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August 11, 2012

Five questions with Joe Walton

As Joe Walton conducts his 19th training camp at Robert Morris, a great many things have changed since he first started the program in the early 90s. The first changes were fairly standard: Entrenching the program in the Northeast Conference, building a reputable coaching staff, finally getting an on-campus stadium, and sustaining the program to the point where the school helped push for scholarship football to become a part of the NEC.

But some more recent changes might impact the team the most. During the offseason, Robert Morris eliminated its junior varsity program, a move that cut roughly 30-40 spots off the roster. The program had become burdensome, and the Colonials often recruited for quantity instead of quality.

Now Robert Morris is like every other Division I FCS program. They have a set limit on scholarships (though lower than most, as imposed by the NEC) and a set roster size. They can bring in 18-25 players per year instead of 45-50. And those players get more development time instead of being all-but forgotten for a season.

Walton talked about the roster shift, training camp, and gave an overview of what he's focusing on in camp during a brief chat after practice.

ColonialsCorner: How much has the cut of the JV program impacted camp, outside of having fewer players on the field?
Joe Walton: The biggest thing it does is it gives the other guys more reps, which is important. The second thing is special teams; more guys have to participate in special where usually they didn't have to. I think they key though is that when you cut the roster down, then the players that are going to play get more reps. That's the key.

I've seen it already. If you recall, we used to bring 130 guys into camp. The first year we started here we had 157. Cutting the roster down is definitely a benefit, especially for the back-ups and the fringe guys who need more work if they're going to get better.

ColonialsCorner: Is there a position that you feel very comfortable about right now, a position that isn't causing much concern?
Joe Walton: You have to remember we were 2-9 last year. We were a bunch of no-names last year, so we have to see if we can become guys who people will know who we are and what we're doing. They're getting better and we had a pretty good spring, but there's a lot of things up in the air yet of who's going to play, who's going to start, so there's some pretty good battles going on.

ColonialsCorner: Is there a position that you're focusing a little extra on, something that you'd like to see develop a bit more?
Joe Walton: I think one of the places is our secondary, and they've looked better already. Another place might be wide receiver. Our tight ends are pretty solid. And always, always the offensive line, if we can get production from them. I think that's true at any level. High school, college, pro, the offensive line is the key.

ColonialsCorner: Do you prefer having your two-deep depth chart settled after the first scrimmage or so, or would you prefer there to be competition and battles for starting spots all the way up to even your first game against North Dakota State?
Joe Walton: I like them all the way up. I think that makes for a better training camp and makes the other guys better. There's nothing like competition. That's the business we're in. Football is competition. If you have competition within your team, it's going to make you better.

ColonialsCorner: Finally, is there a position on a Joe Walton-led team that a freshman has an easier time emerging? Or is it always up to the individual and the team's particular needs?
Joe Walton: I think it depends more on the individual. There are some kids who pick things up a little quicker than others, and some need more repetitions before they're comfortable with what they're doing. The thing we look at in the first scrimmage and into the second scrimmage is how many mental errors are they making. As you know, that'll kill you in every ball game.


ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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