Friday's trip to Northfield was a great two-for-one afternoon, as I caught the second half of Carleton's practice after my visit to St. Olaf. I got to see a ton of variety from the Knights, from all sorts of different positional drills to scrimmaging to special teams to conditioning. The team was very happy to be in full pads and hitting and several players told me that they couldn't wait to start getting more physical.
The stop at Carleton puts us halfway through the MIACcamp tour, with the final four schools all coming this week. At the halfway point, it also seems fitting that we released the 2015 MIAC Football Preview & Preseason Coaches' Poll so, between the preview & the camp tour, hopefully MIAC fans have more than enough resources to fuel their optimism for the start of the season.
My top four observations from Friday's practice are below in "Four Downs" and be sure to check out our updated photo gallery with some images from Carleton's practice, as well as a video with highlightsand interviews with Head Coach Bob Pagel, Senior DE Mitch Heflin and Senior TE Matt Mensinger.
Carleton isn't just counting on the new recruits to contribute in new areas. One of my top takeaways from Knights camp is that they're not going to stick with the known commodities and stick with the status quo if they can find a better solution. The result is some interesting position changes that could put some talented players in better position to succeed. The biggest example is Chris Madden (130.4 all-purpose yards per game) making the move from RB to WR to put his speed out on the edge and likely give him more room to work and isolate. Madden has really impressed me when I've seen him both in practices and games, and I could see him really blossoming at receiver and even still factoring into the running game despite lining up in a new spot. His move could also open the door for bigger, more physical running backs to join the starting unit and provide a little more versatility.
SECOND DOWN - Drilling it home
Carleton's practice featured a great mix of live action scrimmages and some really interesting drills, especially some great position-specific ones that really drilled home important techniques and fundamentals. From defensive linemen working on hauling in fumbles to receivers staying low and catching passes in and out of their breaks, I really enjoyed the coaches teaching the players the finer points of the game, and the way the team attacked their craft.
This applies to a lot of players on the roster, including Madden in his new role, Heflin as one of the defensive leaders, and especially to junior QB Zach Creighton (741 passing yards, 617 rushing yards). The dual-threat QB got some great on-the-job training a year ago, and if he can take a big step forward in his second year as a starter, it could help the Knights double their win total from a year ago (2-8). Also, Carleton will be looking for more offensive playmakers to emerge around Creighton and Madden, both at RB and WR and to replace four-year starter Eric Wittenburg on the line. The defense will also try to replace S Alex Polk and LB Zach Heinrich, so there are spots all over the field where guys will be asked to step into larger roles and produce right away.
FOURTH DOWN - Coming together
Carleton has one of the smallest rosters in the MIAC this season - as Coach Pagel told me, "We're gonna need everyone," - so it's even more important that team unity exists up and down the roster. That was on full display Friday, with older players working with the younger guys and encouraging them, to the way the team rallied together around their final conditioning of the session and the post-game pep talk. This appears to be a close-knit team that's ready to go into battle together.
CAMP TOUR CONTINUES MONDAY
The MIAC Football Camp Tour continues Friday afternoon with a trip to St. Paul for my first look at the University of St. Thomas Tommies, who enter the season ranked 22nd or higher in three different national polls. 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.