This Saturday, Lehigh will kick off the 2023 season, and the Kevin Cahill era, at home against Villanova.
And there are a lot of unknowns.
Sure, there are always unknowns in the run-up to college football season – it’s always a competition for slots on the depth chart, different kids shine in practice and get a chance in games, and until the game notes come out (and sometimes not even then), the first answers to the question “what will the 2023 team look like?” are answered.
Here’s what I think the 2023 Lehigh Mountain Hawks might look like going into the home opener.
OTHER PREVIEW CONTENT:
Patriot League Preview – Can Anyone Dethrone the Crusaders?
Preseason Camp – Cahill and Mountain Hawks Dedicating To Make Goodman Home Field Advantage
Lehigh Football – Getting to Know Your 2023 Non-Conference Opponents
Probably the first thing to expect for the coming year is that for the first time in a long time, a brand new coaching staff, for the most part, is on South Mountain.
This will be the first game in a very long time that an official member of the “Lehigh head coaching tree” is not the leader on the sideline. If you’ve ever played the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”, with every Lehigh head football coach since the 1980s you could play the game “Six Degrees of Hank Small”, as every head coach from then until now – Kevin Higgins, Pete Lembo, Andy Coen, and Tom Gilmore – could be traced back to head coach Hank Small, who coached Lehigh in their very first season in the Patriot League.
Coach Cahill finally breaks that link, with more than 20 years of coaching experience, including 10 seasons at Yale. And Lehigh’s offensive coordinator is none other than Dan Hunt, who was formerly Colgate’s head football coach.
Coach Cahill himself has been adamant that the offense and defense will be “personnel driven”, meaning anyone assuming Lehigh will come out in a read-option offense out of the Chris Brown/Jamaal Branch era will probably be mistaken.
The offense to me seems like it will be relying a bit more on the mobility of the quarterback, but it’s my opinion it’s likely to be a balanced attack between rushing and passing.
What does that mean at QB? I think that the QB race might be too close to call.
I don’t know who the starter will be, and I don’t know what coach Cahill and coach Hunt will do, but I feel like QB Dante Perri and QB Brayten Silbor will both take snaps at QB this Saturday.
Perri was last year’s starter (2,213 yards passing, 12 TDs) and has the edge in experience and maybe mobility, while Silbor has a rocket of an arm and had some spectacular plays last year as a true freshman. It’s possible both QBs will start on different drives, and Cahill or Hunt will go with the hot hand.
Next to them will be running backs RB Gaige Garcia and RB Jack DiPietro, who combined for 847 yards and 5 TDs last year. Their backups will be either junior RB Christian Murrell or first year players RB Connor Hilling or RB Luke Yoder. Last season Garcia was more the power running back and DiPietro the pass catching threat out of the backfield, but it’s unclear what role they (or any of the RBs) will have in Hunt’s new system.
Another interesting question I have for Saturday is whether Lehigh will use their tight ends more traditionally and more frequently as H-backs or pass catching threats. TE Alex Snyder and TE Ian O’Connor graduated, which leaves the possible starters as TE Nick Williams, TE Christian Williams, or first years TE Joseph Marranca or TE Jake Stalsitz.
At WR lies the deepest area of the team.
It seems likely that coach Cahill and company might go with a base 3 WR set. If I were coach Hunt – and this isn’t exactly expert analysis here – I’d have WR Eric “Megatron” Johnson, WR Geoffrey Jamiel, and WR Connor Kennedy as my top line wideouts.
They and DiPietro represent four of Lehigh’s top five receiving threats of last year, missing only WR Jalen Burbage who graduated.
Those aren’t all, however. WR Dajuan Fields, a promising young freshman in 2021 before suffering a season-ending injury at Fordham and missing the entire 2022 season, may find himself on the depth chart. WR Romelo Miner, WR Mason Humphrey or WR Brent Rosendorf also will have the opportunity to get touches. Overall there are 10 players listed at WR and if Cahill follows the historical trend, almost all of them will get looks at some point.
Part of Lehigh’s offensive woes from the last few years have stemmed from injuries on the offensive line. Critical to Lehigh’s success this season will be that unit being both effective and healthy. C George Padezanin is one of Lehigh’s three team captains and has started every game the last two years. He’ll be relied upon again to be the key guy in the middle, and if he does he has a great opportunity to be all-Patriot League at the end of the season. He’s also on the radar of NFL prospects.
There’s also quite a bit of experience returning as well. OL Langston Jones, OL Christian Jablonski and OL Aidan Palmer, all starters, return, and OL Jack Kempsey, who was looking very good last preseason before suffering a freakish season-ending injury before the first game, also returns, where he could slot in at right tackle if he’s as good as he was last preseason. Veteran OL Jackson Wiles could also be the right tackle, who has filled in ably whenever holes needed to be filled anywhere the last two years.
This is the deepest Lehigh’s offensive line has been in years, especially when you consider the young talent that could be next up on the two-deep.
It might seem odd to think of a culture change being important for Lehigh’s defense, considering in many ways it was a great unit the past few years that many times kept games close. But a newfound sense of teamwork between all the different units, brought by new defensive coordinator Richard Nagy, has the players on defense excited.
Broadly speaking it seems to be a more collaborative team defensive mentality of working together and picking each other up. In the past the mantra was “do your 1/11”, but it seems to be shifting towards being more team oriented and less isolated by position group.
Nagy is a college football coaching veteran for 35 years, who was a head football coach at Allegheny before coming to Lehigh. He has been a defensive coordinator at Western Michigan and Old Dominion as they transitioned from the CAA to FBS football.
And he has some really good defensive players, especially on the defensive line, to work with. DL Dean Colton, DL Trevor Harris and DL Ben Murphy, all seniors or 5th year players.
Not that this means Nagy will do this, but in the Bahamas Bowl with Old Dominion the Monarchs lined up in a 3-3-5. It’s an open question whether Nagy will have Lehigh run a 3-3-5, a traditional 4-3, or something else. Personally I’d be tempted to run a 4-3 with Lehigh’s depth in that area.
At linebacker LB Mike DeNucci is looking to be one of Lehigh’s best defensive players. Last year his 93 tackles and 16 TFL put him on the Buck Buchanan watch list, and he’ll be looking to be there again this season. Next to him will be LB Tyler Ochojski, who got game action last year, and probably LB Stephon Bland and LB Sam Sheridan, both seniors.
Junior DB Logan Jones is penciled in at safety (40 tackles, 1 INT), and it looks like Lehigh might be relying on transfers to be starters in the defensive backfield. It’s going to be interesting who ends up on the depth chart.
CB Javin Adderley comes to Lehigh from Sacred Heart, where he switched to corner his sophomore year, where on my depth chart he’d be starting with CB Michael Jordan on the other side. CB Devari Robinson could also be starting on the other side. CB C.J. Wood is also in the mix, who comes to Lehigh from Salisbury (D-III). He appeared in 10 games and finished with 48 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
At safety,, we could see Lucien, S Donavan Thomas or S Nick Petelkian in the depth chart.
Chuck has been writing about Lehigh football since the dawn of the internet, or perhaps it only seems like it. He’s executive editor of the College Sports Journal and has also written a book, The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series.
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