The Cornell football season will not kick off for another five months, however, the first steps for head coach Jim Knowles’ ’87 squad towards an elusive Ivy League title started last Wednesday night, when the team held its first spring practice.
Because of graduation, there are several holes which Knowles and his staff will have to fill. Although the Red returns 29 letter winners, senior Ryan Kuhn, a first-team All-Ivy quarterback, as well as NFL-bound offensive lineman Kevin Boothe will both be departing. Both athletes were notable contributors in the Red’s Ivy League-leading rushing offense last season.
On the other side of the ball, the Ancient Eight’s stingiest run-defense statistically for the second-straight year will be forced to deal with life after All-Ivy performers safety Kevin Rex, linebackers Joel Sussman and Patrick Potts and lineman Matt Pollock among others.
During the team’s 11 days of practice, Knowles hopes to evaluate his players and take note of any improvements in his returnees.
While he is confident that his defense will be up to par despite the team’s losses, Knowles is especially anxious in how his offense will start to pan out. Last season, behind Kuhn and sophomore tailback Luke Siwula, who both rushed for over 1,000 yards, the Red relied almost exclusively on its running attack. However, Knowles acknowledged that things will change next season.
“On offense, which we really didn’t focus much on [my] first year, in the second year, we focused on our run offense and all of the sudden, we became first in the Ivy League [in that department],” said Knowles, who will be entering his third season. “Now, we really have to focus on our total offense. With Ryan leaving, we have to become more balanced.”
Because of this, Knowles is especially looking out for any standouts in his receiving corps this spring. With primary wideout Brian Romney also graduating, Knowles is looking to returning junior receiver Anthony Jackson, as well as freshmen Tom Bleymaier and Shane Kilcoyne seeing a lot of the ball. Knowles said he especially hopes some of his younger players will breakout during practice, similar to what Siwula did last year.
“We have to keep scoring more points, so I’m looking in the spring for someone like Luke, [where we say], ‘Hey, watch this kid.’ We’re looking for someone to jump out at us,” Knowles said.
Although the Red averaged 26.8 points per game – an improvement of over 10 points in the 2004 campaign – Knowles noted that his offense must be even stronger.
This is why the most intense battle over spring ball will be at quarterback, where the two front-runners seem to be freshmen Nathan Ford and Shane Connolly. Ford saw significant time towards the beginning of the 2005 season, playing in four games, but according to Knowles, there is no clear favorite.
“It’s a wide-open competition,” Knowles said. “We usually don’t tackle the quarterback in the spring but we’ll hit them this year, because we need to see who can run and who can make passes on the move and under pressure.”
The intra-squad Cornell Spring Game is on Saturday, April 29, at 4 p.m. at Schoellkopf Field.