December 20, 2009

The future is bright for CMU offense despite key losses

Currently, a great emphasis is being placed on what the Central Michigan football program will no longer have when the 2010 season rolls around. However, those close to the program should know that Butch Jones left the cupboard very well stocked for whoever chooses to take on the challenge of being the Chippewas' next head man.

Chippewacountry took the time to take an inventory of what is left in the CMU program and how it will be put into play next season.

Today, we take a look at how the offense should look in 2010 and beyond.

QUARTERBACKS

This position is one of a few question marks on the 2010 squad. After four years of Dan Lefevour, the Chippewa offense will have a new leader. The odds-on favorite to take the reins is Ryan Radcliff, who will be a redshirt sophomore and saw some game action during the 2009 season. Radcliff saw limited action in 7 games and went 10-21 with 115 yards and two interceptions. He also was able to rush for 48 yards on 6 carries.

Also competing for the job will be redshirt freshman A.J. Westendorp and redshirt junior Derek Rifenbury.

Incoming recruits at the position are Cody Kater and Dwight Macon. Kater put up eye-popping stats while leading his team to a state championship this season. Macon also was impressive his senior year. Both bring strong skill sets with Kater being a better passer while being an adequate threat on the ground and Macon being a bigger threat in the running game while also being a solid passer.

RUNNINGBACKS

This position should be one of extreme strength in 2010. Every member of the 2009 depth chart returns and Zurlon Tipton joins the pack as a redshirt freshman. Competition should be fierce for carries and each back brings something a little bit different to the table.

Bryan Schroeder ran the ball 87 times for 486 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2010. At 216 pounds, he is the power back of the group but has displayed more than enough speed and versatility as witnessed by his 80-yard touchdown run against Toledo along with his 31 catches for 270 yards and 3 touchdowns for the season. Schroeder will be a junior in 2010.

Carl Volny carried the ball 81 times for 388 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2009. He also had 7 catches for 65 yards. As a redshirt junior in 2009, Volny was a pleasant surprise as he showed himself to be a solid, reliable runner. He hits the holes hard and was often used in late game situations when CMU was trying to close out the game.

Injuries were an issue with Paris Cotton during his sophomore campaign in 2009. He only played in 8 games but in the time he played, he gave Chippewa fans a reason to cheer. He rushed 58 times for 220 yards and a touchdown. He also had eight catches for 77 yards and a score. The touchdown cut Michigan State's lead to 27-26 with just over a minute to go in the game. Cotton is a speedy slasher who is unafraid of contact but can also turn on the jets.

Tim Phillips also was bit by the injury bug during his freshman campaign. However, he showed some flashes of what Chippewa fans can expect from him in the future as he ran 10 times for 57 yards and a score while also making 3 catches for 25 yards. At 5-foot-5 and 163 pounds and a former state champion powerlifter, Phillips is a very compact runner who has a great speed bursts and is also very tough to bring down. If he can stay healthy, Phillips should look forward to a much more productive sophomore season.

Zurlon Tipton will be the wild card of this group going into the 2010 season. He redshirted in 2009. However, he came in at 210 pounds and showed himself to be a freak of an athlete in high school. Tipton has a punishing running style but can also make a some great moves in the open field.

Incoming recruits at the position are Ben Brown and Tyler Lombardo. At 215 and 225 pounds respectively, Brown and Lombardo are both big physical runners. From his fullback position, Lombardo also was a lead blocker for an offense that ran for over 3000 yards his senior season.

SLOT RECEIVERS

This position is in an interesting spot looking ahead to the 2010 season. If Antonio Brown elects to return for his senior season, it will be deadly and offensive coordinators on the 2010 schedule should start worrying now. However, even if he elects to go to the NFL, the position should still be pretty strong. Since everyone reading this article already knows very well what Brown is capable of and his return to CMU is not a given, the focus of this section will mainly be on the rest of the slot receivers.

Cody Wilson was projected by almost everybody to redshirt his first season in Mount Pleasant. However, he just kept making plays in practice and he could not be kept off the field. For the season, he had 21 catches for 190 yards and 2 scores. Wilson is a very sure-handed receiver and also threw some devastating downfield blocks throughout the season. Expect Wilson to continue to make progress and have a very productive career from his slot receiver position.

