It was only the third day of preseason practice. But as Gus Ornstein surveyed his 2019 Fieldston Eagles, he noticed a considerable lack of beef among his players.
“I was joking the other day when I said whoever put in our equipment order over the summer forgot to order offensive linemen,” Ornstein said, laughing.
“Once school starts, I’m scouring the hallways for some big guys.”That’s just one of the obstacles Ornstein will face as he retools a Fieldston team that not only lost that beef, but also bruising running back/linebacker Alexander Thorpe as well as Jesse Cooper-Leary.
“Yeah, finding our next quarterback is our No. 1 priority,” Ornstein said. “It’s not just the fact that Jesse was a three-year starter, but he brought so much to the table. His leadership and his understanding of the system were why we were able to do certain things last year. It was because of his knowledge and experience.”
So when he’s not scouring the halls for big men, Ornstein will closely monitor a two-man race for quarterback as senior Stanley Ackerman and junior Jake Horowitz battle head-to-head to become Cooper-Leary’s successor.
But no matter who wins the job, the Eagles will be a bit more limited in their offensive schemes this year as opposed to previous seasons.
“We’re not going to be able to do as much this year because whoever gets the job, they’re not going to have the experience and that number of snaps under their belt that Jesse had,” Ornstein said. “But right now, the competition is wide open, and they’re going to compete for awhile. This is about as open a competition I can ever remember having in camp, and I’m going into my 15th year here. But I’m in no rush to decide.”
The good news for whoever wins that quarterback competition is he will have a bevy of skill position weapons to choose from to make the offense run.
“We’ve got Gabe Hostin back, and he was an explosive wide receiver, kick returner and corner for us last year,” Ornstein said. “We also have a good back in Josh Thomas at fullback, which is good. We also have a kid named Owen Schacht, who is a tailback/slot guy who played some last year before he got hurt. He’s a quick and athletic kid who should do some good things for us.
“So I think we have some really good skill guys, and some really good athletes.”
The problem for whoever lands the quarterback gig is he may be running for his life in the early games, at least, as the offensive line is very much a work in progress.
“Our biggest question this year is going to be up front,” Ornstein said. “Will Hanson, our offensive tackle and defensive end, is back and he’s a three-year starter. But the problem is he’s the only returning starting offensive lineman. It’s definitely an area of concern.”
One other area Ornstein has to be concerned about is depth as his roster is going to be a little on the thin side.
“Our numbers are down a little bit this year,” Ornstein said. “We only had 27 kids come out, so we’re going to have a ton of two-way players. But I think our secondary is going to be good. We have some really good athletes back there.
Our linebackers are going to be inexperienced, but I think they’re very athletic. But our (defensive) line is going to have the same issues as our offensive line.”
Hence the need for Ornstein to lurk in the hallways hoping for lineman help once school starts.
Despite the deep loss of talent from last year’s team — including center Asher Raduns-Silverstein, a three-year starter — optimism does abound for these Eagles.
“I always expect us to be in the mix, and what I’ve heard around the league is that a lot of teams had some pretty good senior classes and they lost a bunch of players” to graduation, Ornstein said. “So I feel good about what we have. I like our skill guys and I like our athletes. It’s just going to be about how quickly we can pull together the offensive and defensive lines. But I like our chances.”
The Eagles open their season Sept. 7 when they host Dalton. That gives Ornstein about another week or so to settle on a quarterback, polish up his game plans, and find some big bodies to bolster his lines.
Not that he’s sweating it or anything.
“We have to have some big guys around here somewhere,” Ornstein said, laughing.