Sports, Football, Top Story

Hafley Builds on Culture of Competition in Preseason Camp

It’s no secret that Boston College football has one of the best offensive lines in the country. The Eagles return starters at all five positions, four of whom were All-ACC selections, for a combined 16 seasons of starting experience. So if it’s not the best unit in the country, it’s at least the most experienced. That fact in itself is enough to make an opposing front seven shudder, but add in the Eagles’ No. 13 ranking in the FBS in pass-blocking grade, according to Pro Football Focus, and they become even more formidable. 

Still, offensive line coach Matt Applebaum said that nothing is set in stone. 

“Certainly when you have five starters back, that may be a harder wall to break through for younger guys,” Applebaum said at BC’s 2021 Media Day. “But we just push those guys to compete to be the best they can be and try to earn a starting spot.”

After last year’s Week One depth chart featured 17 “OR”s, indicating that the starter hadn’t yet been decided, BC fans are used to head coach Jeff Hafley’s culture of competition. Though most of this year’s starters are locked down, Hafley said there are no guarantees. 

Prior to meeting with the media, Hafley and his staff had a meeting on Monday morning, and the second-year head coach said that there are still a few positions up for grabs on the Week One depth chart. 

“I want a competitive group right up until we kick off,” Hafley said. “And then Week Two and Three, I want that [second-string] guy to be breathing down their neck so they stay on top of their stuff, so there’s competition still.”

As the Eagles discovered in last year’s loss to Virginia, depth is essential, especially in the secondary. In BC’s last game of the 2020 season, starters Mike Palmer and Deon Jones were both out with injury, and freshman Kam Arnold was ejected for targeting midway through the game, leaving the Eagles without answers against the passing game. 

This year, however, depth in the secondary won’t be a problem. In addition to a returning group that includes Jason Maitre, Jones, Jahmin Muse, Brandon Sebastian, Josh DeBerry,  and Palmer, among others, BC added transfer Jaiden Woodbey out of Florida State. 

With 28 tackles in eight games as a redshirt junior at Florida State, coaches expect Woodbey to fuel the competition in the secondary that Hafley promotes across his entire roster.

“A lot of times, when you go to the portal to get a transfer, you’re looking for someone to be an immediate contributor to your team, but you’re also looking for him to uplift other people,” associate head coach and defensive backs coach Aazar Abdul-Rahim said. “That competition should create a spark in the next person.”

Though Woodbey is one of the few changes in the secondary, BC’s linebacking corps faced a near-complete overhaul in the offseason. Starters Max Richardson, Max Roberts, and Isaiah McDuffie all made their way to the NFL, and graduate student Isaiah Graham-Mobley transferred to BC from Temple to fill the gap. Arnold also shifted from the secondary to the front seven. 

“We try to mix and match different personnel, just seeing how everyone meshes together,” Graham-Mobley said. “Every relationship is going to be different, but we will have to get used to playing with each other, and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Though the linebackers have experienced some shifts during the preseason, Hafley said that throughout training camp, BC has played “good on good,” meaning that BC’s first-string offense has competed against its first-string defense. 

After receiver Zay Flowers’ breakout year last season, he and Kobay White, returning from an ACL injury that sidelined him for all of 2020, have gotten to play against a defense that is almost entirely different than it was last season. 

“Our defense is a one-of-a-kind defense,” Flowers said. “You won’t see another defense like this in the regular season. Them going against us makes us better.”

With a Sept. 4 kickoff against Colgate on the near horizon, Hafley still hasn’t shifted his focus away from his own team. At least until Friday, the Eagles will continue to perfect their own game plan without looking to their first opponent. 

“I just want to get better right now,” Hafley said. “I just want to go out, practice, and get our guys as good as they possibly can be so we’re ready for that first game, second game, [and] third game.”

Featured Image Courtesy of BC Athletics

August 27, 2021