It's Christmas in August for Boston College Eagles fans, as the long, excruciating offseason comes to a close with the start of summer practices. The 2010 chapter of Boston College football starts Monday with the first practice scheduled for the afternoon.
For this week's Top Five, we look at five story lines that will undoubtedly come out of the Eagles' August practices and scrimmages.
1. How effective will Mark Herzlich be at linebacker?
The Herzlich story dominated ACC Media Days, and with good reason. The All-American linebacker sat out last season battling Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, and now looks to come all the way back by making his return to the field in 2010. If you ask me, there currently isn't a better comeback story in sports, and Mark looks to write the final chapter of his tale when he runs out of the tunnel and onto the Alumni Stadium turf on Sept. 4.
The question is how effective will Herzlich be with in his return? Mark was held out of contact drills in the spring as he recovered from surgery on his leg. As much as he tried to sneak in some hits in the spring, the coaching staff has been cautiously monitoring the situation and the summer practices will be the first true contact drills he's gone through since the 2008 season.
If Herzlich, the 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, can return to form, he will lead one of the best linebacking corps in the conference this year, joining sophomore phenom Luke Kuechly and senior LB Mike Morrissey.
2. Who, exactly, is starting on the Eagles defensive line?
As the Globe reported on Sunday, one of Coach Spaziani's biggest concerns heading into spring practice is the defensive line. The Eagles have had very strong defenses the past few seasons, and had guys like B.J. Raji and Ron Brace lining up against opposing offensive lineman just a few years ago.
This year, the defensive line remains extremely thin, and is approaching the August quarterback situation from a season ago. Senior LT Damik Scafe has battled neck and back injuries throughout his career, and Spaz is unsure whether Scafe will be ready to go for the season opener. Scafe's backup, junior Kaleb Ramsey, is unsure whether he will return to the team this call. In the spring, Spaz toyed with the idea of moving Ifeanyi Momah from WR to defensive end this season, but that plan seems to be put on hold.
BC will likely turn to players like seniors Alex Albright and Brad Newman (who moved from end to tackle) to anchor the line, but will have to utilize underclassmen like Max Holloway, Conor O'Neal and Kasim Edebali to plug the holes on the line. Hopefully these young players can step up and contribute right away, especially for a defense that had an awfully hard time getting pressure on opposing QBs in 2009.
3. How much progress has Shinskie made at quarterback?
Sure, the Eagles might be in an infinitely better position at QB heading into the 2010 season than they were a year ago, but it's clear there's work left to be done. Still, things seem much more upbeat heading into this summer's camp:
"Like night and day,’’ said Dave Shinskie with a laugh. "Everything has changed. Physically, I’m in better shape. My body has changed. Mentally, I understand so much more. I feel I can do so many more things.’’
While Spaz has made it clear that the job is Shinskie's to lose, he will undoubtedly be pushed by a trio of backups. Shinskie's closest competitor is fellow sophomore Mike Marscovetra, who looked sharp in the Jay McGillis spring game and has the only other game experience of the quartet of QB candidates. I don't think you'll see the other two candidates -- true freshmen Chase Rettig and Josh Bordner -- seriously challenge for the starting job.
Shinskie, of course, is no ordinary sophomore. The 26 year-old minor league baseball player turned college quarterback had a roller coaster year, and seemed to regress a bit as the year wore on last season. Still, Shinskie did turn in a 2,049 yard, 15 TD performance as a freshman, and he was a big reason why the Eagles won eight games for the ninth consecutive season. If the Eagles expect to continue that streak, however, Shinskie will have to continue to show improvement.
4. Who will be on the receiving end of Shinskie pass attempts?
Just like the defensive line, depth remains a concern with the Eagles' receiving corps. Gone is BC's all-time leader in receiving yards, Rich Gunnell, as well as a pair of talented wide receivers in Justin Jarvis and Clarence Megwa. The Eagles will look to reload with talented junior Colin Larmond Jr. leading the way. Seniors Ifeanyi Momah and Billy Flutie will help carry the workload. Shinskie will also have to rely on a quartet of young receivers in sophomores Donte Eliot and Clyde Lee, redshirt freshman Johnathan Coleman and true freshman Shakim Phillips.
At tight end, the Eagles return Chris Pantale, who had a strong 2009 performance as a redshirt freshman (25 receptions, 223 yards, 1 TD). Junior Lars Anderson (8 rec, 102 yards) also should factor into the Eagles passing game playing behind Pantale.
Although the receiving corp loses Gunnell, this unit is probably as experienced as it has been over the past few years. The receivers will have to limit the drops though -- a problem that plagued them last year -- if the Eagles are to improve on a passing offense that ranked just 93rd nationally.
5. Can we get a little support here for Montel Harris?
I don't think this is as big of a concern as others have made it out to be, but depth in the Eagles backfield remains an issue. BC's Montel Harris carried the ball 308 times last season. Only three running backs carried the ball more times than Harris -- Navy's QB Ricky Dobbs, Stanford's Heisman Trophy finalist Toby Gerhart and Pitt's Dion Lewis.
Can a brother get a little support around here?
I don't think this is too big of a deal considering the unique set of circumstances that led to Harris carrying the ball over 65 percent of the time for the Eagles. Backup running back Josh Haden decided to transfer after the N.C. State game. So did Justin Tuggle, the Eagles backup QB who was much more comfortable scrambling after getting flushed from the pocket than Shinskie. That same week, BC's third string RB Rolandan Finch came down with mononucleosis and missed the rest of the season.
It now looks like Finch will miss the season with a knee injury suffered in the spring. Hopefully, newcomers Sterlin Phifer and Tahj Kimble can help carry the workload and limit the number of times the Eagles go to Harris this season.