Boston College returned to practice for the first time since Easter break on Friday.
Cornerback CJ Burton notched an interception during 1-on-1s, quarterback Phil Jurkovec connected with Jaelen Gill for a handful of chunk receptions, and fellow wideout Ezechiel Tieide brought down a 40-yard touchdown catch.
All that and more happened in 90 minutes of work in the Fish Field House, according to the team’s practice report.
Here’s a rundown of Friday’s notes.
Situational football: Second-year head coach Jeff Hafley told reporters that BC has shifted to practicing third down and red zone, two areas Hafley says the team didn’t get to last spring before COVID-19 forced the program off campus and onto Zoom. He noted that, scheme-wise, he and his staff are throwing a lot at the players but that they’re getting a better feel for it.
Pass rush: In 2020, the Eagles’ pass rush took a step in the right direction. A year removed from ranking second-to-last in the ACC in sacks (1.46 per game), BC finished tied for 10th (2.27 per game). But 17 of the Eagles’ 25 quarterback takedowns came in four games. Plus, BC lost its top-three sack leaders to the NFL Draft. Max Roberts (4.5), Max Richardson (3.5), and Isaiah McDuffie (3) made up close to half of BC’s sack output last season. Hafley emphasized Friday that the Eagles must improve on the edge and in the middle, in addition to blitzing more effectively. He wants to do it schematically and fundamentally, and he believes graduate defensive ends Marcus Valdez and Brandon Barlow will be integral.
“We’re gonna need those two off the edge if we’re gonna take a step on defense,” Hafley said.
Athleticism of ACC quarterbacks: It’s no secret that the Eagles have struggled defending mobile quarterbacks for years, and last season was no different. Hafley knows that.
“Speed is indispensable,” Hafley said. “College quarterbacks can run. We have to get faster, and we have to play faster. I mean you saw it last year—a quarterback just wants to tuck the ball and run. Scheme is kinda one thing, [but] you have to run, and you have to be able to catch that guy.”
No team COVID-19 vaccinations yet: The pandemic isn’t over, and there are reminders every day, including the cancellations of the remainder of UNH and URI’s spring seasons. Hafley maintained that his staff and players haven’t wavered, and they’re ramping up caution now that more people are starting to gather outdoors again. He added that he feels like they’re right back in the regular season with the protocols that they’re following, adjusted team meetings, and Zooms. But he said there’s no official timetable on when the team will be fully vaccinated.
Run game in year two: BC’s pass game in 2020 was revolutionary, given the program’s stubbornness not to air it out during Steve Addazio’s seven-year tenure. The rushing attack, on the other hand, was surprisingly below average last season. BC mustered 101.7 yards on the ground per game, ranking 14th in the ACC and 118th nationally in that category. That said, the Eagles’ zone run scheme progressed, really starting with the Virginia Tech matchup, and ended up producing a trio of 180-plus rushing performances in the last six games of the year. Hafley is confident the run game will make another stride in 2021 and, in turn, generate more explosives for the play-action aerial attack.
“Now with the continuity of the players coming back, the scheme we’re going to run, the time that we’ve had to meet and now really install it, I think we’ll be more balanced,” Hafley said. “I believe if you can run the ball really well, I think we’ll throw the ball even better. And we need to be able to do that.”
Phil Jurkovec on Kobay White and Zay Flowers: The redshirt junior quarterback said that he’s been able to throw with Kobay White here and there while the graduate wideout makes his full return to the field. Jurkovec said that White has played at the highest level and stressed the importance of having a veteran like White who recognizes the work that needs to be put in daily. And when it comes to Zay Flowers, Jurkovec said he’s looking to further his timing and rhythm with the speedy wide receiver.
For the offense, spring is about rehashing and refining: Jurkovec said that the unit has been going back over the playbook again, except in more detail than last season. With a year in the system already, the goal is now to master the plays and get them to another level, he said.
“It’s important for us to realize that we were only 6-5 last year, and that we’re trying to be a lot better,” Jurkovec said.
Mike Palmer’s role in the defense: The graduate safety is back for a sixth year after missing four games in 2020. In seven outings, he registered 25 total tackles, a 70-yard interception return, and a 34-yard scoop and score, while posting the third-highest Pro Football Focus defensive grade (73.0) of any Eagle this year. Most notably, his coverage grade skyrocketed from 49.9 in 2019 to a team-best 82.5 last season. Hafley said Palmer will have roles on first, second, and third down in 2021. He mentioned that they’ll use the veteran defensive back in their dime package. Hafley touted Palmer’s experience and leadership ability.
“He’ll be a part of everything that we do,” Hafley said. “And he’ll have a hand and a role in everything that we do. So we gotta keep him healthy. But he’s another phenomenal human being. Very intelligent. And he gives you everything he has. And I’m glad he’s here.”
Palmer feels better than ever: Palmer, who’s listed at 6-foot-1, 194 pounds on BC’s spring roster, said he’s the heaviest yet most athletic he’s ever been. The Endwell, New York, native said that having another year with BC’s strength and conditioning staff has paid dividends, and he feels like it’s setting him up for a more complete final season on the Heights.
“Physically, I just feel like I’m finally starting to take that next step in terms of developing my body. The hope is, putting on a little bit more weight hopefully to be able to stay healthier this year and be able to absorb more contact cause my game is a little reckless at times,” Palmer said with a smile.