New coach Dan Enos spent the spring getting to know his players and implementing a new offensive system. The Chippewas lost numerous key offensive skill players from last year's 12-2 team, including star quarterback Dan LeFevour.
Without LeFevour, the Chippewas don't expect to match last year's stunning success. In 2009, Central Michigan averaged 33.9 points a game, while yielding a scant 18.9 points to finish 24th in the final Associated Press poll.
The Enos era kicks off with a big question mark at quarterback. The new coaching staff worked all spring installing a new offense. Instead of the spread offense, the Chippewas plan on using more plays under center and mixing the run with the pass.
"I've always felt that being underneath center makes you more aware of your feet and gives you a better sense of balance with a quarterback," Enos said. "A lot of times, when guys are only in the shotgun, they kind of float around a little bit rather than being distinct on their drops for timing purposes."
Ryan Radcliff is the early frontrunner to take over at quarterback. The redshirt sophomore struggled at times trying to grasp the new plays and calls. He completed 25 of 41 passes for 229 yards in the spring game. Derek Rifenburg and A.J. Westendorp are expected to back up Radcliff, the lone quarterback on the roster to attempt a pass in a CMU uniform.
"Our quarterbacks have done a tremendous job of learning the system and getting under center," Enos said. "Their footwork and their tempo is great. ...We have had tremendous improvements out of guys like Derek Rifenbury and A.J. Westendorp. We knew what we had in Ryan (Radcliff) coming in and he has had tremendous consistency and showed a lot of improvement as well."
The Chippewas were hampered in the spring by having just 11 players for 10 offensive line spots. The lack of depth and healthy bodies hurt the development of the offense and learning run-blocking scheme.
On the defensive side, the Chippewas showed signs of another strong season. Linebackers Nick Bellore and Matt Berning return to lead the defense. Berning tallied a career-high 108 tackles in 2009. Bellore has made at least 100 tackles in each of his three seasons. The defense allowed just one field goal in the spring game.
"On defense we have really been working on technique and fundamentals with our guys and you can really see that starting to show up on tape," Enos said.NOTES, QUOTES
--Quarterback Ryan Radcliff took the majority of the snaps in spring practice. The redshirt sophomore has tough shoes to fill in trying to replace Dan LeFevour. Radcliff lacked consistency due to the upheaval on the offensive line, running back and wide receiver positions.
--TE David Blackburn should become a bigger part of the offense in 2010. Blackburn showed his worth by catching seven passes for 56 yards in the spring game.
DL Nathan Williams -- He showed great promise in leading the defense with three sacks in the spring game.
RB Paris Cotton -- He's expected to get a lot of carries after Bryan Schroeder elected to quit the team. Cotton has the potential to be a solid back.
WR Zurlan Tipton -- A versatile player, Tipton took advantage of numerous injured wide receivers to catch four passes for 32 yards and rush six times for 12 yards in the spring game.
DB Jahleel Addae -- He had a good spring, finishing with four tackles, one interception and a forced fumble in the spring game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There will be a spread, but we'll be multiple -- that's the best thing I can tell people. We want to be able to do it all. Our system is such where we can run all the plays from all the different personnel groupings." -- CMU coach Dan Enos on the changes to the offense.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The Chippewas fully understand they won't equal or top last year's historic season. But don't expect the expectations to be diminished too significantly. After all, Central Michigan has played in four straight bowl games.
The Chippewas will struggle learning the new offense and adjusting to inexperience at quarterback, wide receiver and running back in the early stages of the season. The defense should be solid again with stalwart linebackers Matt Berning and Nick Bellore returning. A tough schedule -- the Chippewas play at Northwestern, Virginia Tech and Navy -- will hurt a team looking for confidence.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The offense struggled in the spring due to inexperience at numerous skill positions along with just 11 offensive linemen for 10 spots. New coach Dan Enos is altering the offense and putting an emphasis on more plays under center and finding a good blend between the run and pass. Quarterback Ryan Radcliff inherits an offense with numerous question marks at running back and wide receiver.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Chippewas took positive steps by limiting opponents to 18.9 points a game. Linebackers Matt Berning and Nick Bellore are two of the best defensive players in the Mid-American Conference. The defensive line showed promise with a solid effort in the spring, spearheaded by defensive lineman Nathan Williams netting three sacks. The defense takes an even bigger burden next year with all the uncertainty on offense. The defense has to make more big plays and force more turnovers.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: The special teams -- and the entire team -- took a big blow with the decision by star returner/receiver Antonio Brown to enter the NFL Draft. The Chippewas must find a capable kick and punt returner to replace Brown. The loss of kicker Andrew Aguila, who kicked the game-winning field goal at Michigan State, is another key loss.
DB Anthony Hollis, Grand Rapids, Mich. -- An athletic player who runs a blazing 4.3 40. Can fill some holes if ready in the secondary.
DE Kevin Henry, Morris, Ill. -- A talented defensive player from a solid program. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder is a hidden gem with his size and strength.
QB Kyle Smith, Lancaster, Pa. -- Got good height at 6-foot-2 but must gain some weight and strength. Is good insurance if the Chippewas experience problems at quarterback.
--RB Bryan Schroeder left the team for personal reasons.
--WR Kito Poblah missed the spring game with a left ankle injury.
--RB Carl Volny missed valuable practice time under the new coaching staff due to a shoulder injury.
--Offensive linemen Jake Olson and Jeff Maddux both sat out several spring practices with injuries.
Previous Report: 04/11/2010