2014 Training Camp Tour - HU

Some last-minute changes to practice schedules altered my Labor Day plans, and instead of heading to St. Peter to hang out with the Gusties, I enjoyed a shorter trip to St. Paul and fought the final-day State Fair traffic to get a look at the Hamline University Pipers in their second camp under Head Coach Chad Rogosheske. It was a great day, and my first look at a team transitioning from "camp mode" to preparations for their first game.

Hamline showed glimpses of promise last season that hadn't been evident in previous seasons. My visit to Monday's practice revealed an optimistic group and a very efficient practice, with a mix of drill and fundamental work and big-picture team sessions. Rogosheske returns some of his best players from a year ago, and it's logical to expect the Pipers to continue to improve.

The MIAC Training Camp Tour is winding to a close with just two stops remaining. Today I'll be heading to Gustavus (following a hectic afternoon with our first Athlete-of-the-Week releases for 2014-15) and I'll wrap up the tour tomorrow with a visit to Augsburg. It's been an exciting week-and-a-half visiting each of the MIAC's teams, and I'm confident it will end with a couple of high notes. At each stop, I'm doing "Nine-for-Nine" ... nine items of interest for each of the nine stops on the tour. Hamline's "Nine-for-Nine" and accompanying video are below, and a full archive of the tour can be found at the bottom of the post.


No. 1 - Getting familiar
When I spoke to Rogosheske after Monday's practice, he talked about the differences in camp this year now that it's his second year on the job. Players know what to expect from a practice and preparation standpoint, and they can spend more time on the details and fine tuning than a year ago, when everyone was learning a new system and style. The Pipers' practice was remarkable upbeat and efficient. It appeared all players were engaged at all times, whether during the positional drill work which focused on fundamentals, or during the team sessions. Intensity was high for 7-on-7 and full team scrimmages, with both the offense and defense trying to gain an edge. After visiting the Pipers a year ago during Rogosheske's rookie year, it certainly seemed every part of practice ran like a well-oiled machine, and there was evidence of continued progress.

Hamline RB Austin Duncan is back after
leading the MIAC in rushing yards in 2013.
No. 2 - All Duncan, all the time
A year ago, Sophomore RB Austin Duncan emerged as one of the league's breakout stars. His 1,460 yards led the MIAC by a single yard over Gustavus' Jeffrey Dubose, and his 319 carries led the league buy a wide margin. For all those carries, Duncan held up incredibly well and only fumbled once all season. His virtuoso performance came in a 298-yard masterpiece in an overtime loss to Carleton, and he was named All-MIAC and Third Team All-Region. Duncan's season included new Hamline records for single-season and single-game rushing yards. Rogosheske praised Duncan's talent and his durability, so expect him to get a ton of touches again this season. He looked great in practice Monday and another huge season seems like a certainty for the Pipers' star RB.

No. 3 - Leading the way
Leading the way for Duncan and all those carries and yards is a stout, veteran offensive line. Senior Alec Grimm was named one of the team's captains, and he'll move to center this year to help direct traffic and make the right calls for a team that had the No. 2 rushing attack in the MIAC in 2013. Hamline racked up 2,049 yards with a good average of 4.2 yards per carry, and a lot of the credit goes to Grimm and his teammates along the line. Look for them to have another great year as Hamline tries to pound the rock and control the clock.

Hamline hopes for more passing production.
No. 4 - Improve through the air
While the rushing game is already one of the league's best, Rogosheske didn't mince words while discussing the need for more offense through the air. Hamline ranked dead last in passing in the MIAC in 2013 with just 122.2 yards per game and 4.8 yards per attempt. Part of the problem was health, as junior starter Tim Bona missed a pair of games, and three different QBs saw significant snaps under center. This year, Bona is entering the season healthy and a newly minted captain, and hopes are high for him in his second season, especially with defenses stacked to stop Duncan and the running game. Look for Hamline to incorporate some quick-strike plays on the edge to establish rhythm and find cracks in those stacked defenses. Rogosheske is high on senior WR Hoyfal Adam, who he said has had a great camp and offseason and could help jump-start that passing attack, and leading receiver Naji El-ARaby is back after a solid rookie campaign. The Pipers return nearly all their significant pass catchers from a season ago, so experience could breed results as well.

