Thursday's trip to Augsburg means we're one-third of the way through the tour around the MIAC, and it was also notable because I finally got to see a full outdoor practice with picture-perfect weather! After the first two days of rain and field house workouts, it finally felt like football season with the sun beating down, the crack of the pads echoing throughout Edor Nelson Field and the little black turf pellets lodged in my sandals.
For the second-straight day, I visited a team on their first day of full-pad workouts, and the Auggies were fired up about their first live hitting of the year. There was a ton of variation during the practice from specialized individual drills to full-team scrimmaging. It was a really fun, high-energy workout, and it was really clear that Augsburg is trying to ramp up the intensity ... and they're having a blast doing it.
My top four observations from Thursday's practice are below in "Four Downs" and be sure to check out our updated photo gallery with some images from practice (Hallelujah - finally some outdoor football photos!), as well as a video with highlights and interviews with Head Coach Frank Haege, QB Ayrton Scott, WR Joey Sonnenfeld and OL Zach Swingen.
It seems like Scott has been under center for the Auggies for about a decade, but in reality it's been three remarkable season, and the senior is poised to write a final chapter to an unbelievable career in 2015. With some serious weapons back around him, it's completely plausible to expect even better numbers than the 2,874 passing yards, 869 rushing yards and 35 total TDs he racked up in 2014. If Scott can add a few percentage points to his 58.3 completion percentage and maintain the 2-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio, the Auggie offense could be even more lethal. Beyond the numbers, Scott appears completely in control of both the offense and his abilities at the start of his final season. I was impressed with his decision-making and accuracy on Thursday, and even more with his leadership. He was mentoring the young QBs, getting everyone on offense on the same page, and it's clear this senior is ready to lead.
SECOND DOWN - EXPLOSIVE OFFENSE
We'll stay on offense for second down, where Scott isn't the only star returning for the maroon-and-silver. Senior WR Sonnenfeld is a preseason All-American and led the MIAC with 1,219 receiving yards a year ago, with his 14 TDs ranking second and 70 catches ranking third. He's a big, athletic target that will continue to make Scott's life easier, as the two form one of the MIAC's best QB-WR duos. The Auggies will have to replace versatile RB Jerise Washington, but No. 2 WR Hunter Friesen (610 yards, 6 TDs) is back as well, and Swingen anchors a talented offensive line that appears ready to build on its 31.3 points per game and 450.6 yards per game in 2014.
Last season, Augsburg was last in the MIAC in scoring defense (37.3 ppg alowed) and seventh in yardage (420.5 yards per game allowed). With its offensive abilities, the Auggies don't need to lead the MIAC in defense to have a successful season, but a little improvement would go a long way. Haege has made a few staff changes on that side of the ball, bringing in some high-energy coaches including Todd Strop to ramp up the intensity. Defense is always ahead of offense at this point in the season, but I was really impressed with the Auggie defense Thursday. They were aggressive and instinctive and held their own with their high-powered counterparts. Replacing MIAC Mike Stam award winner Chris DeVet and LB Felix Coleman will be a tall task, but nine of the team's top 12 tacklers return to give the new coaches a solid foundation.
FOURTH DOWN - SURVIVING THE SCHEDULE
Augsburg doesn't get to ease into the 2015 season. The Auggies open on Sept. 5 with a trip to Waverly, Iowa, to face preseason No. 6-ranked Wartburg. They'll also face No. 9 Saint John's, No. 14 St. Thomas and No. 20 Bethel in conference play to give the team a particularly daunting slate. Augsburg finished the 2014 season with a remarkable 62-61 upset of Bethel, and the team his hoping that performance can be a springboard into the difficult 2015 campaign. Even if the Auggies can go to Wartburg and give the Knights a spirited fight in the opener, it could go a long way toward giving Augsburg confidence against the highly-ranked MIAC foes that it will face throughout the season. During Scott's tenure as the Auggie QB, they've won a handful of close games against the conference's elite, but have also come up short in some huge spots, and how this team handles those big moments in close games could determine whether Augsburg is a MIAC contender, or a member of the middle-of-the-pack.
CAMP TOUR CONTINUES FRIDAY
The MIAC Football Camp Tour continues Friday afternoon with my first two-team adventure. I'll be on the road to Northfield to catch practices at both St. Olaf and Carleton. The full camp tour schedule is listed below with my date that I'll be visiting each team, and expect a blog and video to go online a day or two after each stop.
Tuesday, Aug. 18 - Gustavus - St. Peter, Minn.
Wednesday, Aug. 19 - Bethel - Arden Hills, Minn.
Thursday, Aug. 20 - Augsburg - Minneapolis, Minn.
Friday, Aug. 21 - St. Olaf and Carleton - Northfield, Minn.
Monday, Aug. 24 - St. Thomas - St. Paul, Minn.
Tuesday, Aug. 25 - Hamline - St. Paul, Minn.
Wednesday, Aug. 26 - Saint John's and Concordia - Collegeville and Moorhead, Minn.