By Mike Shalin
May 6, 2008
CHESTNUT HILL The Boston College football team left spring practice eager for the fall but also filled with question marks, as coach Jeff Jagodzinski enters his second season after succeeding Tom O'Brien.
At the top of the list of questions, of course, is Chris Crane.
Less than an hour before his predecessor was taken by the Atlanta Falcons with the third pick in the NFL draft Matt Ryan immediately became the highest draft pick in program history Crane led the offense through the annual spring scrimmage. A rising fifth-year senior, he has one college start behind him but has spent most of his career watching Ryan do special things.
Now, it's Crane's turn. The job is his to lose, and he showed enough in the spring for Jagodzinski to think that Crane will be at the helm when the Eagles face Kent State at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Aug. 30.
"He needs teamwork. He needs game-like situations. He just hasn't had those repetitions in his career," Jagodzinski said. "He's been playing behind Matt. I think that's what he needs, and I think he's going to get better and better with every snap he takes."
The Eagles have three other quarterbacks in the picture. Redshirt freshmen Dominique Davis and Chris Johnson and transfer Codi Boek are around, but Crane is the guy. Davis appears to be the backup as Boek, who has played in only three games over the past two years, tries to learn the system.
For his part, Crane thinks he passed his spring test.
"I'd say I've done very well," Crane said. "A lot of people didn't know what to expect. People weren't even expecting me to come in and get the starting job going into the season. I think I really solidified that, and I think people are getting more and more confident. So I have to give myself a passing grade.
"Going into a season being a backup is a lot different mentally than it is going into a season being a starter. Physically, you can do the same things, but preparing mentally is a lot different because you have to spend a lot more time in the film room and you have to spend a lot more time being a leader. This year I had to fill the void with Matt Ryan being gone, and I think I did that pretty well in the spring, but I have to carry it on through the summer."
Crane was 18-for-35 for 155 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the spring game. He connected on seven straight passes at one point, then promptly threw three straight passes into heavy coverage.
Crane said he learned a lot from Ryan, but he was quick to add that the spring game was "the first step in a long process." In other words, there's plenty more work to be done. One thing that should take some pressure off Crane is BC using more rollouts and option plays.
But the quarterback question might not even be No. 1 on Jagodzinski's list.
BC's offense doesn't have a runner with any college experience, so freshmen Josh Haden (quick and productive in spring camp after arriving early) and Jerry Kelly (a bruiser arriving this summer) will be counted on heavily.
Another of the freshmen already on campus was defensive end Max Holloway, son of former Patriots player Brian Holloway and grandson of former Bruins favorite John "Pie" McKenzie.
A development the day before the spring game may have changed an important spot on the depth chart.
Jeff Smith, the dynamic kick returner who hasn't done much in the area of carrying the football, was thought to be all done because of recurring head injuries. But Smith, who stayed in school, went to Jagodzinski and said he was ready to return. He was waiting for a final OK from doctors but was eager to come back.
"I haven't had any symptoms in two to three months," Smith said. "I'm glad to be back. I hope the doctors give me the OK. I really missed it. I want to give it another shot. If I get the doctors' OK, I will start working out with the team right away."
The return of Jeff Smith came on the day another Smith, cornerback Razzie, intercepted a Davis pass in the end zone and returned it all the way for a touchdown. It also came days after yet another Smith, defensive end Brady, was kicked off the team after a sexual assault charge had him suspended from school. Brady Smith started 12 games last year, and his departure was a hit to an otherwise deep front seven.
More questions? How about the kicking game? Jagodzinski watched incumbent Steve Aponavicius and Billy Bennett struggle with placements through the spring, and he still doesn't have a punter on his depth chart.
Aponavicius used a rugby-style punt during the spring game, and one actually went for distance, but Jagodzinski said the staff will take a long look at freshman Ryan Quigley when he arrives this summer. He averaged 46 yards per punt as a senior in high school, had a long field goal of 47 yards, and had 93 percent of his kickoffs go for touchbacks.
Wide receiver Billy Flutie also can punt. With his BC-legend uncle on the sidelines, he had five catches in the spring game, one a spectacular grab.
"The guy just makes plays," Jagodzinski said.
The coach continues to mix and match on his offensive front, where Gosder Cherilus joined the parade of BC linemen into the NFL when the Lions made him the 17th pick of the draft. Anthony Castonzo, who started every game at right tackle as a freshman last year, moved over to the left side this spring.
Jagodzinski lauded the progress of redshirt freshman tackle Nate Richman, saying Richman was "further along than Castonzo was at this time last year." Richman was listed No. 2 at left tackle.
