Steve Addazio's new coordinators will be tasked with replacing key players on both sides of the ball
The 2018 season started very well for the Boston College Eagles. As Boston College prepared to host No. 2 Clemson on Nov. 10, Steve Addazio’s squad sat 7-2 overall, 4-1 in ACC play, and was riding a three-game winning streak. The Eagles were ranked in the top 20, and within striking distance of the Atlantic Division title. Boston College even took a 7-3 lead over the Tigers midway through the first quarter (despite losing starting quarterback Anthony Brown to injury during the opening possession) after Michael Walker scored on a 74-yard punt return.
But the Eagles could not maintain the momentum without Brown as Clemson responded in dominant fashion, winning 27-7 to wrap up a spot in the ACC Championship Game. The game helped pave the way for the Tigers to win the national championship, and Boston College never recovered.
The Eagles lost to Florida State 22-21 in heartbreaking fashion the following week, and were outclassed by No. 20 Syracuse 42-21 at home in the regular-season finale. Boston College limped into the First Responder Bowl, but the season came to an unexpected early close when the game — and a potential springboard victory over Boise State — was cancelled due to weather. A once promising season concluded unceremoniously and deprived the Eagles of any momentum ahead of 2019.
As the saying goes (though it typically applies to another sport), hope springs eternal. Yet while the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox relocate to Florida this time of year, the Eagles remain in Chestnut Hill for spring football practice. As Boston College prepares for the Jay McGillis Memorial Spring Game on April 6, we explore five things to watch as the Eagles return to the practice field.
5 Storylines to Watch During Boston College’s Spring Practice
1. (Re)building from within, Part I
Great college football teams are often built from within. Naturally, the most important task for the Boston College offense this spring is replacing a quartet of experienced offensive linemen. Chris Lindstrom (47 career starts), Aaron Monteiro (41), Jon Baker (38), and Sam Schmal (19) are all out of eligibility after spending multiple seasons in the trenches for the Eagles.
Fortunately, Boston College isn’t devoid of experience along the line. Benjamin Petrula has started 24 games over the last two seasons and is likely to move from right tackle to left. Elijah Johnson (10) and John Phillips (18) also have spent considerable time in the starting lineup, and are the early favorites to man right tackle and left guard, respectively. Boston College also is set to welcome graduate transfer Hayden Mahoney from Miami. Mahoney played in all 13 games and made 10 starts (at three different positions) for the Hurricanes last year, and would fit nicely at right guard, where he started seven times in 2018.
Alec Lindstrom, who made one start and appeared in 11 games as a redshirt freshman last season, "is going to be elite at the center position," according to head coach Steve Addazio. Tyler Vrabel appeared in two games as a true freshman last year, and will compete for a starting job after moving into a backup role at right tackle late in the season.
2. (Re)building from within, Part II
Boston College also must replace the majority of its starters on the defensive line. Addazio and his defensive coaching staff were able to line up ends Zach Allen and Wyatt Ray and tackles Ray Smith and Tanner Karaka alongside one another in all 12 games last season. The four played a big role in helping the Eagles rank third in the ACC in yards allowed per play (5.17) and fourth in yards per carry (3.77) while also racking up 33 sacks. Ray (who ranked fifth in the ACC with 9.0 sacks) and Allen (ninth, 6.5) combined for nearly half the team’s sacks by themselves. However, Ray, Allen and Smith are all out of eligibility, leaving Karaka (4.0 sacks in 2018) as the only experienced starter on the defensive line.
New defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan will likely turn to redshirt freshman Marcus Valdez, who backed up the future pro Allen, and Brandon Barlow, who came on strong at the end of last season, at end. Barlow accounted for 10 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss against Syracuse, and appears poised to be the next great Boston College pass rusher. Joe Luchetti, a former tight end and highly sought-after basketball prospect, will also compete for playing time as an edge rusher. T.J. Rayam has the inside track to start alongside Karaka at the other tackle spot.
3. Offensive building blocks
The discussion in the spring often focuses on personnel changes, but it’s important to recognize Boston College has a strong foundation on which to build — particularly on offense. Though he’ll run behind a new-look offensive line, running back AJ Dillon is one of the best players in college football. Dillon ran for 1,108 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games as a sophomore (following a Freshman All-American campaign in which he ran for 1,589 yards and 14 TDs), as he finished 13th in the FBS in rushing yards per game (110.8). If healthy (he missed two games with an ankle injury), Dillon should be a Heisman Trophy contender. If not, David Bailey and Travis Levy are capable of carrying a heavier load.
The Eagles are set at quarterback as well. Anthony Brown has 22 career starts under his belt, and he showed improvement as a passer as a sophomore, completing 55.3 percent of his attempts for 2,121 yards and 20 touchdowns with nine interceptions, while posting a 134.8 rating. Brown will have his top target back in Kobay White, who led the team with 33 receptions and 526 receiving yards to go along with three touchdown catches as a sophomore in 2018.
4. New faces in the secondary
The Eagles led the ACC and ranked fifth in the nation in interceptions last season, picking off 18 passes (two of which were returned for touchdowns). It was no fluke: Boston College recorded 18 interceptions in 2017 as well, giving the Eagles a two-year total better than all but one FBS program (Iowa, 41 over the same period). But now for the bad news: Seven of the nine players responsible for those interceptions — including All-American Hamp Cheevers, who tied for the FBS lead with seven as a junior and declared early for the NFL draft — are gone.
Cheevers was a stalwart at right cornerback, making 15 consecutive starts at the position. Free safety Lukas Denis and strong safety Will Harris combined for 66 career starts, including 25 in a row in the same secondary. Taj-Amir Torres, who appeared in 50 games and made 12 starts across four seasons, also is out of eligibility.
With those three gone, Brandon Sebastian is the most experienced player remaining in the defensive backfield. Sebastian appeared in 12 games and started seven at left cornerback as a redshirt freshman in 2018. He recorded 49 tackles, 2.0 tackles for a loss, a sack and a pair of interceptions while forcing his way past Torres on the depth chart in the process. Expect Tate Haynes to join Sebastian at corner, and for Elijah Jones and Jason Maitre to compete for playing time as well. Nolan Borgersen, Mehdi El Attrach, and Mike Palmer should compete for reps at safety.
5. Getting warm?
As the weather warms this spring, it’s also worth monitoring the temperature of Addazio’s seat. On the surface, Addazio seems safe. After all, expectations are relatively modest at Boston College compared to most Power 5 programs and Addazio has posted five winning seasons in six years.
However, the Eagles have yet to show significant progress since Addazio took over. In fact, each of those winning campaigns has resulted in exactly seven wins overall and no Addazio-coached squad has won more than four games in a season in ACC play. Boston College is 38-38 under Addazio, but the team is just 18-30 in conference and has yet to finish better than a third-place tie in the Atlantic under his watch.
In an effort to turn the tide, Addazio has remade his coaching staff. Sheridan, a longtime NFL assistant and former defensive coordinator for the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was promoted after serving as the linebackers coach in 2018. Mike Bajakian, hired as the new offensive coordinator following four years as quarterbacks coach with the Bucs, was previously the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Tennessee, Cincinnati and Central Michigan under Butch Jones.
Both play-callers have talent to work with, but both also have important holes to fill. Spring practice will be key for installing new systems, fortifying the depth charts, and finding some of the momentum the squad lacked at the end of 2018.