East Xtra: Seton Hill expecting significant progress

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As he enters his second season as the football coach at Seton Hill University, Isaac Collins has many hopes for his Griffins.

"We're a work in progress," he said. "When I was at [Division III] Widener, we didn't have nearly the injuries that we had [at Seton Hill] last season."

The 2013 season was a year that saw the Griffins limp home with a 1-10 record in their first year in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division.

Foremost was the season-ending injury to quarterback Andrew Jackson, a 6-foot-1, 245-pound redshirt senior from Bloomfield, Mich., who has recovered from his knee injury and will be the team's starting quarterback this fall.

"He couldn't protect himself in a game situation so we had to hold him back in spite of his wishes," the coach said. "We made the right decision to bring him back and with his experience and the things he's been through, it's been tremendous. He has a great appreciation for the game because it was taken away from him."

Collins said Jackson throws the ball well.

"He has a very live arm and was extremely accurate in the spring," he said. "We don't push the ball a ton down the field, so a lot of our passes are short or intermediate throws. You need a guy to be accurate to move the chains, and he's done a good job of that."

Collins is optimistic about his defense.

"We have a lot of guys coming back, and we're probably a little ahead in that area," he said. "But in college football, you have to score points. But we'll know a little more early in camp and in our opener against Shippensburg to know where we're at. If we can get some consistency, we can close the gap."

Collins is pleased with the Griffins' linebacking corps led by Tyler Zimmer, a 6-3, 240-pound senior, who played previously at Duquesne University and Penn-Trafford High School. He earned All-PSAC-West honors last year and was on the All-West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference team in 2012, the Griffins' final season in that league.

"We have a great one in Tyler Zimmer," he said. "And getting Drew back [at quarterback] is crucial. He had an outstanding spring and has done a great job of mastering the offense and getting comfortable with what we can do. If you have a trigger man, that's half the battle."

Zimmer had 57 solo tackles and 36 assisted tackles a year ago. He also had 10 tackles for loss and six sacks.

"[Zimmer and Jackson] are the two strengths on our team," he said. "We have a bunch of question marks with some new guys who are talented, but we have to find out if they are ready for the big stage.

"We have some deficiencies in terms of youth and inexperience. Our offensive and defensive lines are going to be young, and our secondary is getting a little bit older and our receivers are going to be younger. It's a matter of overcoming those youthful mistakes. But we've upgraded in some areas and are taking a step in the right direction. We knew when we took over it was going to be a big project."

Collins said Zimmer won't feel like he's on an island defensively for the Griffins.

"We have some guys who are ready to step up," he said. "We were very vanilla a year ago; we've been able to add some more things in spring ball. This was the spring where I was able to get our system in and the guys did a great job picking it up. We have to hope they retained enough after summer."

Seton Hill plays six games at home this fall, and Collins hopes his team can take advantage of that scenario.

"[The home schedule] is a building block with the teams we have to play," he said. "Getting West Chester at home is tremendous for our young team. The other thing we're excited about is that most of our trips are short. We don't have to travel across the state to play West Chester.

"Our farthest game is Lock Haven, and that isn't that bad of a trip. It's a manageable schedule in terms of travel, and we want to be able to protect the home turf."

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