2014 Training Camp Tour - CAR

In all the previous stops on the 2014 MIAC Football Training Camp Tour, I had stopped by a practice or workout. My stop at Carleton on Friday afternoon was much different, because I actually got to see the Knights going head-to-head against a different opponent. The team was hosting a scrimmage against UW-River Falls, so it was fun to get my first "real" look at MIAC football with officials, an opponent, down markers and a running clock.

The Knights have been a team on the rise, finishing with a .500 record last season. Though there are some key spots on offense that need to be filled, the team is optimistic about continuing that ascension in 2014. I'm doing nine observations from each of the nine MIAC training camps, and my "9-for-9" from Carleton is listed below.

Carleton was my sixth stop on the tour, leaving just Hamline, Gustavus and Augsburg left on my list. I had some slight changes to my schedule, and will be visiting Hamline this afternoon, Gustavus Tuesday and wrapping the tour Wednesday at Augsburg. I also have created a landing page on the MIAC site so all the blogs and videos from the tour can be found in one spot. Links to each blog can be found at the bottom of this post.


No. 1 - Trending up
Carleton's current senior class began their college careers with a 2-8 record. They improved to 3-7 in 2012 and took another big step last season, going 5-5 overall and 3-5 in the MIAC. Now in the third season under head coach Bob Pagel, who was the interim head coach in 2012 and received the permanent position in 2013, the Knights hope the progress continues. If they could keep upping their win total and get to 6-4 in 2014, or even 7-3, it would be considered a huge success. Keep an eye on the team's progress under Pagel.

No. 2 - Searching for skill
The Knights graduated all six starters in their skill positions on offense from a year ago, including QB Conor Lynch  and his 2,122 passing yards and WR Anthony Kemper and his 982 receiving yards and nine TDs. However, the cupboard is far from empty. Sophomore RB Chris Madden flashed serious potential as a rookie, and could be poised to be one of the conference's breakout offensive stars with more touches in 2014. The versatile back caught 36 passes and racked up 797 all-purpose yards a year ago. New starting QB Zach Creighton also took some snaps as a freshman in 2013 and should team with Madden to give the Knights an offense nucleus to excite fans for years to come.

No. 3 - Offense set up front
As the new skill players adjust, they'll have the luxury of an experienced and talented offensive line, which should feature several seniors. Hopefully, the veteran line will keep Creighton clean in the passing game, and open up holes for Madden and the other backs. Leading the way is senior Eric Wittenburg, who could be poised for an All-MIAC type season as Carleton's leader up front.

Carleton has high hopes for its
veteran defense in 2014.
No. 4 - Defensive depth
For all the new faces on offense, the defense will be stacked with veterans who have put up great numbers and performances. Four of Carleton's top five tacklers are back from a year ago, and other talented players are coming back after injuries. For a team on the rise, a strong returning defense is a great asset, especially considering some of the potent offenses the Knights will face in the MIAC. Mason Schnarr was a breakout star at LB with 113 tackles, 3.5 TFL and seven pass breakups as a freshman, and he'll look to continue the strong start to his career in 2014. Senior DBs Daniel Cook (81 tackles, three INTs) and Alex Polk (80 tackles, six breakups) should give the Knights a strong secondary, and Mitch Heflin and Zach Heinrich join Schnarr at linebacker to give Carleton one of the best returning LB corps in the MIAC. If the team can get some production out of the defensive line - the one defensive unit hit by graduation - the sky's the limit for the Carleton defense in 2014.

No. 5 - Promising rookies
After the scrimmage with UW-River Falls, I spoke to Heinrich and Pagel and they both spoke excitedly about the incoming freshmen class, and it's clear many are expected to contribute right away. Heinrich, a senior leader, said the team has really embraced the new crop of rookies and integrated them into the team with open arms, so if some of the talented newcomers can step in and make an impact, it will make the future - and even the present - incredibly bright for the Knights.

No. 6 - Staying healthy
The other thing both Pagel and Heinrich said is that they don't have a very large team in terms of numbers in 2014. That will make health essential. Without a ton of depth, a few key injuries could really derail the Knights' hopes this season. Staying healthy and doing everything they can to develop some depth with their smaller roster will be a key to Carleton's success.

Carleton hopes for more succes
in the red zone in 2014.
No. 7 - Capitalizing on chances
A year ago, Carleton maxmized its opportunities, which is evidenced by a pair of key stats. Despite ranking sixth in the MIAC in offensive yardage, the Knights had the third-best scoring offense in the league. To compliment that, Carleton was the No. 2 team in the MIAC in the red zone, scoring on 83 percent (30-of-36) of its trips inside the 20. Even better, the Knights led the MIAC with touchdowns on 75 percent of its trips to the red zone, meaning the team was the best in the league at finishing drives. If that trend can continue and Carleton's offense can continue its opportunistic nature, it will both put pressure on opponents and give that veteran defense some much needed rest on the sidelines.

No. 8 - Comeback kids
In Carleton's three conference wins in 2013, the Knights came from behind all three times, including twice in dramatic fashion. The team trailed rival St. Olaf 21-7 in the first quarter and 24-21 in the second before rallying for a 42-37 shootout win. The Knights were down 17 late in the game against Hamline, but a Madden TD tied it up, and Carleton won it with a field goal in OT. Most incredibly, Carleton trailed Augsburg by 17, 45-28, with just over seven minutes left, and rallied for an improbable 49-45 victory in its final game of the season. Those thrilling comeback wins should give Carleton confidence it can come back from any deficit, or make big plays with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. Those victories show a team that has learned how to win, and they hope to have more opportunities to apply those lessons in 2014.

No. 9 - The next step     
Carleton's wins over an improved Hamline squad, rival St. Olaf and a very good Augsburg team certainly were cause for celebration on the Knights' campus. However, to keep progressing, Carleton will be looking for a signature win against one (or more) of the league's upper echelon teams. A year ago, the Knights lost to Concordia by just eight points (35-27) and just 10 to Saint John's (23-13). This year, if the Knights can use their late-game magic in a few games against teams near the top of the standings, finishing above .500 and taking that next big step towards contention becomes a reality. Keep an eye on Carleton during their biggest MIAC matchups to see if the team can continue climbing in the conference standings.

2014 MIAC Football Training Camp Tour
Aug. 25 - Bethel
Aug. 28 - Saint John's
Aug. 29 - Concordia
Aug. 30 - St. Thomas
Aug. 31 - St. Olaf
Sept. 1 - Carleton

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave a comment or a question! (All are subject to moderation)