Saturday, August 23, 2008

season preview: Richmond

Unlike the Connecticut preview, I didn't have anything like an updated depth chart to work with; this is cobbled together from the team preview on the CAA website and a very dangerous source: last year's depth chart. In the interest of sanity I did not spend several days trying to dig up tidbits on spring and fall practices, so the upshot of this is that folks who are somewhat more familiar than I with the Richmond program will probably find cause to point out errors. Bear with me just a little bit then if it seems I got a starter or four incorrect, or missed a season-ending injury or something. The lesson to take away here is really that just because Richmond is a I-AA program doesn't mean that they'll automatically be the easiest game on the schedule. With that in mind, happy reading. It is the second-to-last season preview of somebody else.

8/30: @Elon
9/6: @Virginia
9/13: Towson
9/20: Maine
9/27: @Villanova
10/4: @VMI
10/11: James Madison
10/18: @Massachusetts
10/25: Georgetown
11/8: @Hofstra
11/15: Delaware
11/22: @William & Mary

Projected starters:

QB: Eric Ward (rJr.)
RB: Josh Vaughn (Sr.)
FB: John Crone (5Sr.)
WR: Kevin Grayson (rSo.)
WR: Jordan Mitchell (rJr.)
TE: Joe Stewart (5Sr.)
LT: Tim Silver (6Sr.)
LG: Matthew McCracken (rJr.)
C: Chris Kondorossy (rJr.)
RG: Evan Lehner (5Sr.)
RT: Michael Silva (rJr.)

LDE: Lawrence Sidbury (rJr.)
NG: Parker Miles (rJr.)
DT: Martin Parker (rSo.)
RDE: Sherman Logan (6Sr.)
LOLB: Jordan Shoop (rSo.)
MLB: Collin McConaghy (rJr.)
ROLB: Eric McBride (rSo.)
LCB: David Horton (rJr.)
FS: Brooks York (5Sr.)
SS: Michael Ireland (rJr.)
RCB: Seth Williams (rJr.)

K: Andrew Howard (Jr.)
P: Brian Radford (rJr.)

Coach: Mike London (1st year)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Mike London joined up with the Spiders at just the right time. Richmond won the inaugural Colonial Athletic Association championship and made it to the semifinals of the I-AA playoffs before being eliminated by eventual champ Appalachian State. (“Inaugural” being something of a misnomer. The CAA decided to start a football conference and pillaged basically the entire Atlantic 10, so Richmond’s championship was won against pretty much the same competition.) Not only do the Spiders return most of their starters, but most of them are juniors and sophomores, so Richmond has bright days ahead, too.


The one gaping hole in an otherwise intact offense is at running back, where Tim Hightower departed after carrying for almost 2,000 yards in 2007, good for second by 21 yards. The only back with more yards needed over 70 more carries to do it. Josh Vaughn steps into that hole, and Vaughn actually averaged more yards per carry than Hightower – nearly 7 each time he had the ball – and finished with 737 yards of his own. The Richmond running attack is bolstered by the ball-carrying abilities of their all-conference quarterback, Eric Ward. Ward is dangerous as both a runner and a passer, and he gets his top target back in Kevin Grayson, who was just a freshman in 2007 but led the team by a longshot in all receiving categories.

The offensive line is big, experienced, and big. None of the starters are listed at anything under 290 pounds, and the tackles are at least 300 each. Tim Silver returns for a sixth year after knee injuries derailed two straight seasons that followed a selection as third-team all-conference, and if he is not the starter at left tackle then it will likely be Jared Decker, another 300-pounder. The line’s anchor is LG Matthew McCracken, who was a second-team all-conference selection in 2007.


When your offense averages almost 35 points a game, they usually get most of the attention. But Richmond’s defense is worth a look. They held 7 of 14 opponents to 16 points or less, and I-AA opponents were held to an average of less than 20 until App State ran up a double-nickel in the semis. (Vanderbilt racked up 41, not counted in that average.) The top player on the defense is also one of the youngest. Redshirt sophomore Eric McBride earned CAA Rookie of the Year honors while playing outside linebacker, and led the team in tackles with 126. Next to him is middle linebacker Collin McConaghy, the team’s 2007 sack leader with 7.5 and second on the team with 121 tackles. Whether the third linebacker is Jordan Shoop (who started the first three games last year and then got hurt) or Tyler Sullivan (who filled in) the Spiders’ linebacking corps is the cream of the CAA.

The only major hole to plug in the defense is in the secondary. The corners are capably manned by returning starters Seth Williams and David Horton, but Richmond lost both starting safeties, who were third and fourth on the team in tackles. Michael Ireland was the third safety last year and now steps up into a starting role, but his likely counterpart Brooks York has seen very limited time despite being a fifth-year senior.


Kicker Andrew Howard and punter Brian Radford both return for their junior seasons. Howard was perfect on 58 PATs in 2007 but shaky on field goal attempts, hitting just 15 of 22 and missing from as short as 34 yards. The real special teams weapons is KR Justin Rogers, who scored two touchdowns returning kicks, averaged over 30 yards per return, and garnered various and sundry All-American honors. Rogers is just a sophomore, so he will be terrorizing CAA cover teams for another couple years.


There are a lot of people calling Richmond a good bet to upset the Hoos when they come to town. The Spiders have a powerful offense and with most of the offensive line intact, they shouldn’t be too worried about losing Hightower. Slotted fourth in the preseason I-AA rankings, Richmond should be thinking bigger things than conference championship; a national title is not out of reach. Former UVA defensive guru Mike London will have an idea or two how to make a good defense even better, and Richmond will be a formidable opponent all season long.

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