"Faster" is a term that has often been used by coaches and
players when referring to the 2010 Chapman University football
team. But these Panthers are faster not just because of their
offseason strength and conditioning program (although that is part
of it). This squad is faster because it has more experience. The
underclassmen that saw their first significant playing time as
collegiate football players in 2009 are now more familiar with the
offensive and defensive systems.
"I think on both sides of the ball they are faster and faster because they are not thinking as much," said Head Coach Bob Owens referring to how the underclassmen have gained some experience.
Of the 46 guys who were on the two-deep roster for the 2009 season-finale against La Verne, 35 are back and many of them were underclassmen. In fact, of the Panthers 22 starters last season, nine were freshmen or sophomores. Those young, now more experienced players mixed with a solid group of upperclassmen and a few impact transfers has Chapman positioned to make up for last year's disappointing 4-5 mark and capture a third winning season in five years under Owens.
Each season according to Owens, the offensive and defensive units set forth goals for each game. For example, this year Owens said he would like to see the Panthers score four or five touchdowns per game and have 400-plus yards of total offense. On the other side of the ball he would like the defense to hold opponents to 250 yards or less per game. Part of the reason the Panthers had a 4-5 record last season is that those goals weren't reached. Instead it was Chapman's opponents that had those numbers.
Chapman's defense gave up nearly 400 yards and 21.1 points per game. The defensive numbers were a bit deceiving however. Take away the 49-13 loss to Cal Lutheran and the defense held opponents to just 17.6 points per game, a number that is slightly better than that of the 2008 squad which went 5-4.
The offense struggled at times too averaging 15.4 points and 278 yards per game while scoring more than 20 points on just three occasions. It is notable that in those three games Chapman was 2-1, its lone loss coming to nationally-ranked Redlands. Both the offense and defense appear to be much approved in 2010 having another years experience under their belt.
A steady passing game has been the calling card of the Panthers' offense during Owens' tenure as head coach, but this year the ground game may take center stage, or at least play a larger role.
"We will have a strong running game and I think that is very much a compliment to a good passing game," said Owens.
To improve the running game, an emphasis during fall camp was put on run blocking, especially by the wide receivers down field.
"We think because the running game is pretty good and it could be exceptional, we wanted to improve in run blocking because we knew our receivers could catch," said Owens.
Expected to lead the running attack again is senior Akio Lloyd (112 attempts, 410 yards, 51.2 ypg, 1 TD) who was the Panthers' top rusher a year ago. Lloyd, a dual-threat back also had 12 receptions and a touchdown. His receiving numbers could increase drastically in 2010 as the coaching staff looks for new ways to get the ball in his hands
"Akio can also do more things for us and we wanna do more with him, said Owens. "We want to move him around a little bit and take advantage of his athleticism because he is a tremendously talented guy."
Also in the mix at running back is junior college transfer Al White and junior Kevin Krail (55 attempts, 161 yards, 1 TD) who saw significant time last year highlighted by a 91-yard game against Cal Lutheran.
"Kevin is still very very significant to the running game," said Owens. "He came out last year and played well for us."
Clearing the way for the running game is an offensive line that returns all five starters from a year ago including senior C Jordan Pavlisin and senior LT Chris Hendrickson. The other three offensive line starters are sophomore LG Drew Rosell, junior RG Nolan Pfeffinger, and sophomore RT D.J. Brandell. According to Owens, the success of the offensive line depends on how Pavlisin, Hendrickson and Pfeffinger's ability to adjust to playing new positions. Most notable is Pavlisin's switch from right guard to center where he will now be snapping the ball to junior QB Bret Visciglia, a junior college transfer.
Visciglia and another junior college transfer in backup QB DeShawn Wilkins came to Chapman in the spring. It was then that they began to familiarize themselves with the offensive system and work with the receiving core on routes and timing.
"To be a quarterback in this system, what you have to do is be consistent, you have to be able to throw the ball to open people, check sometimes to get us into the right play and have command of the offense and have some poise when you're standing in the pocket," said Owens. "We think in Bret we've got a guy that can do that. He has really shown tremendous improvement and we're very comfortable with where he is at right now."
With Visciglia as the new starter, this is the fourth different starting quarterback for the Panthers in three seasons and fourth different quarterback that senior WR Chris Langstaff (41 receptions, 576 yards, 3 TD) has caught passes from.
Langstaff was Chapman's most consistent receiver in 2009, leading the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Also expected to play a huge role in the passing game is junior Mike Lambesis (11 receptions, 109 yards, 1 TD) along with seniors Schuyler Heard and Josh Hartman. At 6-5 and 6-6, respectively, Lambesis and Heard act more as possession receivers while Hartman brings speed to the group.
On the defensive side of the ball the line is the team's strength. Getting pressure on the opponents quarterback will be key in forcing turnovers. Returning at defensive end after taking a year off to focus on film school is senior DE Bob Burton who in 2008 had 5.5 sacks. Burton's size (6-6, 240 lbs) and quickness should help in creating pressure off the edge. Also starting on the defensive line are two sophomores in Elliot Cooley and Kevin Anderson who saw significant time last season.
The linebacker core possibly has the most game experience with seniors Brian Kaltenecker (22 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1 sack) and Andrew Carcova (24 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception) at the outside positions. At middle backer, Chapman's top tackler from a year ago returns in junior Erick Mueller (75 tackles, 3 TFL, 4 pass breakups). Sophomore Kellen Matsuno (21 tackles) is expected to have a breakout season in his first year as a starter. Also in the mix at linebacker is former starting quarterback Blake Vanderwiel who made the transition because of the depth at quarterback.
Owens hopes that with a faster more experienced front seven, the defense will be able to force more turnovers, particularly in opponent's territory which in turn will create better field position for the offense.
"We need to have them (opponents) turn the ball over sometimes when they are down in their territory. If we get a team down on their 15-yard line, 5-yard line, 3-yard line, we need to get them to turn the ball over there," said Owens. "We don't need to let them get the ball to midfield and then punt the ball because now we have lost field position."
One area that remains untested coming out of camp is the secondary. The secondary is untested not because there aren't some experienced players returning but because Claremont rarely threw the ball in the preseason scrimmage with their option-oriented offense. At the cornerback position is a pair of seniors in Peter Antone (64 tackles, 10 pass breakups) and Jon Martinez who will take a bulk of the snaps. Martinez returns after missing 2009 with some injury problems. Also returning in the secondary is senior SS Jake Fey (59 tackles, 8 TFL, 3 sacks). There were two things that the secondary struggled at last season which will need to be improved if the Panthers are to have a successful season. That is force more turnovers, particularly interceptions and not give up first downs on third and long situations. Last season Chapman had just four interceptions (1 from defensive backs) and allowed opponents to convert nearly 50 percent of third down opportunities.
Special teams are an area where there have been some changes in the offseason. Junior P Jimmy Adranly is making the transition from field-goal kicker to punter while sophomore K Mauricio Alfonso steps into the kickoff and place-kicking duties.
On paper, the pieces are in place to have a breakout season. On the field the team is faster and more experienced. There is a solid mix of youth, experience and transfers. With that, if the team can reach its goals of 400-yards of total offense and four or five touchdowns while holding opponents to 250 yards per game they will be much better. That is easier said than done. Now the games have to be played.
Game notes for Saturday's game against Menlo will be available on the website later this afternoon.
by Chris Watts
Sports Information Assistant