Ypsilanti – WEMU's Brian Nemerovski looked at each unit of the EMU football team this spring, and notes what's left to determine before EMU's September 1 opener at Cincinnati.
Quarterback: Senior Matt Bohnet returns after averaging 294 yards of total offense per game last season, which ranked among national leaders. Matt's brother, Ken, switched from quarterback to tight end in the spring, which cleared the way for ultra-athletic Tyler Jones to claim the backup job.
Biggest question to answer before September 1: Can Jones make the jump from practice star to game contributor? If so, the Eagles would have two dangerous weapons under center.
Running Back: For the second straight year, Anthony Sherrell returns after an All-MAC campaign. But for the second straight year, Sherrell will not have a lock on the starting job heading into fall camp. The fifth-year senior left the team early this year to explore transferring, and missed nearly two dozen mandatory workouts. He returned prior to the start of spring practice, and has worked hard to prove himself again to EMU coaches. Senior Nelson Drew missed all of spring practice with an injury, leaving undersized runners Travis McKinney and Pierre Walker with most of the reps. Both McKinney and Walker ran well downfield in EMU's spring game, but neither can provide the power game of Sherrell.
Biggest question: Can Sherrell return to being the every-down back he was in 2003?
Wide Receiver: All-MAC wideout Eric Deslauriers caught an EMU-record 13 touchdowns last season, and earned team MVP honors. Deslauriers and senior A.J. Bennett provided a reliable one-two punch at receiver this spring. But Trumaine Riley missed camp to play baseball, Duan Bracey is still rehabilitating after off-season shoulder surgery, and backups Travis Lewis and LaGarian Houston missed spring drills with injuries. As a result, coaches spent extensive time working with younger receivers in EMU's multiple-wideout sets. Sophomore Mark Borders will likely having a starting spot when the first fall depth chart is released, and redshirt freshman Reggie Brown will compete for time as well after a solid spring.
Biggest question: Will Bracey, EMU's quickest and most athletic receiver, be at full strength in time for the opener?
Tight end: After losing Kevin Zureki following the 2003 season and Adam Jacobs to graduation last year, EMU coaches basically stripped this position bare and started from scratch. Ken Bohnet is clearly the class of the group, according to Genyk, but converted defensive end John Wester excelled as a blocker, and may be a factor in the fall. Junior college transfer R.J. Montemayor must catch the ball more consistently to compete for playing time.
Biggest questions: Who will emerge as the starter? More importantly, can the tight end become more of a pass-catching weapon in the spread offense? Last season, EMU's tight ends combined for just 12 catches.
Offensive Line: We know that senior Mike Romeli will anchor the line at center. Returnees Khalid Walton and Gemayel Cowser are in line to claim the guard slots. Who will replace departed tackles Tom Kalieta and Jeromie Feuchter is another matter. Chris Thomas has the size and mobility to play tackle, but he missed spring practice with a leg injury. Jake Bleeker, a 303-pound redshirt freshman, is among the team's best run blockers, and can earn the left tackle job with better consistency in the fall. Kevin Minor and Courtney Ford each have an outside chance at a starting tackle job, but each is new to the position.
Biggest question: Who will start at tackle?
Kicker: Andrew Wellock seemingly hasn't missed a field goal or extra point since setting foot on EMU's campus in 2003. He's a favorite for the Lou Groza Award this fall. Wellock capped a solid spring with a 39-yard field goal and perfect PAT kicking at the spring game. Wellock's only backups will be freshmen walk-ons.
Biggest question: Barring an injury to Wellock, none.
Defensive Line: If EMU's defense is to improve, this unit must generate more pressure on opposing backfields. Returning ends Kevin Howe and Jean-Olivier Gagnon-Gordillo are each stronger than they were at the end of the 2004 season. And tackle Josh Hunt, a transfer from Colorado, was the most dominant defensive player during spring workouts. Sophomore Jason Jones played defense full-time this spring, working primarily at tackle. Hunt is the heaviest of the group at 275 pounds, which makes the unit significantly lighter than Genyk would like. 300-punders Joe Charles and DeMarko Hughes can provide girth off the bench.
Biggest question: Can the group provide enough consistent pressure to ease the burden on EMU's linebackers and defensive backs?
Linebackers: Converted running back Darran Matthews stood out among EMU's linebackers with a solid spring, and will head into fall as the starter on the strong side. Junior Brandon Watkins outplayed incumbent Steve Bednarik in the middle this spring, and redshirt freshman Korey Jackson fill out the starting unit on the weak side. However, Genyk says both the middle and weak side spots are still wide open for competition, which could include incoming freshmen and academic non-qualifier Cortland Selman once fall camp opens.
Biggest question: Can EMU replace tackling machine Kevin Harrison's productivity? To do so, the Eagles will need veteran play from at least one rookie in the linebacking corps.
Secondary: By graduating this spring, safties Rontrell Woodruff and Corey Parker each earned a fifth year of eligibility. Both have started regularly for the Eagles, and should help make up for the loss of departed free safety Jerry Gaines. Senior Steven Lewis spent the spring working to avoid the big-play lapses that plagued his 2004 performance, and he retained his starting cornerback spot. Tyler Griffin would have been a clear starter at the other corner, but he is recovering from a serious injury suffered during an off-campus altercation in March, and Genyk has not commented on the sophomores's return timeline. Sophomores Geoff Pope and Blake Smith are the only other players with cornerback experience on the EMU roster, which means incoming freshmen will likely get a long look when fall camp opens.
Biggest question: Can a big-play defensive back emerge from fall camp? EMU's secondary allowed a MAC-worst 277 passing yards per game in 2004, and forced just seven turnovers.
Punter: Wellock did not punt much during live spring scrimmages. Genyk would like to improve on Wellock's 36.4-yard average from 2004, and would love to have someone relieve his star place-kicker from punting duties.
Biggest question: Can a true freshman win the job?