How do the Archers create offense in Ament’s absence?
By Austin Owens | Jun 9, 2022
It was a struggle throughout Week 1 for the offense of the Archers in Albany, NY.
For the majority of Sunday’s matchup with the Chrome, they looked out of sorts. It wasn’t the usual high-volume offense we’ve become accustomed to, however, the Archers were without their most dangerous weapon from a year ago in Grant Ament.
From the jump, the Archers tried 2022 fourth overall pick Matt Moore at X to start the game, but when he struggled, the Archers looked to undrafted rookie Connor DeSimone for a shot in the arm.
Chrome head coach Tim Soudan showed faith in his defenders to win their one-on-one matchups, and they did just that for the majority of the first half – even holding the Archers scoreless in the second quarter. But in the second half, the Archers began to click by using their speed and quick ball movement to draw slides and open lanes for skip passes and cuts.
The timetable for Ament’s return is unclear, leaving the Archers with a hole up front that they’ll need to mitigate to open the 2022 season.
“His long-term health is clearly the most important thing for us,” Archers' head coach Chris Bates said. “We want to get him back. If we need to be conservative, we will. We’re still in a little bit of a wait-and-see phase.”
Ament had a league-high 22 assists and 35 points last season, earning a nomination for the Jim Brown Most Valuable Player Award while taking home the Eamon McEneaney Attackman of the Year Award. Ament has been described as a waterbug. He’s got the rare ability to be able to make world-class plays while operating at top speed. The acceleration and shiftiness he displays make him a matchup nightmare. His highlight-reel underhand skip passes are simply jaw-dropping and he thinks the game at a level higher than almost anyone in lacrosse, making Ament a threat every time he has the ball.
When looking at Ament’s absence, the obvious question is how the Archers can make up for his production every week.
“I still think we need more time, honestly. Guys have been successful through training camp, but coach has done a good job of floating us and keeping it even where we’re playing up top and playing behind,” Will Manny said on Sunday. “There’s no replacing Grant…It’s our job as veterans and leaders to just watch the film and take a deep breath. I think you’ll see a much more put-together Archers' offense next week with our sets.”
You’ll never get a team’s story from a box score, and the Archers’ first game is the perfect example. While there are some bright spots to look at, there are also some challenges facing the team going forward. Let’s take a look at some of the major talking points following Week 1.
DeSimone’s Strong Debut
Bates and the Archers tried out a different look at attack from their pre-season scrimmages, employing undrafted rookie Connor DeSimone as the initiator from X during a majority of their offensive sets.
The Johns Hopkins product was one of the most impressive players at Archers’ camp from all indications, and he showed very well in his PLL debut against the Chrome.
With a pair of goals and two assists, he showed that he’s here to stay in the PLL and can make an impact within this offensive unit.
“I think it’s the always attack mentality that Coach Bates has instilled into the Archers,” said DeSimone post-game about what allowed him to step in so quickly and succeed. “We’re constantly on the move and constantly looking for our spots. There’s never a dull moment. You’re always attacking and looking for that next opportunity, whereas college is a little more methodical. With 52 seconds, you have to pick and choose your spots.
“If there’s an opening with an opportunity, you have to take advantage of it.”
The Archers used Ament’s absence to their advantage. Chrome opted to pole Tom Schreiber and the wing attackman the majority of possessions, leaving DeSimone with a short-stick from X.
He looked to drive his defender topside and find a shot with his hands-free. He used the speed advantage on his first goal, blowing past SSDM Mike Messenger to get an open look at Sean Sconone.
Looking back at Connor DeSimone's @PremierLacrosse debut on Sunday— Austin Owens (@_AustinOwens) June 9, 2022
With Schreiber drawing the pole matchup, DeSimone makes use of his speed advantage on Mike Messenger from X
Gets topside with a quick burst and drills the shot on the run for his first career goal pic.twitter.com/1UJmUv2fSv
On his second goal of the afternoon, SSDM Ryan Terefenko started on DeSimone, but Marcus Holman ran interference to get a switch back onto Messenger. From there, the rookie took him to the rack again, beating him around with speed.
Chrome switches Ryan Terefenko onto DeSimone next time out to limit the speed— Austin Owens (@_AustinOwens) June 9, 2022
A great job by Marcus Holman to help get the switch back onto Messenger for a nearly identical finish for DeSimone's second of the afternoon pic.twitter.com/KrP1Z46rlS
With fourth overall pick Matt Moore having a relatively quiet game, DeSimone took advantage of his opportunity in the opener. It’ll be interesting to see how DeSimone will be employed against Chaos on Friday. In the battle for reps between the two rookies, DeSimone definitely has the edge after game one.
During training camp, Bates mentioned that he was going to try different things out to help alleviate the gap left by Ament.
“You don’t replace one-for-one what Grant does for us,” Bates said. “His skill set is so unique. We don’t feel like somebody just gets plugged in and we stay the same. We’ll end up tweaking a little bit and moving the pieces around.”
A Familiar Foe
Apart from the Whips-Chaos championship rematch to open the 2022 campaign, this might be the most anticipated matchup in the early goings.
Chaos has bounced the Archers from the playoffs the previous two seasons. Part of the reason for their success in those games has been the play of Jack Rowlett, who has won his matchup against Ament on both occasions, slowing the Archers’ offensive output in the process.
Without Ament in this game, keep an eye on how Chaos matches up against the Archers defensively. Schreiber will likely draw a pole once again. Jarrod Neumann is rangy and long and had a great game against Matt Rambo in Week 1. He could take that assignment of guarding the shiftiest player on the field once again.
In the quarterfinal matchup last summer, Neumann was on Holman while Johnny Surdick took Schreiber the majority of the time. But that’s a tough spot to throw rookie Brett Kennedy into.
But with how DeSimone played Week 1, does he draw the big-time matchup in Rowlett? Is Moore given another opportunity to prove himself in Week 2?
The game of chess between the two teams is going to be one to watch. Chaos has opted not to slide on the Archers in both of their postseason victories. Playing one-on-one is something that the Archers don’t love doing, as we saw during the Chrome game.
Chaos held the Whipsnakes to just two assists in Week 1 and 17 assisted shots against. Their defense was picked up where they left off last summer, and nearly helped Chaos to the victory.
To be successful this weekend, the Archers cannot let the ball die in sticks. They found success in quick movement. Schreiber is going to have to be the initiator from the midfield, but the Archers’ shooters have to step up when they get their chances. Schreiber has never been a selfish player, so it can’t just be on him to generate chances.
Can the Archers peak in September?
The short answer is yes. The Archers’ offense is as high-powered as any in the PLL, but in 2021, the main initiator was Ament, with the likes of Holman, Manny, and Leclaire being elite options as catch-and-shoot threats to burn teams who slid off of their finishers.
They have made a clear effort to try and be less predictable offensively. Holman and Manny both ran out of the box against Chrome, and DeSimone was obviously a curveball that worked out well. That unpredictability could pay dividends for the Archers.
If these players can find success in these new roles until their offensive quarterback returns, the Archers could take another step that they haven’t been able to reach in previous seasons.
If the entire offense is dialed in already when Ament returns, it will only benefit Bates’ squad down the stretch.