With each position group now reviewed, we shall take a look at what our group think of this 2020-21 BC team: where are the Eagles strong, where are we weak, and are there some surprises in store for us? The BCI staff assembles to give their thoughts.
Which position group do you think is the strongest?
Curtis: Wide Receiver is the obvious answer. We have a deep set of receivers led by an All-ACC talent in Zay Flowers that will give this offense every chance to succeed in its new high-flying scheme.
Niraj: The offensive line may have disappointed a bit last season with such lofty expectations, but given the scheme switch it was understood. With a few positional tweaks and another year of experience in the system, this unit could be scary good. All five starters return and the youths could be fully capable of filling in when called upon.
Will: It is easily the Wide Receiver group. This is the strongest the Eagles have been at wideout since I started watching the Eagles in 2009. They have four legitimate playmakers, and that opens up so many options in the Eagles expanding passing game.
Which position group do you think is the weakest?
Curtis: Linebackers are a weak group when it comes to run-stuffing. BC has plenty of quick players that can sub in as a light LB to cover some passes, but they’re missing the true versatility and talent of those who can handle both responsibilities.
Niraj: I think I’ll cautiously say the defensive line. I know a lot of positivity has been coming out in the offseason so far, but I just need to see it live to believe it. They lost their sack leader in Max Roberts, and there really wasn’t much production behind him. It’s a focal point for what desperately needs to improve on the defense to make the unit really hum.
Will: The Linebackers. So much talent was lost to the NFL Draft and none of the guys who are returning have nearly as much experience. The situation reminds of the defensive line situation a few years ago when BC lost Harold Landry then Zach Allen in successive drafts and the defensive line has not been the same since. Now, there is a lot of youth at linebacker so this will be a very informative season when it comes to the BC football team.
Looking at the team from last season to this off-season, are we starting to see Jeff Hafley’s vision for how his BC teams will be built?
Curtis: Absolutely. He’s already implementing the type of offense we should expect to be seeing (spread) with the addition of Jurkovec and fast WRs & RBs from the transfer portal. On defense, his focus on DBs has become very clear as the talent overflowing in the defensive backfield is overwhelming the other areas of the defensive roster.
Niraj: Absolutely — getting more of his guys in and players wetting their feet in the system is all it takes. Hafley talked about how last year the foundation was set, and now we’re just building on top. You see the littany of defensive backs in the program, the transformation of the offense overnight, and the big name transfers buying in. If anything, we’re already further along and might even expect a step back after everyone leaves the following season.
Will: The talent BC is adding to the defensive backfield is clearly a blueprint Hafley has laid out. The additions he’s made like Jurkovec and Jaelen Gill also signify that he wants this BC offense to move into the modern era. Hafley is using this team, in my opinion, as a mold to show to future recruits, and is very much what I think we can expect from Hafley teams in the future. We talked about BC’s linebackers and while I do think they are the weakest group, I do think the emphasis on speed is a part of Halfey’s plan and it is certainly in keeping with the current trend in football.
Much has been said about BC’s offensive woes during the Addazio era, but some of those teams often had strong defenses. Will BC’s defense rebound this season or we still looking at a bit of a rebuild?
Curtis: It’s still in the process of a rebuild, and it may regress a bit this year, but the defense won’t be dreadful. The DBs continue to improve, it’s just that BC might just get run down more frequently as they’re a bit weak up front.
Niraj: I think so, if only because it wasn’t all that good last year. The backend is returning the same group just more experienced, but sprinkling in some new pieces that can contribute immediately. I feel very comfortable in the improvement there, and despite the probably drop off at linebacker, they should be able to hold their own. The defensive line was in a tough position last year, but there seems to be an emphasis on turning things around on the front. They know what they need to do, be faster and generate more pressure. The group should progress at least a bit and that will make a big difference.
Will: Overall, I think this year will maybe take a slight dip just because the team is losing guys like Max Richardson, Max Roberts, and Isaiah McDuffie. The front four has needed an overhaul since Addazio’s time but it seems the secondary will take a step or two forward, so ultimately will one cancel the other out? As I said I think we are already starting to see Hafley’s plan for the linebacker: smaller and faster, while the D-Line has already started making strides last year.
With the departure of David Bailey, have we seen the end of downhill, power running backs at Boston College?
Curtis: They’re certainly not a priority of this coaching staff, but I’m not ready to call it over yet. There will always be a need in football for bruisers who can convert short-yardage runs. This roster doesn’t really have any of those and we could see a bit more passing in short-yardage situations as a result, for better or worse.
Niraj: It should at least mark the end of that being the focal point of the offense. Xavier Coleman, Alec Sinkfield, and of course Travis Levy probably signal the type of back Hafley hopes to employ. But Pat Garwo is still here, and I can see the staff still wanting to be multiple on offense. Part of the issue was the offensive line last year, so not much was generated on the ground for Bailey. At points it felt as though the lack of rushing was not necessarily done by choice. That being said, yes because there are too many fun toys to play with.
Will: It is certainly the end of the workhorse running backs but that is true all across football. I certainly don’t see Eagles backs continuing to rack up the number of carries that they have in the past. I do not believe we have not seen the complete end of downhill running back at BC but I believe the focus will shift to more versatile running backs like Travis Levy. They may find a powerful runner who can be more versatile but those are harder to find.
Last season a player like CJ Lewis was a surprise breakout out star on the offense, are there any potential breakout stars on the offense this year?
Curtis: Travis Levy is ready to step-up as RB1 in what is shaping up to be a prolific passing offense. Expect a lot of dynamic plays from him coming out of the backfield, with fellow RB Alec Sinkfield also with the potential for a breakout there.
Niraj: It’s tough to call anyone a surprise with so many folks probably entrenched. I’ll cheat and say Jaelen Gill is poised for a monster year. He showed some flashes but all in all, didn’t do all that much last season. This go-around, the chemistry and the familiarity will be there. I can see Cignetti employing him all over the field and just getting the ball in his hands.
Will: Travis Levy is the easy choice. Levy has always made a nice complimentary piece to BC’s offense but he has never really been the main focus of the offense. He got more attention last year and made the most of it.
However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Trae Berry will make a leap from his already impressive career at Jacksonville State. The next Hunter Long? Maybe not. It will be hard to make an big impact with all the other weapons BC has but I don’t mind betting the long shot.
Are there any breakout stars on the defense?
Curtis: Somebody’s gonna be getting picks and swats in that secondary, there’s just so much talent that I don’t know who it’ll be.
Niraj: Let’s stick with the defensive line and say Shittah Sillah. He only had 2.5 sacks in his first season at defensive end, but you have to imagine he adds to that figure. The pass rush has to improve, and Sillah’s been getting a bit of buzz around him.
Will: Jason Maitre. If Maitre plays more of a nickel role as we suspect he may have an opportunity to get in on more tackles this season. The Eagles will need another ball carrier-seeking-missile to replace the two they lost. Maitre has as much game experience as many of the linebackers, so why not him?