Penn relying on veteran quarterback Ragone

Quarterback Billy Ragone (left) is focus of attention at Penn's media day Monday at Franklin Field.
Quarterback Billy Ragone (left) is focus of attention at Penn's media day Monday at Franklin Field. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: August 29, 2012

REGARDLESS of the level, football usually begins with the quarterback. Just because. So it obviously helps if you have one who has established himself as a proven commodity.

"It gives you a lot more freedom in your approach, when you plan, in how you script and install," said Penn coach Al Bagnoli, who will begin his 21st season on Sept. 15 at Lafayette. "If you have someone who's been there, and done some things, it allows you to proceed and diversify at a reasonable rate. So he controls so much of what you do . . .

"And we have that luxury."

Because the Quakers can count on Billy Ragone, a dual threat who has started the last two seasons. He's listed as a senior, but could return in 2013 for a fifth year since he went down with an injury as a freshman. Right now he's leaning that way. But first, he'd like to add a third Ivy League title to his resume. His team, which lost three of its last four to end up 5-5 a year ago, has been picked to finish second behind defending champion Harvard.

"This is the group I came in with at Penn," Ragone said at Monday morning's rain-delayed media gathering at Franklin Field. "So this is the year I'm concentrating on.

"We definitely have a lot of weapons on offense, and a lot more experience. That gives us a chance to spread the ball around, make it difficult for teams to game-plan against us. It's up to me to get the ball to [our receivers], in good spots. The running backs have been carrying us the last few years. That won't change . . . So far in camp, and the spring, we're taking steps forward. We've got a lot to work for this season. We kind of got knocked around a little bit last year. We're preparing to have a great season."

That hasn't changed, either.

And it mostly starts with the guy pulling the trigger. Ragone accounted for 2,284 total yards last season, and is already the first player in program history with 2,000 career passing yards and 1,000 rushing. Last year the Quakers were starting four newcomers on the line, and dealing with injuries to wide receiver Connor Scott and running back Lyle Marsh. While they have lost projected backup QB Ryan Becker, a 2010 transfer from Florida State, to a knee injury, everything else seems pretty much in place, including a defense that also has eight starters back.

"We always have expectations," Bagnoli acknowledged. "Sometimes they're more warranted than others. This year, when you look at paper, I think they're more warranted."

A lot of that, of course, will hinge on Ragone's ability to be, well, one step further along.

"There's always pressure," he said. "We put that on ourselves. This program has always been at the top of the group, as far as the Ivy League is concerned.

"My sophomore year, I was quick to get out of the pocket and kind of get on the edge there. I felt last year I took some good strides in the passing game. We've put some new wrinkles in, stuff like that. Hopefully, I'll continue to improve. Every year I'm getting more comfortable with the playbook. It's been a great experience, to try and grow each year. I'm expecting big things out of myself, and big things as a group too."

Maybe just as importantly, Bagnoli is comfortable with what he's got at the marquee position.

"We're going to give him choices, to do certain things," he explained. "It's more than did he just go 20-for-27 throwing. Did he do all the other things, in the 50 or 60 snaps that affect games? We won a lot of games in the last minute. That's a terrific indicator of what he's capable of doing. We need him to be more consistent, play in and play out. We need that across the board. But it starts with him. We're fortunate.

"We're a lot better equipped to help him this year. If he plays well, and handles a lot of things, there's a real good chance we're going to be successful."

In this sport, it's often that basic. Nobody gets that more than the focal point.


Contact Mike Kern at kernm@phillynews.com.

 

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