Sean Skergan is another candidate to see playing time in 2010, his senior season. Throughout his career, he has seen some playing time in 5-receiver sets, has run good routes, and has shown himself to be a solid downfield blocker. While he only had 3 catches in 2009, playing time can be awful hard to come by when Antonio Brown is the man playing in front of you.

Valtorrey Showers will be a redshirt sophomore in 2010 and could be a candidate for a breakout season. Showers has always been known for his speed and displayed sure hands throughout his high school career. However, when you are backing up Antonio Brown, there just aren't that many snaps to go around.

Malek Redd will be a redshirt freshman in 2010. Coming out of high school, Malek was a highly regarded runningback known for his exceptional speed. This season, he was converted to the slot where his speed should be put to good use out in space. He caught the ball quite a bit in high school and his blazing speed should allow him to have home run ability on the jet sweeps that were made so successful by Antonio Brown in 2009.

Currently, the only players coming in at this position are LaSteven MacKinney, who may also end up in the backfield and Davon Muse who was originally part of the 2009 class but elected to enroll in the winter. Both played runningback in high school and displayed an ability to catch the ball and return kicks. One final possibility at this position could be Dwight Macon if the coaching staff would like to get him and his playmaking ability onto the field right away. With his speed and explosiveness, Macon could have a similar impact to what Eric Page, another high school quarterback, had at Toledo in 2009 playing slot receiver while also taking snaps at quarterback in various situations.

OUTSIDE RECEIVERS

Bryan Anderson made a whole bunch of clutch plays and set a whole busload of records during his time in Mount Pleasant. While his loss will definitely be felt, the Chippewas can take solace in the fact that they have a bona fide star in Kito Poblah entering his senior year. For the 2009 season, Poblah has 50 catches for 631 yards and 4 touchdowns. Poblah has shown a very reliable pair of hands to go along with great explosiveness and strength, which makes him very hard for defensive backs to tackle.

While Poblah is a proven commodity, it is safe to assume CMU will be running the spread regardless of who is the coach in 2010 so it will be essential that someone step up in the spot Anderson once held. Chippewacountry takes a look at the candidates.

Jerry Harris could very well be the front runner for the outside receiver spot opposite of Poblah. Like Poblah, Harris is a physical freak of nature. He had the reputation of being an exceptional leaper with great speed when he came to CMU and since then, he has added upper body strength. In 2010, Harris will be a redshirt sophomore and will have two years in a college strength and conditioning program under his belt. If his route running can match his ability to go up and get the jump ball, MAC defensive coordinators will have plenty to worry about.

Cedric Fraser is another possibility who will be entering his third year in the program. At 6-foot-3, Fraser has the size to go up and get the jump ball to go along with some nice wheels. If he or Harris wins the starting job, CMU will have a very physical set of receivers to work with on the outside.

Jeremy Wilson will be entering his redshirt junior season in 2010. At 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, he has great size for a receiver. He has seen a good deal of playing time in 2009. While he does not have the same physical gifts as the aforementioned receivers, Wilson has proven himself to be a solid route runner and an excellent blocker in the run game, a quality that can not be overlooked in CMU's current offense. One way or the other, it is a safe bet that Wilson will see at least some playing time in 2010 because of the strong fundamentals he possesses.

Deja Alexander will be a redshirt freshman in 2010. Alexander is another solid physical specimen who former CMU wide receivers coach was very high on. Following Signing Day 2009, Azzani had this to say about Alexander: "Deja is a big physical wide out. I had him at the University of Florida camp and he's a kid that I'm excited about. He has a certain mentality to play the position. He's a hard working kid. He's a first in line type of kid. He refuses to get beat. He is a real competitor. We said as a staff that we wanted to recruit personality and one of the reasons we took him was his personality and the way he competes."

TIGHT ENDS

This is a position with very little depth. However, David Blackburn done a nice job at the position in 2009 and should be even better as a junior in 2010. For the season in 2009, Blackburn has 11 catches for 109 yards and 2 touchdowns. At 6-foot-3 and 233 pounds, Blackburn has used his strength to be a very solid blocker in the run game while also showing plenty of athleticism when he is used in the passing game.

This position took a hit to its depth when Bobby James elected to leave the program. For the 2009 season, the back-up tight ends for CMU were the four receiver set and 5 receiver set. However, there are a number of possibilities to add depth to the position in 2010.

Both Caleb Southworth and Joe Wirth are currently being brought in top CMU as defensive ends but both know that there is a possibility that one of them moves to tight end.

