Back to basics for Penn football

Posted: March 22, 2012

THE PENN football team started spring practice last week looking to rebound from a 5-5 season that was a step backward from the previous 2 years when the Quakers had won the Ivy League title.

"I don't think anyone enjoyed where we ended up," said coach Al Bagnoli, whose 2011 team went 3-4 in league games. "I think we're all a little bit hungrier and more focused on getting back on top."

For Bagnoli, bouncing back means simplifying the game for a roster that is younger than the championship squads that each went 7-0 in league games.

"We have to get back to fundamentals. Two years ago, we had a tremendous amount of maturity and experience with 33 seniors, so we had a unique scenario," Bagnoli said. "We probably made it too complicated for the kids last year and kept the same principles even though we had a lot of younger kids, and maybe at times they couldn't react as fast because they were thinking too much."

Thus far, spring practice has been about finding out where the younger players are in their development and seeing if some of them can be moved to other positions to fill some needs.

"You're trying to balance your team out and you try to make some evaluations during spring ball that you're unable to do during the season where there's the pressure cooker of an opponent every week," Bagnoli said.

Examples of such moves include converting sophomore running backs Kyle Wilcox and Dexter Davis to safety. Some of the positions that have seen heavy competition are cornerback, linebacker and tight end.

Senior tailback Brandon Colavita and senior quarterback Billy Ragone are candidates to fill the captaincy this season. Colavita was all-Ivy League honorable mention last season after rushing for 665 yards and four touchdowns. Ragone, a dual threat at quarterback, was fifth in the Ivy League in all-purpose yards with 1,860 yards passing and 424 yards rushing. He accounted for 11 touchdowns in the air and seven on the ground.

"He gives you some really good dimensions," Bagnoli said. "It's an unusual scenario where he could be a 2,000-yard-plus thrower and, if he wanted to, could be a very effective tailback, so it's a nice versatility that we have. It creates stress points for opposing defenses, and I think it's a nice luxury that we now have."

The defense figures to be led by senior lineman Brandon Copeland, a first-team all-Ivy League choice who had 51 tackles last season, second on the team.

The 2012 team has had only a handful of full-contact practices, but Bagnoli said he likes what he's seen so far, even when looking at things from a back-to-basics approach.

"We seem to be much more advanced on throwing the ball, defending against the pass, throwing, catching, transition and everything else, so that's a good sign," he said.

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