NEW CANAAN — If you were to sum up New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli’s thoughts on the upcoming season it would be three words.

Work in progress.

The defending Class L champion Rams come into the year with a star quarterback in Mike Collins and have athletes all over the field, but Marinelli either isn’t as confident as years past, or more likely, is trying to alleviate some of the pressure from a team that graduated several stars from a year ago.

“We start out the year losing captain Cass Knox to an ACL injury before the season even starts so that’s tough,” Marinelli said. “We always want to be able to compete at the end but you have new faces and a new personality. We’ll have lost nine people on defense and six on defense, but having said that you’d like to think that there’s kids in the program that are ready to step up — so we’ll find out Friday night (at Ridgefield).”

One of the players that must step up is Kyle Smith. The senior receiver has been on the varsity level since his sophomore year and was a valuable No. 3 receiver a year ago behind Alex LaPolice and Michael Kraus. Now he will take on the primary role on offense and has all the physical tools, as well as the mindset to handle the load.

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NEW CANAAN RAMS

Coach: Lou Marinelli

2014 Record: 11-1 (FCIAC runner up, Class L-Large champion)

Top Returnees: Sr. QB Mike Collins (32 TDs, 8 INTs); Sr. WR Kyle Smith (722 yards, 10 TDs); SR. LT Lucas Niang (6’6", 300 lbs.).

Reason to smile: Michael Collins threw for 32 touchdowns as a junior and will have some athletes to work with, he has the ability to be the best quarterback in the state in 2015.

Reason to worry: The loss of Cass Knox gives the defense one more question mark, it will be interesting to see how the unit comes together Friday night in Ridgefield.

Outlook: Lou Marinelli seems to have his doubts about this team, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s never doubt his ability, especially with a superstar quarterback at his disposal. Look for it to be another dominating year from the Rams.

“I’m still going to play my game, do what needs to be done, make plays, score touchdowns,” Smith said. “I mean it’s our last season, its different, I have to cherish it, it’s the last time coming out here, we have to take it seriously.”

A clear strength for New Canaan is Collins, a senior UPenn commit who threw 32 touchdowns a season ago. Even without LaPolice and Kraus, Collins has plenty of ability to make plays with his arm.

“It’s the same as last year, were just trying to develop more guys,” Collins said. “Michael Kraus didn’t play until his senior year and he became arguably the best receiver on our team, so we’re trying to do the same with the seniors on our team; we have a bunch of young guys who are amazing lacrosse athletes who are going to be good receivers too.”

Although the Rams offensive line has to replace their center and two guards, Collins won’t have to worry about his blind side as Lucas Niang returns for his senior year. The 6-foot-6, 300-pounder has offers from a plethora of Division I schools and will be manning left tackle for New Canaan once again.

“It’s pretty big,” Niang said of the offensive line play. “Without us a lot of things aren’t going to be possible, if we don’t do our part we aren’t going to be near as good as we can be.”

Defensively, Marinelli went back to his theme of the season.

“It’s a work in progress,” Marinelli said. “The loss of Cass really hurt, but our defensive line is getting better, it’s a weekly thing, we could look very different after the first couple weeks to the last couple. It’s a constant work of adjustment and trying to find the right combo.”

While the Turkey Bowl against Darien is normally the biggest game on the Rams schedule Marinelli has Oct. 24 circled as well. The Rams will visit Greenwich, where Marinelli’s son John, a former New Canaan assistant, has taken over as head coach.

“I’m really not looking forward to it, I hope the whole Marinelli thing doesn’t overshadow what is hopefully two great football teams,” Marinelli said. “Hopefully they’ll get the attention and as far as I’m concerned there be no winners that day—we’ll leave it up to the kids, it’s going to be a tough day.”

aparelli@bcnnew.com