As a senior at Piketon (OH) High, Southworth had 39 catches for 546 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also showed his athleticism by rushing 32 times for 207 yards and 5 touchdowns. At 6-5 and 220 pounds, Southworth appears to be built very well for the tight end position. Defensively, he had 64 tackles and 3 sacks on the season. Currently, Southworth is averaging 14 points per game for the Piketon basketball team.

At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Wirth also has a good build for the tight end position. He began his senior season as a split end but injuries forced him to move to guard where he was named to the Michigan All-State Dream Team. Wirth has proven himself to be a strong blocker and he has displayed good athleticism on the basketball court and on the defensive side of the ball.

One final candidate to step in and add some depth to the tight end position in 2010 is Jarrett Flemming, who is originally a 2009 commit. Flemming had some clearinghouse issues, which prevented him from enrolling in the fall. However, he is squared away now and will be arriving in Mount Pleasant in January. As a senior in high school, Jarrett had 18 catches for 344 yards and 8 touchdowns. At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Jarrett has the build to be a solid tight end. He also has shown freakish athleticism and could also fit the bill as a pass catching tight end.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The Chippewa offensive line was considered a massive question mark entering the 2009 season. The Chippewas had to replace two starting offensive tackles with players who had never played a down at the position. However, the questions were answered loud and clear as the season progressed and the Chippewa offensive line performed at a level beyond anyone's expectations.

Jake Olson was named to the Freshman All-America team as a redshirt freshman because of his performance at his left tackle position while Rocky Weaver successfully made the transition from tight end to right tackle for his redshirt sophomore season. Making the future of the tackle position even brighter was the emergence of true freshman Eric Fisher. Fisher was forced to start against Ball State because of an injury to Olson. Not only did Fisher perform well, he manhandled Ball State's defensive ends all night. It will be very difficult to keep Fisher off the field in 2010.

Colin Miller and Jeff Maddux both performed at very high levels during their junior seasons in 2009. As seniors in 2010, both should be dominant from their respective center and left guard positions.

The only starter CMU will have to replace from a line that paved the way for 3,182 yards passing and 2,238 yards rushing is the reliable Allen Ollenburger at right guard. There are a number of possibilities here.

Darren Keyton had to start 3 games at center in 2009 while Miller was injured. He has game experience and it is very easy to envision him sliding over to the guard position and doing very well in Ollenburger's old spot. Keyton will be a redshirt sophomore in 2010.

Matt Kanitz will also be a redshirt sophomore in 2010. Kanitz has the size and strength to be a solid blocker. Kanitz saw a decent amount of playing time at the guard positions in 2009. That experience will be very helpful for him in 2009 as he continues to advance in his playing career.

Adam Schneid redshirted as a freshman in 2009. However, he impressed quite a bit throughout the fall. He is currently practicing at right tackle but is versatile enough to play just about anywhere along the line.

Jeff Fantuzzi is another class of 2009 recruit who redshirted this season. Fantuzzi enrolled last spring and the additional spring practices should only be beneficial to him. At 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, Fantuzzi has been practicing at the guard positions and is another possibility to step in and play right guard. If nothing else, Fantuzzi, along with fellow class of 2009 linemen Schneid, Fisher and Aaron Kaczmarski represent the immense amount of depth and talent CMU has to look forward to along its offensive line.

The aforementioned Kaczmarski made the switch to the offensive line in the fall while also redshirting. Entering CMU at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, he had a great frame to add weight to and has also been practicing at guard. He mainly played tight end and defensive end in high school so it remains to be seen how far he has progressed as an offensive lineman. However, CMU offensive line coach Don Mahoney has a good track record and one could safely assume Kaczmarskihas picked up quite a bit during his time under his tutelage.

Currently, the only incoming lineman in the class of 2010 is Kent King from Gladstone. King is very highly thought of and is big, strong and athletic enough to project to just about any position.

BOTTOM LINE: While there are some questions to be asked going into the 2010 season, mainly at the quarterback position, there is more than enough talent for the Chippewas to once again light up the scoreboards. The veteran offensive line and the runningbacks should be able make for an effective running game. This will help ease the transition for the passing game as a new quarterback and a couple new, talented receivers strive to find a rhythm with one another. Once the receivers and the quarterback find their groove, the CMU offense will once again be a force to be reckoned with.

Stick with Chippewacountry as we continue to bring you all of the latest news on Central Michigan athletics.


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