Photo Credit: Monmouth Football

Monmouth University Wraps Up First Intrasquad Scrimmage Of Fall Camp

WEST LONG BRANCHMonmouth University held its first intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at Kessler Field in West Long Branch and the outcome was met with mixed results.

Intrasquad scrimmages tend to be a double-edged sword. If the offense dominates, that means your defense was dominated and vice versa. Fortunately for the Hawks both their offensive and defensive units showed some potential Saturday, but with their first game of the season now less than three weeks away, there’s a lot to be cleaned up and refined before the opening-day kickoff.

Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan wanted to see more consistency on both sides of the ball out of his team and he stressed they must cut down on the penalties after being whistled for 17 penalties in Saturday's scrimmage.

“There’s a lot that we need to get better at,” Callahan said following the 100-plus play scrimmage that covered all phases of the game. “I thought we were very sloppy, and I was not happy with the penalties. I think we had nine or 10 false starts and 17 or 18 total penalties, although it was the first time we had officials so there’s going to be more, but we can’t operate like that.

“And I think we need to be more consistent on offense in terms of moving the ball," Callahan said. "If you take away some of the big explosive pass plays we had, we really didn’t have consistent drives other than the first drive of the scrimmage and I think the same can be said on the defensive side – they have to be much more consistent and play down after down. You can’t give up big plays like they did, big chunk yardage for key first downs or scores – that stuff is going to get you beat quicker than anything. So, we have an awful lot to clean up and we only have a couple of weeks to do it.”

That first drive Callahan referenced was a 10 play, 75-yard scoring drive engineered by graduate student quarterback Marquez McCray, who is a transfer from Sacred Heart University where he was a three-year starter. McCray led the NEC in passing last season with 1,973 yards along with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He was a second team All-NEC selection and helped the Pioneers win three Northeast Conference championships. He threw for over 5,000 yards at Sacred Heart with 26 touchdown passes.

Unofficially, McCray was 11-of-15 for 170 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in Saturday’s scrimmage. On that opening drive, McCray found fifth-year senior wide receiver Assante Kearny for a 15-yard scoring play. Kearny also had a 30-yard reception on the drive and finished with three receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown in limited action.

On McCray’s second possession under center, he had 35-yard pass to fifth year wideout Jordan Grey and then hit Grey for a 30-yard touchdown.

Sophomore speedster, Makhi Green, who holds the record for the 100 meter dash at West Orange High School, flashed with a nifty 25-yard reception from McCray late in the scrimmage.

McCray is battling sophomore Enzo Arjona for the starting quarterback job this season and both had solid games Saturday as the competition between the two still appears to be neck and neck as we head into the final stretch of camp.

Arjona took over the reins at quarterback last season after starter Tony Muskett was injured and passed for 548 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in three games. He led his high school, Northern Highlands Regional, to two sectional championships and the North Jersey Group IV title.

Unofficially, Arjona was 10-of-15 for 125 yards and a touchdown. He completed a 70-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Gavin Nelson. Nelson, who as a senior at Franklin High School in Maryland had 44 receptions for 953 yards (21.7 yards per catch) and 11 touchdowns, unofficially finished with three receptions for 87 yards and a score.

“They continue to battle and compete and they are both doing a good job,” Callahan said of the quarterback competition. “We are coming up to a time when we need to make a decision and create finality to who is going to be the starter. You wany that guy to have the last couple of weeks of preseason where he is the guy running the first offense. We have to take a good look at today’s video and assess where each one of them is at and who is in the best position to lead us.”

Preseason All-American candidate, Jaden Shirden, unofficially rushed seven times for 46 yards on the opening possession and looks primed to live up to all the accolades he’s been receiving this preseason. Shirden had one additional carry for six yards and was finished for the day.

Junior quarterback Frankie Savino saw some action as well completing 6-of-8 passes for 106 yards unofficially, including a 65-yard bomb for a score to sophomore wideout Owen Bill, who was wide open on a slant and out-ran the nearest defender.

With the addition of a number of high-end players through the transfer portal and the return of a few really talented football players, the defense came into camp hoping to form a new identity after last seasons fiasco which saw them finish last in the Coastal Athletic Association in average yards allowed per game (428.64) and points allowed per game (34.27). The Hawks defense ranked 96th out of 123 FCS teams in yards allowed and 97th in points allowed a year ago, so there’s nowhere to go but up.

Saturday, the defense definitely looked more active up front registering a number of sacks while showing different looks with a heavy rotation of players.

“They did a good job,” Callahan said of the pressure the D line showed Saturday. “We have a lot of guys we can play (along the defensive line) and actually we had six defensive linemen who didn’t even suit up today. It’s a group that’s very deep, they have some twitch and they have the ability to rush the passer. But again, it’s like everything else, they have to be consistent. They can’t be rushing the passer on one down then be non-existent on the next down. We got to do stuff on every single play, not just hit or miss.”

Also, the run defense looked solid overall registering quite a few tackles for loss and stops for no gain Saturday, but their penchant for giving up a big play, especially on third down, still seems to haunt them. That needs to be corrected or it will be a repeat of last season.

Sophomore Chris King, a 6-foot-3, 270-pound defensive lineman who suffered an injury early last season, looked dominant at times Saturday and appears primed for a breakout season. King registered 1.5 sacks and a 4-yard TFL in Saturday’s scrimmage.

Former South Jersey Defensive Player of the Year, sophomore Damir McCrary, was very active Saturday and he could be a vital addition at linebacker. McCrary blocked a pass, had a sack and recorded the hardest hit of the day, which could be heard in the press box.

Junior 6-foot-2, 235-pound linebacker Remi Johnson, has textbook size and speed and the smarts to go with it and flashed his potential recording a couple of stops for no gain. Expect Remi to be one of the leaders on defense this season.

Senior 6-foot-5, 250-pound defensive lineman, Justin O’Bannon, registered a 3-yard TFL and shared a sack with graduate transfer Nick White, who recorded 19.5 sacks in his career at DII Gannon University.

Caleb Dennis, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound senior linebacker, shared a sack with King and had a TFL. In short yardage situations, linebacker Isaiah Bishop had a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

Cornerback Mike Reid, a Phil Steele first team 2023 Preseason All-CAA selection, had a nice pass breakup on a third down play and captain Ryan Moran shared a sack with veteran safety Tyrese Wright – a third team Phil Steele Preseason All-CAA pick – and had a TFL.

Sophomore 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end, Miles Mitchell, who showed promise last season when he recorded two sacks and six TFL as a freshman, had two stops for no gain and had good pressure and awareness. Look for Mitchell to play a significant role this season. Fifth-year defensive lineman, Pat Hayden, added a 7-yard TFL and freshman defensive back Israel Clark-Wright came added an interception of McCray in the red zone.

The team will get a chance to show more consistency when they hold their second and final scrimmage of fall camp this Saturday at Kessler Field.

“We’re working hard and practicing hard and paying attention, but in terms of outright performance I would’ve hoped we were a little further along and we need to be further along,” Callahan said when asked if he was satisfied with where the team is right now. “We’ve got a week, maybe 10 day’s and we’re getting ready for a game.”

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