The Yale football team lost 13 starters, including seven All-Ivy players and three who were school career record holders, but the Bulldogs have an excellent chance to improve on their fourth-place league finish and 5-5 overall record. Yale returns 35 lettermen and 13 starters. Graduation among the starters was balanced (6 defense, 5 offense) on both sides, but the Elis have some key holes that might be filled by players who did not compete in 2004. The Bulldogs open at San Diego and continue with a schedule that includes three teams ranked in The Sports Network's final 2004 I-AA poll.
THE OFFENSE (Starters Returning/Lost: 6/5)
Two first-time starters and a two-year regular return to the Yale trenches, an area of concern to the Bulldogs with the graduation of two-time All-American LT Rory Hennessey, arguably one of the most dominant linemen in Ivy League history. Junior C Ed McCarthy, the 2003 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, switched from guard to center last fall and was just as effective, earning second-team all-league honors. At 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, McCarthy, who will move to left tackle this fall, may be the pre-eminent offensive lineman in the Ancient Eight this year. LG Brett Crandall (6-2, 265) and RT Jay Leybourn (6-3, 270) are the others who became starters in 2004. Crandall, who had been out of school for two years, moved from defense late in the pre-season, while Leybourn took over for senior Brice Wilkinson (Sr., 6-3, 286), who started the first two games at tackle before an injury. Second-year Bulldogs OG Jeff Monaco (6-4, 255) and C Nick Wachtler (6-4, 255) came out of spring ball as other leading candidates. The following players are also pushing for playing time: senior OT Mike Dunleavy (6-4, 270), juniors OG Steve Bassermann (6-4, 305), C Bruce Pohlot (6-4, 265) and OG Jim Kucera (6-2, 285) and sophomores Louis Gresham (6-5, 240), who moved over from tight end, Tom Woznicki (6-3, 285).
Yale's career receptions leader, Ralph Plumb, has graduated, but the Bulldogs return a receiver who may be the most exciting player in the Ivy League. Senior Chandler Henley (49-716, 6 TD), who has 73 career catches and a knack for acrobatics, led the Blue in touchdown receptions last fall and earned honorable mention All-Ivy accolades. Senior TE Alex Faherty (15-185, 3 TD) is a big, athletic target who has enough speed to challenge defenses. He will likely be backed up by junior letterwinner Dave Miller (1-3) and sophomore Langston Johnson. Junior wideouts Ashley Wright (7-67, 1 TD) and Chris Denny-Brown, primarily a special teams player last year who averaged 18 yards per kickoff return and had six solo tackles, should see time at wide receiver. Senior Todd Feiereisen, who was the backup QB last fall, moved up on the WR list with a strong spring showing. Senior WR Will Blodgett (6-37) is a proven blocker and pass catcher who can make big plays. Juniors D.J. Shooter and JImmy Lewis and sophomore Scott Moore add depth to this unit.
The pundits will be skeptical when they notice that two of the most prolific players in the history of Yale football, QB Alvin Cowan and TB Robert Carr, have graduated from the backfield. But they should take note of two seniors who did not suit up in 2004, QB Jeff Mroz and TB David Knox. Mroz, who took a leave from school last fall, has thrown for 1,757 yards and 15 TDs with nine starts for the Bulldogs. He has not been the No. 1 signal-caller since the 2002 season finale but his physical and mental commitment to the team and the game makes him a player to watch. Mroz will be backed up by sophomore Matt Polhemus, who took most of the 2004 JV snaps. The Bulldog running game could benefit greatly from a healthy senior TB David Knox, who missed all of last fall with an injury. Knox, who had 453 yards as an explosive sophomore runner, led the team that season with a 5.1 average. Junior TB Jordan Spence was the most versatile of the Yale players last year; he rushed 13 times for 37 yards, caught 17 passes for 131 yards and returned three kickoffs. Senior Tyler Wells is looking for his first varsity carry. Junior Taylor Craig started at FB last fall and will get competition from sophomore Joe Fucillo.
THE DEFENSE (Starters Returning/Lost: 5/6)
Two standouts form the nucleus for one of the most formidable fronts in the Ancient Eight. Senior DT Andrew Ralph (17-11-28, 2.5 sacks) has made 20 consecutive starts, while sophomore MG Brandt Hollander (19-12-31, 3 sacks) finished second in sacks while earning the starting job for the last four games. Hollander received the Charles Loftus Award as the most valuable freshman player in 2004. Senior DT Jonas Maciunas (2-5-7) has plenty of varsity time and could crack the starting lineup. Another second-year standout, sophomore DT Jared Hamilton (4-4-8), earned valuable experience last season, while sophomore Steve Morse moves up from linebacker this season. Other second-year players Kevin McCarthy and Kirk Porter had good spring practices and will compete for time.
Brandon Dyches (34-26-60, 6.5 sacks), who has 11 straight starts, led the Elis in overall sacks and tackles for the guys in the trenches and was named the team's top defensive lineman of 2004. He returns as one of the premier pass rushers in the league after earning 2004 honorable mention All-Ivy honors. Junior Brandon Etheridge (3-0-3, 1 int) has all the tools to be a dominant player on the edge. Classmate Stan Malyszka (8-2-10), who had three solo tackles against both Brown and Princeton, will battle for starting duties as well. Juniors Brendan Sponheimer and Chris Wright and sophomore Stephen Schmalhofer are looking for their first varsity action.
All three players who started at linebacker in 2004 have graduated, but a pair of experienced juniors are prepared to fill the void. Mike McGinity (5-8-13) and Lee Driftmier (2-1-3) are prepared to step in. They will get competition from senior Chris Gary, junior Chris Barry and converted junior running back Matt Murray, all looking for their first varsity tackles.
Senior SS Matt Handlon (28-35-63), a two-year starter, is the returning leader in tackles and interceptions (2) from 2004. He is joined by senior CB Andrew Butler (39-10-49, 1 int), who has one season as first-stringer. Two seniors and a pair of juniors are among the likely candidates to fill the other starting roles. Veterans CB Mike Holben (11-3-14) and CB Matt Baker (6-1-7) have experience in the Yale backfield. Second-year stalwarts FS Nick Solakian (3-0-3), who was named the team's top special teams player of 2004, and CB Kevin Littleton (3-0-3) were impressive on special teams.
The Elis are coming off a season that began with a pair of inexperienced kickers who became immediate team strengths. They are hoping for the same fortune in 2005 with the loss of both players. Sophomore PK Alan Kimball did not have any attempts as a rookie but could assume the starting job. Junior Ashley Wright, who will see action at WR, could take over the punting duties. Sophomore DE Dave Silberstein has also been taking some snaps in practice. Junior DE Chris Wright was the starting snapper last year and could be centering balls for these kickers.
The graduate Robert Carr handled most of the kickoff duties the last four seasons. Senior TB David Knox has experience returning kicks from his first two years at Yale. Junior WR Chris Denny-Brown started a few games deep on kickoffs and had eight returns with an 18.1 average, while classmate TB Jordan Spence (3 - 13.1) also had a few starts. Starting WR Chandler Henley returned all but one punt last fall and had a 6.6 average on 26 returns.
report filed by Steve Conn, Yale Sports Publicity Director