shape. No disrespect, but last year's Seth Leezer wasn't winning any condition drill among the team's skill position players. This Seth Leezer finished first in every endurance run on the day and looked effortless in doing so. I am also told the Panthers broke up into nine different off-season teams, each with a Senior Captain and a list of group weight room and conditioning objectives. Leezer's team beat everyone else in camp. To be honest, I am not sure I saw Seth throw a pass in live action last year. Based on my conversations with the Panther coaching staff and my observations watching Seth throw today, I think there is a higher level of confidence in giving Seth more passing game opportunities. I thought two of Seth's throws on Deep Passes were really impressive, including a stellar strike to Dalton Heubner on the Wheel Route.
HIT OF THE DAY: Wide Receiver Cole Phillips. Sadly and accidentally delivered to yours truly.
PLAYERS OF GRAVITY: Douglas Weese/Dalton Heubner. Expect expanded (and tweaked) roles for both moving forward on both sides of the ball. After cutting their teeth as Defensive Backs (where Heubner in particular was incredibly effective the last two years) both players are moving up to help fortify the all important Linebacker position in Brad Dixon's five man scheme. Expect a fluid transition. As both players touched on today, they essentially played the Cornerback Position like Linebackers (read: these guys had a passion for coming up and hitting in run support) and are excited to get closer to the action. Weese and Heubner are also expected to approximate the lost production from graduated stars Garrett Kestner and Austin Dormire. Heubner got something akin to 50 carries a year ago. Weese spent much of his time at Wide Receiver. That said, they averaged 8 and 9.6 yards per carry last season respectively. This may be a quicker, more versatile group at Running Back than a year ago. Granted it will lack some of the power running game fun supply by Nathan Knuffman and particularly Kestner, the region's best Red Zone threat. That said, Heubner might have the best field vision of any back CSE has had in the last decade and both he and Weese are exceptional pass catchers coming out of the backfield. The Panther Running Game will have a different, more diverse feel. Doesn't me it won't be as effective.
SLEEPER TO WATCH: Logan Myers. Technically, its hard to be a sleeper when you are received All Conference merit a year ago. By the same token, Myers is being moved from Center to Tackle and his off-season workout numbers have been among the very best on the roster and clearly tops among all Linemen. Logan is an intense competitor and plays with great form and leg drive. Hard to imagine a better Small School Tackle combo than Myers and Drew Miller going forward. Don't overlook Tight End Marcus Landes here, either, who I think may be in line for a spike in production.
PROSPECT WATCH: Bobby Keltz. The heir apparent at Fullback to Quincy Herald Whig Player of the Year Nathan Knuffman and a burner in his own right. Just a Sophomore, Keltz may have had more rushing yards at the Frosh Level last season than any other back in the Panther system. Hard to make a great evaluation against air but two things do stand out about the new guy. He gets into (and out of) running lanes with great alacrity. And he slides off contact like he was coated in teflon. He's one of those kids that squeezes into a seam, disappears for a second, then comes screaming out on the back end. He's still a little slight of build and doesn't carry the wallop Knuffman did. But he is incredibly quick for a fullback and when paired in concert with Heubner and Weese, gives the Panthers one of the most sudden Running Back stables around.