May 1, 2007
CHESTNUT HILL The spring understandably was a period of transition for Boston College's football team, one that included some subtle and not-so-subtle changes.
The switch from former coach Tom O'Brien, who left BC in December for greener pastures at North Carolina State and a $1.15 million contract (excluding incentives), to first-time head coach Jeff Jagodzinski, previously the Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator, was an obvious one.
O'Brien departed as BC's winningest head coach (75-45). He graduated his players, posted nine wins in four of his last five seasons, guided the Eagles to eight bowl appearances, and presided over six of their last seven consecutive bowl triumphs.
And yet, for all his accomplishments, the biggest criticism leveled at O'Brien was his inability to take BC to the next level, namely a postseason berth in a BCS bowl.
Exit O'Brien. Enter Jagodzinski.
From the moment he first met with his players, Jagodzinski, 43, forged a bond and infused a program that seemingly had hit a plateau with a renewed sense of spirit, vitality and enthusiasm.
"He's just so infectious," said BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo.
Still, the overall transition the Eagles experienced with O'Brien's departure and Jagodzinski's arrival seemed more jarring for the offense during the spring than it did for BC's defense, which benefited greatly from the return of not only nine starters but also coordinator Frank Spaziani and linebackers coach Bill McGovern from last year's 10-3 squad, which defeated Navy 25-24 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
"Yeah, there were a lot more things we had to adjust to than the defense," said senior quarterback Matt Ryan, the ACC's leading passer in 2006 and one of seven returning offensive starters. "But that's always been the case ever since I started playing football: (At the beginning of practice), the defense has always been slightly ahead of the offense."
With a fresh, wide-open scheme to grasp, unfamiliar zone-blocking techniques to absorb, and a whole new set of assistant coaches to get acquainted with, including coordinator Steve Logan, the former East Carolina coach who was brought in from NFL Europe, it stood to reason that BC's offense faced the bigger adjustments.
"There was a lot to learn," said Ryan, who had the most to learn of anyone on the team. "And as a quarterback, you have to make sure you get everything down. But there's a lot more we can improve on."
Jagodzinski praised Ryan's intelligence and his ability to quickly grasp BC's new scheme, comparing him to a former BC quarterback he had worked with, Matt Hasselbeck. But Ryan, in turn, praised Jagodzinski and Logan for their flexibility in meeting him halfway on another matter.
"There was a lot of verbiage I would've had to adjust to, just from a play-calling standpoint," Ryan said. "But I have to give credit to both Coach Jagodzinski and Coach Logan for adjusting the verbiage of the play-calling to me and not making me have to adjust to the new verbiage. Having it remain pretty much the same as last year really helped me pick it up."
Ryan earned first-team All-ACC accolades last season after leading the league in total offense and passing for 2,942 yards and 15 touchdowns despite playing seven of BC's last eight games, including the bowl, with a Jones fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot. He underwent surgery Jan. 5 and came back in time to not only pick up a new offense, but also to complete 19 of 33 passes for 233 yards, an interception and a TD to lead the offense to a 44-38 victory over the defense in BC's annual Jay McGillis Spring Game on April 28 at Alumni Stadium.
"He played the whole season last year with a broken left foot, and look where he took us," said senior left tackle Gosder Cherilus who, along with Ryan, senior defensive end Nick Larkin and senior linebacker Jolonn Dunbar, was voted a team captain in the spring. "Just think if he hadn't played the whole season last year with a broken foot? I'm not trying to give excuses for anyone, because I know Matt as a person and he would never say anything like that, but I know that things could have been a lot better if he could have moved around in the pocket a lot more."
With Cherilus switching from right to left tackle in the spring, Ryan's blind side was certain to be well-protected.
There remained, however, lingering questions about the offensive line's adjustment not only to a new zone-blocking scheme, but to a switch of assistant coaches in mid-stream. Offensive line coach Jim Turner, a 1988 BC grad and former football captain hired from Delaware in January, got into a dispute with Jagodzinski and abruptly resigned five days before the spring game, citing "differences in philosophies in the direction of the program."
The staff upheaval seemed to underscore a roiling discontent in the ranks over a switch to a new blocking scheme that, Cherilus said, "was not the easiest system." It was all exacerbated by a switch in centers from senior Kevin Sheridan to sophomore Matt Tennant and a knee injury to projected right tackle Clif Ramsey that opened up a starting opportunity for sophomore backup Pat Sheil.
Jagodzinski, though, quelled any mutinous thoughts when he personally took over the coaching of the line in the wake of Turner's departure. He moved quickly to fill Turner's spot by bringing in Jack Bicknell Jr., the former Louisiana Tech head coach who jumped to BC after joining Texas Tech's staff in January. For Bicknell, a former BC center who played with Doug Flutie and under his own father, Jack Bicknell, from 1981-84, the call of his alma mater proved irresistible.
"It was a no-brainer for me," Bicknell said. "I love the place so much. To me, it was two words: home and family."
