Each week, I’ll (hopefully) talk to a beat writer who covers Duke’s opponent. Today, it is my great pleasure to say that we have been joined by the esteemed Adam Smith, who covers Elon, and, come winter, a bunch of ACC basketball for the Burlington Times-News. Adam is an informative follow on Twitter, and check out the rest of his Elon work here.
1. I see that Elon has a new coach this year — why the change and what are the goals of the new regime?
Jason Swepson, formerly a longtime assistant to Tom O’Brien, was fired after three seasons because he inherited an Elon program that was a contender in the Southern Conference and national player on the FCS level — ranked for 33 straight weeks, 2009 playoff appearance — and never produced a winning record. The Phoenix went 5-6 in 2011, 3-8 in 2012 and then bottomed out at 2-10 last season under Swepson.
Rich Skrosky is Elon’s new-yet-familiar coach. He left Ball State after three successful years as offensive coordinator to return to Elon, where he was a top assistant under Pete Lembo from 2006-10, the period in which the Phoenix took off thanks in large part to significant offensive production. Elon broke 124 NCAA, league and school records during Skrosky’s first go-around.
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Elon and Skrosky will try to gain traction this season while debuting in the Colonial Athletic Association, the new conference the Phoenix officially joined in July.
2. Now, how close are they actually to those goals? The Phoenix has dealt with some injuries this preseason, yes?
It’s going to be tough sledding as Elon enters the CAA, which is arguably the deepest league in the FCS. Last season, Towson became the eighth team from the conference since 2003 to reach the national title game. Nine CAA teams were nationally ranked among the FCS Top 25 at one point last season.
On the injuries, yes, Elon is banged up in some spots, though there’s nothing as devastating as Duke has experienced this preseason in losing linebacker Kelby Brown and tight end Braxton Deaver to torn knee ligaments.
Karl Bostick, the power runner of Elon’s tailback trio, is out for a couple months after breaking his leg. The speedy Tracey Coppedge and the versatile B.J. Bennett should share the rushing load against Duke. Both of those backs have dealt with injuries earlier in training camp, Coppedge a concussion and Bennett a broken hand.
Offensive lineman Graham Albright was Elon’s starting left tackle coming out of the spring, but he’s shelved with a foot stress fracture. Akeem Langham, Elon’s most veteran defensive back, is unlikely to play against Duke due to a stomach / digestive issue that has kept him out of preseason practices for about three weeks.
3. This is a quarterback's game, so tell me about Mike Quinn.
Quinn is a fifth-year senior who started all 12 games for Elon last season, ranked third in the Southern Conference with 2,618 passing yards and put together a league-record streak of 210 straight passes without an interception. He reclaimed the starting job this month after Skrosky’s staff reopened the quarterback competition and included John Loughery, again the backup, in the mix.
It should be interesting to see how Quinn performs in Skrosky’s new (but old) system. Toward the end of Skrosky’s first stop at Elon as an assistant coach, he was Quinn’s lead recruiter and signed Quinn in 2010 to be Elon’s quarterback of the future. Quinn, who’s from New Jersey, actually committed one night when Skrosky, who was visiting his home at the time, said he would be headed to Tampa in the morning to see another quarterback prospect.
Personally, Quinn is a hardnosed Jersey boy who is great to talk to — open book and unfailingly honest, whether the subject matter is defensive coverages or a party that may or may not have gotten out of hand.
4. Give me one player to watch on defense.
Here’s a player (linebacker Jonathan Spain) and a position (cornerback).
No Elon player has amassed nearly as many tackles as Spain during the last seasons, when he earned all-conference honors. He’s a fifth-year senior now and has shifted from middle linebacker to the weak side, in part because the move figures to allow Spain to roam and chase down plays. The emergence of John Silas also factors here. He’s sturdy and appears ready to handle Elon’s middle linebacker duties for the next three seasons.
At cornerback, sophomores Adrian McClendon and Adrian Williams likely will start against Duke, given Langham’s stomach problems. That’s an area that bears watching. McClendon and Williams gained increasing playing time last season, but only own one previous starting assignment between them.
5. Do you think Elon has the only FBS and FCS player that has had to out-run an elephant in his lifetime? Any other fun facts we should know about the Phoenix?
Is there a wild-animal-in-pursuit-of-college-football-player database out there? Anybody? No?
Kudos to our pal Bret Strelow of the Fayetteville Observer, who had the clever line on Twitter that Duke’s cheetahs are next up for Elon safety Miles Williams. Even though that’s the nickname for Duke’s defensive backs — and Williams will be locked up with the Blue Devils receivers — it still was quite nicely done by the safari-savvy Strelow.
As for other tidbits, Elon defensive coordinator Jerry Petercuskie will be making the calls in a game Saturday night for the first time since 1994. He spent his last 16 seasons as a special teams coach under O’Brien at Boston College and N.C. State.
The first catch of Elon receiver Kierre Brown’s college career, a 30-yard touchdown, came at Duke in the 2010 season opener. He sat out the following season and took a redshirt. Now he’s a fifth-year senior and Elon’s leading receiver returning from last year.
Loughery, Elon’s backup quarterback, is a cousin of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who has visited Elon for spring games and been swarmed by photo requests.
Thanks to Adam, who never fails to be entertaining.