RAIDERS OPEN SPRING PRACTICE
But one season’s championship doesn’t guarantee another, and Raiders head coach Dick Biddleknows there is work to be done during the abbreviated spring sessions. Biddle sat down with GoColgateRaiders.com for a quick interview in advance of his team taking the field for the first time since claiming its seventh Patriot League title last November.
On retooling the offense
Biddle: “That was the strength of our team last year, and probably the biggest asset we have coming back is our starting quarterback. When you have a Walter Payton Award candidate returning, you’re in pretty good shape. Gavin McCarney is just a great football player and we’re lucky to have him for his senior year.
“People ask me who’s going to be the running back. We’ve always found a running back, and we have some good kids ready for camp who are returning and who will be great football players. Plus, we have some freshmen coming in.
“But the key for us is we had a great offensive line last year and we’re losing three starters. That’s really the key to any offense, and we’ve got to find those starters on the offensive line.
“We’ve got some talent there. We’ve got some young guys who are fairly athletic who can move and do a lot of things for us. It’s just a matter of them getting experience and they are really going to be good.
“My concern on offense is finding the offensive linemen.”
On the secondary being the strength of this year’s defense
Biddle: “We struggled at times last year defensively, but we came up big in the Lehigh game. The players have to understand that’s the way they should be playing all the time. We lose some players, but we’ve got enough depth that we should be better just from experience and having another year under their wings.
“The strength of this defense probably will be our secondary. We have three of our four starters returning, along with backups. But we need to find some people who are going to step up and play and we’ve opened up every position on defense. We’re going to make some moves to get some speed on defense.
“It may be some incoming freshmen or maybe some position changes, like a running back to a linebacker or whatever. We lose one of our linebackers, Patrick Friel, but he was hurt late in the season and some other got experience in his place.
“We just have to do a much better job of preventing the long run and pass, and playing to the strengths of our team, which should be our offense. We’ve just got to do a much better job defensively and make people earn it.
“We will be better through experience and depth, and we have some freshmen coming in who can contribute. It’s about getting people in the right spot and having them understand they need to play team defense and be consistent. Play to our strengths and not try to do something out of the ordinary.
“We’ve got to develop a little depth on the defensive line. We may move some defensive ends to defensive tackle to try to get our four best linemen up there.
“They key to defense really nowadays is you’re playing a lot of long-yardage defenses because of the offenses, so you put more skill players in there. But if you could find four defensive linemen – we’ve just got to get some people who can run and make some plays and we’ll be fine.”
On the kicking game’s emphasis
Biddle: “We’re losing Evan Goldszak, who did a very good job last year, but we’ve got Andrew Burgess back and we’re going to need him. Plus there’s Nikko Armiento. He’s a very good punter; we just didn’t use him last year as a punter.
“He’s in the same category as Goldszak as far as a punter, and then we’ve recruited a freshman to come in a do some placekicking so we’re pretty good there.
“When you talk about the kicking game, everybody specifically talks about the kickers when you’ve got to talk about the units involved. Our kickoff coverage and kickoff return – the key for us is we’ve got to get some good athletes and have that be a dominant force for us.
“We’ve just gotten by and not done as good of a job. We’ve really got to be good in the kicking game this year. You’ve got to work on it and we will this spring.
“That’s one thing you can really practice hard in spring is the kicking game, and we will do that.”
On the spring practice format
Biddle: “We are going to hit a lot but there are not going to be a lot of long spring-game type scrimmages. It’s going to be normal practices. But that’s the time you want to get your hitting in because if you get somebody hurt, they’ve got time to recover.
“That’s what spring practice is all about.
“It could be the offensive line versus the defensive line or the secondary versus receivers. It could be half-line drills and making those full-speed, and then when you come to your team period it would be about a 20-minute scrimmage where you’re just hitting and tackling.
“It’s spring and you don’t have your freshmen in, you don’t have your depth – plus you have people who are recovering from injury. That’s the other thing you do in the spring is help the guys who were hurt in the fall. You’ve got to nurse them through spring practice so they are confident when they come back in the fall.”
Looking back at the recruiting season
Biddle: “It was a good experience and we found players who fit the mold we’re looking for. When you know you have them, you kind of analyze them a little harder than when you’re just recruiting them and I’m still impressed them now.
“They have to be good because they’re going to have to play. This is one of the better recruiting classes we’ve had in a while.”
On freshmen making an impact
Biddle: “Once fall camp starts you kind of forget who the freshmen are and you just focus on the best players. The biggest thing for incoming freshmen is not the physical part; it’s what they are doing mentally and with assignments. That kind of holds them back.
“When they come into camp, they are competing against guys who have been here for a while and against guys who have been through a couple of spring practices. The newcomers don’t have that to fall back on and kind of start off cold.
“Maybe by the third or fourth week of camp or going into the season, certain freshmen start to show signs that they feel comfortable and understand what’s going on.
“But the biggest impact your freshmen have usually is on special teams. That’s something you coach, but covering a kick is not like playing quarterback or doing all those other things.
“You’ve got to be good at it, but a lot of it is just effort and hustle – things that don’t take a lot of thought process and don’t put the team in a mismatch. At some positions, there’s a big difference between begin 18 and 22 years old.”
Spring Practice Dates
Week 1 – March 19, 21, 23
Week 2 – March 25, 26, 28, 29
Week 3 – April 1, 2, 4, 6
Week 4 – April 8, 9, 11, 13
The Raiders begin fall camp Aug. 5 and open their 2013 schedule Aug. 31 at Air Force. See the complete schedule HERE.