No. 5 - Tackling machine
A season ago, DB Anthony Hill racked up 109 total tackles to rank fourth in the MIAC despite playing in just nine games after missing the opener. The tackling machine had an average of 12.1 stops per game, which ranked second in the league and he added three tackles for a loss, an interception and eight pass breakups. Hill will again be the leader of the Piper secondary - if not the defense as a whole - and brings a hard-nosed presence to the Hamline defensive backfield. The hope at Hamline is that he won't have to hit the century mark again, because that would mean more plays made in front of him and fewer snaps for the opposing offense, but regardless of how the number shake out, his play will be a key to Hamline's defensive hopes again in 2014.

No. 6 - Experience on defense
HIll isn't the only key defender back on defense, as Hamline only graduated only a few key members of last season's squad. Senior captain Corey Touchette is back after 37 tackles, four sacks and five TFL a year ago, and his play at a hybrid rush end/drop linebacker spot will be a key to the unit's success. DL Matt Wildes returns after a team-high 9.5 TFL and second-best 46 tackles a season ago and, in all, Hamline's top four tacklers and eight of the top nine are all back as the unit looks to improve and give its ball-control offense more chances to be on the field. A year ago, Hamline generated just 15 turnovers (four interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries) so creating takeaways will be another emphasis for the team this season. To end 2013, the Pipers allowed just 20 points to Saint John's and seven to Macalester, so Rogosheske hopes that's a trend that will continue.

No. 7 - Kicking consistency
A year ago, Hamline had a chance to start 2-0, but missed field goals late in regulation and again in overtime were costly in a 20-17 OT loss to Carleton. The team also came close in a 20-14 loss to Saint John's and a 7-0 loss to Macalester. Rogosheske acknowledged the role special teams played in those close calls and said the team needed more consistency in the kicking game in 2014. The Pipers were just 2-for-6 on FGs and 16-for-19 on PATs last season, and the punters averaged just 30.2 yards per punt, so if the team can show improvement in those areas, it could make a big difference in close games this season.

Piper camp has gone well under second-year
Head Coach Chad Rogsheske.
No. 8 - Numbers are up
Hamline returned 52 players from last season's squad, and both started and finished camp with 78 players on the roster. Rogosheske said the improved numbers made a big difference throughout training camp, as the team could employ more units and keep the foot on the gas pedal a little more, where a season ago they had to really gauge when the guys were getting burned out and needed off-days or lighter workloads. The team is still working on building depth and hoping to avoid injuries in key spots, but the amount of returners and a big, promising crop of freshmen have the roster in much better shape than it's been in recent years.

No. 9 - Rebuilding is working
Prior to Rogosheske's arrival, Hamline had gone 1-9, 0-10 and 1-9 in the previous three seasons. His 2-8 (1-7 MIAC) team matched that win total in his first season, and it was clear the Piper alum was a good fit for the program, and the team was willing to put in the necessary work on the rebuilding project. This season, the team hopes to be successful against nonconference foes UM-Morris and Macalester again, and after beating St. Olaf and narrowly losing to Carleton and Saint John's in 2013, the team is hopeful for a few more MIAC victories as well. It wouldn't be shocking - if Duncan, Hill and other key players stay healthy and productive - to see the Pipers double their win total again and move towards the middle of the pack in the MIAC. The team has a good recipe for success with its running game and returners on defense, and its improved depth and familiarity with Rogosheske's system are both bonuses as well. The 2014 squad should elicit the most optimism Hamline fans have had this decade.

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
Sept. 2 - Hamline

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