March 31, 2010

5 things to look for in spring practice

New coach, new system and new personnel at numerous key positions. One could say "new" is the key word this spring for the Central Michigan football program as they start the transition from Butch Jones to Dan Enos. Following a monumental season that saw the Chippewas finished 12-2 overall, undefeated in MAC play, and secure a victory over Troy in the GMAC Bowl, expectations for 2010 have to be realistic. Gone are program figureheads in Dan LeFevour, Antonio Brown, Bryan Anderson, Josh Gordy, Frank Zombo and numerous others and their shoes must now be replaced. Having players step up and fill those voids is one of many questions facing CMU this spring, and in this article we take a look at the Top 5 things to look for as the Chippewas hit the heart of spring practice.

1) Who replaces LeFevour?

-This was going to be the big question from the moment #13 trotted off the field in Mobile, Alabama. He leaves CMU as the record holder in just about any category pertaining to passing (many rushing as well) and was such an integral part of the offense the last four years that replacing his production will be nearly impossible. For three of those years, CMU had the luxury of another stupendous upperclassmen QB as a backup in Brian Brunner, but he graduated in 2009 and the backup job last year was an extended battle between redshirt freshman Ryan Radcliff and redshirt sophomore Derek Rifenbury. Radcliff won the job last season, and with another year under their belt the two will square off for the starting job. Redshirt freshman A.J. Westendorp and incoming true freshman Kyle Smith could also factor into the situation. Of the three QB's in camp right now (Radcliff, Rifenbury, Westendorp) Radcliff has looked the most comfortable in the new offense and has displayed the best footwork. He has been erratic at times in the past, but he has a true gunslingers arm and has to be the frontrunner. Rifenbury offers a little more experience and size, but has practiced behind Radcliff during the spring thus far and has yet to really stand out. Westendorp was a bit of a project coming out of high school and is still a work in progress with his fundamentals and footwork. He has the intangibles, but his arm has yet to catch up with his intelligence.

2) Can Kito Poblah continue the WR tradition at CMU and be a true #1 guy?

-Poblah, a 6-foot-2 and 210 pound senior, is one of the more physically impressive wide receivers in the MAC. He just looks the part and has incredible strength to go along with his 4.5 speed. Last year he had his most productive season yet, catching 53 passes for 681 yards and 4 touchdowns, but he's had the luxury of Brown and Anderson (two future NFL WR's) to draw coverage away from him for his entire career. He will be the focal point in the passing offense by defenses and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts once schemes are created to shut him down. That said, he has incredible hands and was often called the best WR on the team despite the presence of Brown and Anderson, and his desire to be a force in the blocking game is a bonus. He has been very impressive in the spring and you should expect big things from Poblah in 2010.

3) What will the offense look like in 2010?

-For over five years now, the spread offenses of Brian Kelly and Butch Jones could be seen in Kelly/Shorts Stadium and big numbers followed. In comes new head coach Dan Enos from traditionally pro-style oriented Michigan State and Chippewa fans pictured the sky falling and running backs toting the rock forty times a game. Relax. The shotgun formation will not be leaving Mount Pleasant and change is inevitable with any new regime, heck Butch Jones's offense was often questioned during his first two years. CMU will have their ups and downs in the new offense, but Enos comes to CMU with an impressive offensive resume and as a former quarterback believes in the forward pass. Look for the Chippewas to keep defenses off balance with formations under center and out of the shotgun, and production to follow. And don't underestimate its impact in the MAC, not many defenses around the conference are tooled to stop pro-style offenses and the Chippewas personnel strength for years has been on the offensive line. The annual Spring Game on April 17th will answer many of the questions outsiders have.

4) Secondary Setback?

-It wasn't until 2009 that the Chippewas secondary stepped up and became respectable. In fact, in 2007 and 2008, it was downright atrocious, ranking near the bottom in the nation. Now seniors Gordy, Kirkston Edwards, and Eric Fraser depart, leaving three starting spots to fill and increased expectations. The good news is that CMU returns some experience as Dannie Bolden returns at one safety position and Bobby Seay (safety), Lavarus Williams (corner) and Vince Agnew (corner) have starting experience. The priority is to find another starting corner, and Lorenzo White, a consistent member of former coach Butch Jones doghouse, has taken most of the first team reps so far. Evan Ray, John Carr, D.J. Scott, and Jahleel Addae provide depth, with Addae being especially impressive in the spring so far. Unlike past years, CMU has a wealth of depth in the secondary and the position group should form into a strength in 2010.

5) Who else will become a playmaker?

-The defense has playmakers in linebackers Nick Bellore and Matt Berning, and the offense has one in Poblah, but what other players are primed for breakout years? We take a look at five potential playmakers for CMU in 2010.

* RB Tim Phillips
* WR Taylor Bradley
* DE Caesar Rodriguez
* DB Jahleel Addae
* WR Cody Wilson
* Special Mention: Incoming freshman TE Joe Sawicki

All except the incoming freshman Sawicki have taken part in spring practice so far, and all have looked very impressive. Phillips was hindered by an ankle injury last season, or he may have already been labeled a playmaker. Bradley is back at wide receiver after a stint as a DB (although academically ineligible last season) and has been a consistent playmaker. Rodriguez has an incredible motor that makes up for his lack of size and could be a very good pass rusher. Addae has been very impressive in the spring with his physicality and speed from all DB positions, and Wilson will be called upon to be a starting wide receiver and possible return man.

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