WASHINGTON - The Georgetown University football team is halfway through its spring practice schedule, having completed its eighth official practice on Thursday morning. As the Hoyas prepare for the 2017 season, the coaching staff has been impressed with the energy and mentality at which the team has performed in both the weight room and on the field.
"The spring is one of my favorite times of our year," Georgetown Head Coach Rob Sgarlata said. "Our strength coach, Chris Tolzman, and his staff have done a tremendous job with our first six weeks of training in preparation for spring ball. We are at the halfway point and I am excited about how our staff and players are competing and attacking every day in the weight room and on the field. It is great to see our younger players gaining valuable experience for the 2017 campaign. "
The Hoyas are returning all but two players who saw significant playing time on the offensive side of the ball. Offensive Coordinator Michael Neuberguer is using the spring practices to focus on the fundamentals to solidify their offensive identity. The Blue & Gray is approaching the task with three themes in mind which are to lay the foundation, fortify the wall and assess and advance.
"We are progressing extremely well," Neuberger said. "We are not in a huge hurry this spring to get everything in, so we are not trying to shove a lot of plays and a lot of different schemes down their throat. We want to make sure our kids know what our identity is going into next fall and they have really bought into that. We are trying to get good at what we believe, based off of our personnel, we are and can do well and continue to build off of that."
One of the position groups that Neuberger has been most impressed with this spring is the offensive line. The Hoyas were young on the offensive line last season as five of the 10 linemen who received playing time were making their collegiate debuts in 2016. They do not lose anyone to graduation and return four rising seniors -- Nick James, Dominic Scarangella, Matthew Houpert and Michael McFarlane -- who have combined for 86 career starts.
"Our rising seniors are a very strong core for us and their confidence is allowing us to play faster and play better. The freshmen that we have there, I think are going to be some good players and have shown a lot of improvement as well as our sophomore group. That senior group is doing a good job leading and following the adjustments that our new offensive line coach, Alex Kolt, is making."
Kolt is one of two new faces coaching the on the offensive side of the ball as he returns to his original position on the offensive line. He had been Georgetown's defensive line coach for the past fourseasons after serving as an offensive line assistant and tight ends coach for his first two years on the Hilltop. The Blue & Gray has also welcomed Adam Neugebauer to the coaching staff and he will work directly with the wide receivers.
"Two fresh minds are good," Neuberger sad. "When you add two new guys, you get two new perspectives on what it is that we do. We have done a great job this spring being extremely detailed in our practice planning and our installation - making sure that we've ironed out all the wrinkles. Those guys have done an unbelievable job in taking in that information and put their twist on to how we are doing things and how we could make things better."
Under new defensive coordinator Kevin Doherty, the GU defense is focusing on fundamentals this spring, while looking to plug holes left by the graduation of some key playmakers, including 2016 All-Patriot League selections Hunter Kiselick and Leo Loughrey.
"We are happy where we are right now," Doherty said. "The good thing about our defense is that we are making daily progress. We're really focusing on fundamentals. We've seen some real improvement in tackling. We've got to get better at block destruction, we've got to get better at taking the football away, but we've been making some good, solid progress right now."
The Hoyas return every member of its secondary that finished among the league leaders in interceptions in 2016, led by rising seniors David Akere (77 tackles, 2 interceptions) and Jelani Williamson (50 tackles, 4 interceptions). While GU does return its leading tackler from last season in J'V'on Butler (87 tackles), as well as veterans Daniel Yankovich, Matthew Apuzzi and Bryan Jefferson, the Blue & Gray does not return a lot of experience in its defensive front seven.
"We're trying to develop leadership within each individual group," Doherty said. "We've got some good leaders and experience in the secondary, so that part is gelling well. Our defensive line is playing physical. We need to improve techniques. We have a young group of linebackers that are a little further behind right now than the other groups, but we feel we have a good group there as well."
"Mike Taylor is a guy that we have already identified as a defense as a guy that puts forth extraordinary effort in his preparation and how he approaches practice. We have got to get more guys like Mike Taylor right now. We have one right now, we want to get 11."
Doherty, who moved from special teams coordinator last season and will now work directly with the linebackers, is not the only defensive coach working with a new position. Kellen Pruitt has made the move to coaching the defensive linemen after working with the defensive ends and nickel backs in his first season with the Hoyas last year. Maurice Banks will continue to work with the defensive backs while also serving in his new role as special teams coordinator.