Ypsilanti – To improve upon its 4-7 record in 2004, Eastern Michigan must get better defensively. And, early in Saturday's intra-squad spring scrimmage, the defense excelled, stopping EMU's offense on five of eight possessions.
Then backup quarterback Tyler Jones broke loose, providing more than enough memorable plays to trump the defense's early success.
"He plays faster than he runs the 40," head coach Jeff Genyk said of Jones. "And, obviously, he's very difficult to tackle."
Jones' signature play was a 35-yard run down the left sideline, which started with a deft fake to running back Travis McKinney. McKinney drew a pile of defenders right, and Jones accelerated past the remaining would-be tacklers.
On the next play, Jones froze two more defenders and stutter-stepped into the end zone. The play was called dead under EMU's practice rules on quarterback contact, though, as one man got a hand on Jones.
"I'm not so sure he couldn't be our tailback," Genyk said.
Beyond Jones' theatrics, Genyk praised the defense's productivity. Tackles Josh Hunt and Jason Jones each ended possessions with sacks, and EMU's quarterbacks faced consistent pressure from the defensive line.
"We looked really tentative in the first seven or eight (spring) practices on defense and I think we got a handle on that," Genyk said. "Now you can see some of the fundamental improvement starting to take shape. We still have a long way to go defensively, but that was where our most noticeable improvement transpired."
Click here for Brian's complete position-by-position recap of EMU's spring practice.
Bohnet's Bombs: Quarterback Matt Bohnet connected on several long passes during the scrimmage. On the game's first possession, he spotted a wide-open Eric Deslauriers in the back of the end zone for about a 25-yard score. Later, he split two defenders and hit senior A.J. Bennett in stride for a 35-yard gain down the middle.
"They're trying to work with Bohnet on his quick game, but he's excellent at throwing the deep ball," Bennett said. "That's an area that will show improvement in the fall."
Celebrate Good Times: While the EMU offense spent much of the spring working on passing precision, players apparently had a little extra time to sharpen their end zone celebrations.
Bennett led three choreographed group celebrations following touchdowns, which drew loud cheers and laughter from fans. During one, Bennett grabbed two end zone pylons, and mimicked the motions of an air traffic controller, bringing his teammates together for a raucous cheer.
"When (offensive coordinator Howard) Feggins says it's time to celebrate, he says 'A.J., get the guys going,'" Bennett said. "He just wanted us to have fun this spring."
Celebrity Sightings: Graduating seniors Keyvon Barbee, Kevin Harrison and Chris Roberson all watched their former teammates play Saturday. Harrison said he is working out on his own in preparation for next week's NFL draft. Roberson has also drawn interest from professional scouts.
New men's basketball coach Charles Ramsey also took in the action, standing with guard Darryl Garrett and several recruits.