College: 5 things to watch for as the Holy Cross Crusaders kick off spring ball

The Holy Cross Crusaders kicked off spring practice on Friday. The defending three time Patriot League champions return several key contributors from the team that lost to Villanova in the second round of the FCS playoffs.

Also returning is head coach Bob Chesney who signed a five year extension in February. The extension keeps Chesney in Worcester for the foreseeable future.

Chesney talked about how important it was for him to sign the extension and to stay at Holy Cross.

“Worcester has become home for my family, and we are humbled and grateful for the opportunity to continue our time in this great community and at Holy Cross,” Chesney added: “The young men and coaches in our program have lived out the vision we saw four years ago. Through their commitment and hard work, they have had a chance to see that vision all the way through to multiple championships – and our ambitions are set even higher for the years to come.”

Holy Cross returns a solid core of players but several key contributors most notably defensive end Benton Whitley, wide receiver Tenio Ayeni, and running back Peter Oliver must be replaced.

Here are five things to watch for as the Crusaders kick off practice.

1. The development of Matthew Sluka: Matthew Sluka is going to get the majority of the reps now that Marco Siderman has transferred to Tarleton State. Sluka is a dual threat quarterback who has developed over the past two seasons as a starter but still needs some refinement. With a solid spring, Sluka can solidify his standing as the team’s starting quarterback.

2. Replacing Peter Oliver will be tough but the Crusaders have talent at running back: In many ways, Oliver was the heart and soul of the Crusaders the past two seasons. His hard running style complemented Sluka well and gave the Crusaders the physical identity that they have on offense.

Luckily, freshmen Jordan Fuller and junior Tyler Purdy have experience and are ready to step in and fill the void. At 6-0 220, Fuller has the size, power and speed to be an effective runner in the Crusaders offense. He impressed in spot duty last season.

Purdy is good athlete who can not only carry the ball the ball but also be a factor in the passing game as well.

The Crusaders have plenty of talent back but replacing Oliver on and off the field will still be tough.

3. Fill holes along the front seven: The Crusaders have a lot of holes to fill along the front seven. It helps having Patriot League first team conference linebacker Jacob Dobbs back to anchor the defense. Dobbs is one of the best linebackers in FCS.

Holy Cross has a lot to replace along the defensive line, most notably defensive end Benton Whitney but Chesney and his staff have recruited well so there will be plenty of competition this spring along the defensive line.

4. Offensive skill on display: The Crusaders have one of the top skill groups in FCS football in Sluka, receivers Ayir Asante, Jalen Coker and tight end Sean Morris. Holy Cross will throw the ball more this spring so it will be interesting to see how new offensive coordinator Chris Smith deploys all of this talent this spring. The Crusaders will be fun to watch offensively this spring.

5. Take the next step: This is an important spring for the program. Holy Cross has arrived. They own the Patriot League, they are a perennial playoff team and they have won a playoff game. Now they need to take the next step and become a national title contender. Chesney and his staff know they can get more out of this group. They will look to do that this spring.