Friday, August 12, 2011
BC offense gets to spread its wings
By Jack McCluskey ESPNBoston.com
NEWTON, Mass. -- When it comes to the Boston College offense, over the past few years conversations have tended to start and end with Montel Harris.
That's because the senior running back has pretty much been the Eagles' offense since he arrived from Jacksonville's Trinity Christian before the 2008 season. Third-year head coach Frank Spaziani has said repeatedly that he doesn't know where the Eagles would be without Harris.
At times, due to a variety of issues -- injuries to other players in the backfield, inexperience at quarterback and wide receiver, to name just a couple -- the Eagles have had to ride Harris hard, handing him the ball 20, 30 or even 40 times a game. Going into the 2011 season, Spaziani said he thinks the team has made enough progress to not have to lean quite as heavily on Harris.
Colin Larmond Jr., BC's second-leading receiver in 2009 who missed last season after tearing his ACL in the preseason, is ready to go.
Forced into the starting lineup as a true freshman last season, quarterback Chase Rettig made nine starts and is confident that he's ready to go in his first full season as the starter. Freshman wideouts Alex Amidon, Johnathan Coleman and Bobby Swigert all got their feet wet; Swigert ended up leading the team in receptions (39) and receiving yards (504) and scored four touchdowns.
Freshman running back Andre Williams stepped into the backfield in place of the injured Harris in the last two regular-season games and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, running 42 times in the season finale against Syracuse for 185 yards and a score.
Chris Pantale returns at tight end, and has drawn praise from new offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers for his play in the spring and through the first days of camp. Ifeanyi Momah, a 6-foot-6, 229-pound senior who played some defensive end in 2010, has dropped 20 pounds and was voted by his peers as one of the offensive co-captains.
And then there's the guy Spaziani thinks is on the verge of becoming a "big league receiver": Colin Larmond Jr.
As a sophomore in 2009, Larmond was the team's second-leading receiver with 29 catches for 596 yards and five touchdowns. He led the team with a 20.6-yard-per-catch average.
Then in preseason last year, Larmond tore the ACL in his left knee. Suddenly, the Eagles' offense lost a dimension.
Harris said the 6-foot-3, 202-pounder stretched the field vertically and opened running lanes. Now that he's healthy, Harris said he thinks Larmond will have a big impact on the receiving corps and the offense as a whole.
To Spaziani, getting Larmond back is like adding a four-star recruit -- but a recruit who knows how the team wants things done during the week in practice and on Saturdays.
Larmond, for his part, is raring to go.
"When you sit out and you lose something that you love, you appreciate it and you value it that much more," he said at BC's media day on Friday. "That was something that I took into heart. I want to get faster. I want to make sure that I don't lose a step. Because I don't want people to say, 'He came back and he's slower than he was before. He came back but he's just not the same guy.'"
To that end, Larmond said he pushed himself to the limit and beyond in rehab, working as hard as he could even when his body wanted to quit. And now that he's back on the practice field, with no limitations, he thinks he's even gotten a little faster. Harris agrees, saying Larmond's back "plus some."
Unable to contribute last season, Larmond watched the team on TV and took note of what commentators said about the receiving corps. Then he took those criticisms to his teammates, to use as motivation. Once Rettig took the reins, Larmond got in his ear to encourage him to use his receivers -- to take control of the huddle and lead the offense.
He said he likes what he's seen from Rettig so far, and is excited about the new offense Rogers installed this offseason. How excited?
"I can't even tell you," he said with a smile. "I'm very excited. I want us to be able to help our defense out. We have a great defense and we never held up our end of the bargain."
With road games at Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Miami on the slate, Larmond said balance will be important for the Eagles. The offense can't expect the defense to always be able to pick it up.
"We're gonna play in some places where it's not very friendly down there," he said. "So we're gonna have to come together as a whole unit. Individuals play games, but teams win championships."
And that, Spaziani emphasized in his opening remarks Friday, is the goal.
"We're at Boston College and we're not trying to be 34th in the country, we're not trying to be 16th in the country. We're trying to be the best that we possibly can be," the coach said. "We want to win the Atlantic Division in our conference, in the ACC, it's a tough conference. We want to win that. We want to go to the championship game in Charlotte on Dec. 3. And then we want to go to the Orange Bowl, and we want to win that."
Harris figures to play a big role in any success the Eagles have this season, but if they're going to come close to realizing Spaziani's goals, they'll need to add a dimension to an offense that was decidedly mediocre last season. That means the 19-year-old Rettig will have to take a step forward, the offensive line will need to jell in a hurry and someone from the receiving corps will need to make plays to keep opposing defenses from stacking eight men in the box.
Perhaps the best candidate for that job is the guy wearing No. 1: Larmond.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.