April 22, 2013

CMU looking to build off strong spring

Central Michigan has officially wrapped up their spring ball for 2013, and the next step will be mixing in a talented group of freshman come summer. But the Chippewas are in a unique situation in that the biggest buzz surrounding the program has nothing to do with their current players. That is not a knock on any players who had a great spring, but when you are a MAC school and you potentially have the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, people are going to be talking.

Eric Fisher has stayed connected to the program as he dove into the draft process, and his rapid ascent up draft boards has brought a lot of positive attention to the CMU football program.

"I think it means a lot, because you are talking about big time exposure," said QB Coach Morris Watts. "There probably aren't many young men who don't watch the NFL Draft, or haven't been watching the NFL channel when they discuss different things about Eric. And he was able to get a lot of publicity from the Senior Bowl. So it's been great. A lot of lineman that have come in for Junior Days or driven up in the spring to watch practice, that's one of the first things they want to talk about was the development of Eric Fisher. They are amazed at the size he came in at and where he is finishing now along with the opportunity he is about to get."

The task to replace Fisher will not be easy, but it will be helped by the return of 6-foot-8 senior Jake Olson who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Several starters return, but the offensive line's key will be the development of young players who have been in the program for a few years.

"We struggled a little bit in the spring because we had a couple of surgeries with guys over the winter that we held out," added Watts. "We really aren't established with who is going to be where like we would like to be, but we feel good about our numbers. I'm not really going to elaborate too much on the names because I feel like I might miss one of them, but more than that there are some big time battles going on up front that I think we have to wait until the smoke clears. But I think we are going to be alright there, and we have a chance to be even better. Our center returns (Nick Beamish), our left guard returns (Andy Phillips) and both were full-time starters last year. We have a tackle that played almost entirely the last five ballgames (Kevin Henry), so we have almost three starters returning. Then like I said we have a few guys who had surgery that will be coming in to make us real strong."

Running behind the offensive line will be a talented group of running backs, led by senior Zurlon Tipton. Tipton ran for 1,492 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, and he averaged just under six yards per carry. He will be backed up by Saylor Lavallii who chipped in with 263 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman, as well as a healthy Anthony Garland and scout team standout Martez Walker.

"Tipton is coming off a great year, and we didn't scrimmage him a lot in the spring because we didn't think he needed it, so we gave it to the young kids. But we feel like we really have great depth at the running back position. Another young man who came on real strong as a true freshman last year was Saylor Lavallii, and right now he is lining up at the No. 2 position behind Zurlon. Toward the last five ballgames of the year, he was pretty dang good. Right now he is still holding on to that No. 2 spot behind Zurlon, and then we have two more young men. A freshman in Martez Walker, and then a guy who played a bunch as a freshman, got hurt last year and didn't have a very good year but had a great spring was Anthony Garland. So we have four guys that we feel good about at the tailback position."

Also looking for a replacement on the offensive side of the ball is the quarterback position, and Watts said it was arguably the biggest concern heading into the summer.

"I think the biggest concern is probably the position I coach, the quarterbacks," added Watts. "Not that the talent level isn't there, but it's just the amount of time because you only get three scrimmages in your entire spring where you can actually simulate a game. And that's the number one thing all these young men need, they have not been on the field that much. They were all really good players in high school and other places, but at the Division I level they haven't played a lot."

As for the defensive side of the ball, Coach Watts has a terrific perspective both with his experience and the position he coaches. For Chippewa fans, improvement on that side of the ball will be music to their ears.

"There is a bunch of them on the defensive side of the ball, I don't even know if I could list them all. But especially our young guys on the defensive line and our young guys in the secondary. I could really notice for example, how much better our team speed was on defense when we were scrimmaging or even going through different things at practice. The speed of the defense getting to the ball was so much better than it was in the past year."

CMU will open the season on August 31st when they travel to Ann Arbor to play Michigan. Look for more updates on the Chippewas as the season draws nearer.

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