2014 Training Camp Tour - CON

The 2014 MIAC Football Training Camp Tour treks on with the longest trip of the nine. Tuesday I ventured up to Moorhead for a twilight practice at Concordia College and checked on a veteran, talented Cobber team that has high hopes for the 2014 season. Some rain at the start of practice cleared up and the Moorhead sky was a perfect backdrop for an impressive twilight session. Special shoutout to Cobber SID Jim Cella for showing up with an umbrella to keep my video camera and camera dry while the rain was falling.

This was the third stop on my trip through all nine MIAC football teams. My visits to Bethel and Saint John's have already been featured here, and I followed Concordia with a visit to St. Thomas on Wednesday. That video and blog should be online Saturday. Friday, I visited both Northfield schools - St. Olaf and Carleton - and plan to head to Gustavus Monday afternoon, and then will hit Augsburg and Hamline early next week as well. Stay tuned to the MIAC Media Blog and YouTube Channel as the Training Camp Tour takes you up to kickoff on Sept. 6. 

Back to the subject at hand. I'm filing a blog post with nine items of interest from each of the nine training camps, so here's your 9-for-9 on the Cobbers. Enjoy, and Fear the Ear!


No. 1 - So close
The Cobbers have clearly been one of the top three teams in the MIAC in recent years, but have come up just short of a conference title or NCAA Playoff bid. Concordia has gone 8-2 overall and 6-2 in the MIAC to finished tied for second place in each of the last two seasons. This year's team looks poised for more success, but the hunger for even more was palpable at Cobber camp. In fact, my visit to Concordia in 2014 reminded me a lot of my visit to Bethel in 2013 and it looked to me like I was seeing a team ready to take that final step to the top of the mountain.

No. 2 - Pass the ball...
In the NFL, two types of elite players get paid more than anyone else - players who pass the ball, and players who rush the passer. If that translates to the Division III college level, Concordia has to feel pretty good about the assets it has back. Senior QB Griffin Neal is back for his third year as a starter, and in my six training camp stops, his passing performance was hands-down the best I've seen. Pass after pass hit his intended target perfectly in stride, and he has the combination of experience and physical gifts to write an incredible final chapter to an already-great career.

No. 3 - Rush the passer
On the other side of the ball, Senior DE Nate Adams is back after winning the 2013 MIAC Mike Stam Award as the conference's best lineman - on either side of the ball. His nine sacks were three more than anyone in the MIAC and his 17.5 tackles-for-a-loss were five more than the next-best total. With Adams making it difficult for other QBs to breathe and Neal back under center, Concordia is set at two pretty important positions.

The Cobbers hope for lots of big plays like this
one in the passing game in 2014.
No. 4 - Top target (hopefully) back
Last year, Brandon Zylstra joined his QB on the All-MIAC First Team, and his athletic displays at wideout and on special teams were among the best in the league. He was featured multiple times in the MIAC Play-of-the-Week contest and had 41 catches for 774 yards and seven receiving TDs. He suffered an injury this summer and hasn't been in pads yet, but the Cobbers are hopeful he's close to returning to the field. If he comes back 100 percent, Concordia has an explosive weapon back on the edge and in the return game and he could improve on those impressive stats from a year ago.

No. 5 - Searching for more smash mouth
With a QB like Neal, it's natural to gravitate towards a game plan with the ball in his hands, but traditionally the Cobbers have featured more of a smash-mouth run game on offense, so it was odd to see Concordia's top backs all the way down at No. 15 and 16 on the MIAC rushing leaderboard. Neal actually led the team and ranked 11th in the MIAC with 496 yards and eight TDs on the ground, but this season a storyline in Moorhead will be whether a reliable every-down back can help balance out the offense and increase its potency.

No. 6 - New faces on defense
While Adams is back to lead the Cobber defense, the unit lost some key players to graduation and will lean on some new players to fill in for some major production. Corner Kenyon O'Brien and LB Tyler Berling are gone after All-MIAC careers, and O'Brien was an Honorable Mention All-American a season ago. The Cobber defense was fifth in the league in scoring and sixth in yards allowed, and will hope to move back into the upper echelon in those categories in 2014 to balance out its high-powered offense.

No. 7 -Cobber kicking game
Concordia will certainly benefit from having reliable All-MIAC kicker Ben Wagner back in 2013. The senior set a school record with 78 consecutive PATs that split the upright, and he's 85-for-86 on PATs each of the last two seasons. However, All-Conference punter Brett Harmelink has graduated, so Concordia will be auditioning a replacement with the hopes that the kicking game can still be a huge strength in all facets.

Concordia hopes to take another step forward
after finished second in 2012 and 2013.
No. 8 - Festive atmosphere
Last year, most of the teams I visited were blasting music throughout practice to help the players stay energetic and engaged and to supply a simulation of the noise they'll face on the road on game days. This year, practices I visited had been much quieter ... until I got to Moorhead. Music blared and the coaches and players were in high spirits. When the team went 7-on-7 or full squad, the offense and defense clearly wanted to get the best of one another. The team wasn't in full pads, but the energy was cranked up to 11.

No. 9 - Limit mistakes and play hard
When I spoke to Head Coach Terry Horan and Adams at practice, both stressed that the team needed to limit mistakes and stay sharp for all 60 minutes to take that next step into the Playoffs or first place in the MIAC. Thanks to an NCAA-allowed foreign tour last spring, the Cobbers enjoyed practice and exhibitions and feel that helped them heading into this fall's camp. Because it didn't take as long to get up to speed, they're focused on those details that can seem small, but can actually make a big difference between winning and losing. And for a Concordia team with tons of star power back, those details could again be the difference between a trip to the Playoffs, or Thanksgiving at home.

2014 MIAC Football Training Camp Tour
Aug. 25 - Bethel
Aug. 28 - Saint John's
Aug. 29 - Concordia

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing ... Training camps as well as private training for football strive toward making you a better player.


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