One area where BC doesn't really have any major questions is in the front seven. Remember, linebacker Brian Toal and B.J. Raji, both All-ACC talents, sat out their senior seasons last year, Toal to rehab a surgically repaired shoulder and Raji because of a grades snafu. Toal was an eager participant in spring drills, while Raji (along with top wide receiver Brandon Robinson) sat out after offseason shoulder surgery.
"I feel great," Toal said. "It's the first time in two years I've felt pain-free."
Despite the lack of experience in the offensive backfield, the days of "third-and-Toal," with Toal carrying the ball on short-yardage plays, seem to be over.
"He doesn't have to play offense," Jagodzinski said.
The coach was thrilled to make it through the spring game without any serious injuries.
"We couldn't afford to get anyone else hurt," he said after a depleted roster went through the "game," which saw the defense out-point the offense 48-34 under a complicated points system.
The Eagles were missing several players for the scrimmage, but none fell into the category of not being ready for the summer, when the rest of the freshmen will arrive.
SPRING 2008 OVERVIEW
P Johnny Ayers, RB Andre Callender, WR Kevin Challenger, LT Gosder Cherilus, LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, DE Nick Larkin, CB Taji Morris, LG Ryan Poles, LB Tyronne Pruitt, QB Matt Ryan, FS Jamie Silva, DT Brady Smith (dismissed), CB DeJuan Tribble
OG Tom Anevski, RB A.J. Brooks, OG Ty Hall, TE Jon Loyte, OC Kevin Sheridan, RB/KR Jeff Smith (may return), TE Ryan Thompson, RB L.V. Whitworth
2008 Returning Starters^
Pos. Name Ht./Wt. Class
FB James McCluskey 6-2/231 So.
WR Brandon Robinson 5-10/194 Sr.
TE Ryan Purvis 6-4/258 Sr.
LT Anthony Castonzo 6-7/262 So.
LG Clif Ramsey 6-6/302 Sr.
OC Matt Tennant 6-4/284 *Jr.
DT Ron Brace 6-3/325 *Sr.
DE Alex Albright 6-5/235 Jr.
LB Mark Herzlich 6-4/238 Jr.
SS Paul Anderson 6-1/208 Sr.
Special Teams (1)
PK Steve Aponavicius 5-10/183 Sr.
- -has utilized redshirt season
^ -six/more 2007 regular-season starts
Other Tested Returnees
WR/KR Rich Gunnell, WR Justin Jarvis, WR Clarence Megwa, RB Dan Mulrooney (converted SS), OT Patrick Sheil
LB Kevin Akins, FS Marcellus Bowman, FS Wes Davis, LB Robert Francois, CB DeLeon Gause, DS Jack Geiser, DT Austin Giles, LB Mike McLaughlin, DE Brad Newman (converted FB), DE Jim Ramella, DT B.J. Raji (2006 starter), CB Roderick Rollins, DT Damik Scafe, DT Allan Smith, CB Razzie Smith, LB Brian Toal (2006 starter), DT Jerry Willette
Year BE/ACC Overall Postseason
1998 3-4 (5) 4-7 None
1999 4-3 (3) 8-4 Insight.com Bowl (L)
2000 3-4 (5) 7-5 Aloha Bowl (W)
2001 4-3 (3) 8-4 Music City Bowl (W)
2002 3-4 (4) 9-4 Motor City Bowl (W)
2003 3-4 (5) 8-5 San Francisco Bowl (W)
2004 4-2 (1) 9-3 Continental Bowl (W)
2005 5-3 (1A) 9-3 MPC Computers (W)
2006 5-3 (2A) 10-3 Meineke Bowl (W)
2007 6-2 (1A) 11-3 Champs Sports (W)
ACC: 16-8 (.667)
Overall: 83-41 (.669)
Date Opponent 2007 Record
Aug. 30 at Kent State* 3-9 (1-7)
Sept. 6 Georgia Tech 7-6 (4-4)
Sept. 13 OPEN
Sept. 20 Central Florida 10-4 (7-1)
Sept. 27 Rhode Island 3-8 (2-6)
Oct. 4 at N.C. State 5-7 (3-5)
Oct. 11 OPEN
Oct. 18 Virginia Tech 11-3 (7-1)
Oct. 25 at North Carolina 4-8 (3-5)
Nov. 1 Clemson 9-4 (5-3)
Nov. 8 Notre Dame 3-9
Nov. 15 at Florida State 7-6 (4-4)
Nov. 22 at Wake Forest 9-4 (5-3)
Nov. 29 Maryland 6-7 (3-5)
* - in Cleveland
NOTE: Most game times still TBA.
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