If the offensive line's struggles gave him reason to be concerned, BC's defense, which underwent a subtle change in switching from maroon to white practice jerseys, certainly gave Jagodzinski reason to be hopeful, even though senior linebacker Brian Toal sat out spring drills for the second year in a row.
Last year, Toal sat out the spring to nurse a nerve injury in his neck. This time, he was sidelined after undergoing surgery in March to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The procedure, originally scheduled for January, was delayed twice. Toal experienced a psoriasis outbreak in January, then underwent an emergency appendectomy in February, casting some doubt as to whether he will be ready to return in time for August camp.
If he is unable to go this fall, Toal likely will be redshirted, leaving 2008 as his final year of eligibility.
The Eagles, though, have sufficient talent and depth in their linebacker corps, considered to be the strength of their defense, to withstand Toal's potential absence, especially with the returns of Dunbar, senior Tyronne Pruitt, sophomore Mark Herzlich, and juniors Robert Francois and Kevin Akins.
"Our linebackers are pretty good," Ryan said. "I'm just glad that I don't have to play against them or our defense anymore this spring."
Spring 2007 Overview
Jeff Jagodzinski faces a situation that hasn't been seen often by a first-year coach in more than a half-century of ACC football. The mission of the former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator (and former BC assistant) is not to fix anything, or to turn the program around, but rather to take a good thing and make it better. When Tom O'Brien jumped to N.C. State, he left the cupboard stocked in Chestnut Hill overflowing, even, at least for 2007. The planets may be aligned for Jags to have the kind of "dream season" that ultimately was the only big thing missing from O'Brien's otherwise impressive résumé with the Eagles.
Possible 2007 Starters
Pos. Name Ht./Wt. Class
QB Matt Ryan^ 6-5/218 *Sr.
RB L.V. Whitworth^ 5-11/216 *Sr.
WR Kevin Challenger^+ 5-8/178 *Sr.
WR Brandon Robinson 5-10/195 *Jr.
TE Ryan Thompson^ 6-4/259 *Sr.
TE Ryan Purvis 6-4/260 *Jr.
LT Gosder Cherilus^ 6-7/318 *Sr.
LG Ryan Poles^ 6-4/295 *Sr.
OC Matt Tennant 6-4/278 *So.
RG Kevin Sheridan^ 6-3/290 *Sr.
RT Clif Ramsey+ 6-6/313 *Jr.
PK Steve Aponavicius^ 5-10/175 Jr.
DE Brady Smith^ 6-2/285 *So.
DT Ron Brace^ 6-3/335 *Jr.
DT B.J. Raji^+ 6-1/340 Sr.
DE Nick Larkin^ 6-4/250 *Sr.
LB Tyronne Pruitt^ 5-11/220 *Sr.
LB Jolonn Dunbar^ 6-0/233 *Sr.
LB Brian Toal^+ 6-0/232 Sr.
SS Paul Anderson 6-1/210 Jr.
FS Jamie Silva^ 5-11/208 *Sr.
CB Taji Morris 5-9/181 *Sr.
CB DeJuan Tribble^ 5-9/190 *Sr.
P Johnny Ayers^ 6-0/186 Sr.
- redshirted ^ six/more 2006 starts
- injured/missed spring drills
Coming On Strong
Ryan, Cherilus, Larkin, Dunbar, Silva and Tribble have All-ACC ability and were outstanding in April. Also: Whitworth, Robinson, Raji (injured), Pruitt, Toal (injured), Ayers, RB Jeff Smith, LB Robert Francois, LB Mark Herzlich.
Cause For Concern?
The previous staff stocked the team with players who fit the dropback passing game and a grind-it-out running mentality. The new offense is designed for quick strikes, zone blocking and agile QBs. Also: wideout, kicker, cornerback.
Date Opponent 2006 Record
Sept. 1 Wake Forest 11-3 (6-2)
Sept. 8 N.C. State 3-9 (2-6)
Sept. 15 at Georgia Tech 9-5 (7-1)
Sept. 22 Army 3-9
Sept. 29 Massachusetts 13-2 (8-0)
Oct. 6 Bowling Green 4-8 (3-5)
Oct. 13 at Notre Dame 10-3
Oct. 20 OPEN
Oct. 25 at Virginia Tech 10-3 (6-2)
Nov. 3 Florida State 7-6 (3-5)
Nov. 10 at Maryland 9-4 (5-3)
Nov. 17 at Clemson 8-5 (5-3)
Nov. 24 Miami 7-6 (3-5)
The following scholarship athletes left the program in the last 12-24 months with eligibility remaining but were not listed as departures in our previous (annual) reviews: QB Ross Applegate (transfer), DT Justin Bell (medical), LB Ray Lankford, CB Brad Mueller (chose to graduate), PK Ryan Ohliger (dismissed), LB Tom Walls, DE Keith Willis (transfer/N.C. State).
Chart By: David Glenn