Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton left spring ball encouraged with his rushing defense
That was a big concern of his entering spring practice after the Eagles allowed 4,076 yards (316.8 average) and 44 rushing touchdowns in a 1-11 season.
“I think what everybody involved in the program came out excited about was how the defense improved,” said Creighton, whose team is 1-15 in the Mid-American Conference in his two seasons. “We needed to be able to stop the run since we weren’t able to do that last season.
“We scrimmaged three times with our offense, which was a pretty productive offense last year and has all five starters back on the offensive line, and our defense did a good job against the run.”
What helps is the return of defensive ends Pat O’Connor and Jeremiah Harris. O’Connor missed all of 2015, while Harris was injured in Week 2.
“It’s a completely different story with those guys,” Creighton said. “Pat has size, speed and is a lean 275 pounds at 6-foot-4, very hard to block. ... Jeremiah’s completely healthy. He had a fantastic freshman year (31 tackles in 2014).”
Offensively, Creighton returns redshirt junior quarterback Brogan Roback (2,285 yards, 16 touchdowns).
And the running game should be a strength behind Shaq Vann and redshirt freshman Ian Eriksen (Clarkston High).
“Ian Eriksen is a very physical runner who is ready to go,” Creighton said. “We’ve all known he’s a good back and now he knows the system, and it’s his time to shine.”
Eastern Michigan, which has not had a winning season since 1995, enters this season with a favorable schedule — home games against Mississippi Valley State (1-10) and Wyoming (2-10), and road games against Missouri (5-7) and N.C. Charlotte (2-10).
WMU: High expectations
Western Michigan’s spring game showed fans the players are more physically mature, especially Corey Davis.
Davis returned for his senior year after showing he was NFL-ready last season with 90 receptions for 1,436 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“I put on a few pounds of muscle, 10 or 15 pounds,” the 6-foot-3, 217-pound Davis said. “That was one (of the) goals for me and coach (P.J.) Fleck when I decided to stay. He said I needed to put on a lot more weight, so that’s what we did.”
Davis, first-team all-conference his sophomore and junior seasons, also has something else in mind.
“(I have) unfinished business,” he said. “We need the MAC championship.”
Davis enters this season as the active leading receiver in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 3,785 yards. And he’ll have an experienced quarterback getting him the ball in Zach Terrell, a three-year starter.
Fleck, though, also returns running back Jarvion Franklin, the 2014 conference offensive player of the year, and redshirt sophomore Jamauri Bogan, who rushed for 1,051 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. He also was named MVP of the Bahamas Bowl with 215 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-31 victory over Middle Tennessee — Western Michigan’s first bowl victory.
“We have high expectations for ourselves and we don’t put any limits on them,” said Terrell, who was seventh nationally in efficiency (162.3), throwing for 3,526 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Defensively, junior Darius Phillips begins Year 2 as the starting cornerback after moving over from receiver.
And his leadership will be tested early.
“We have new corners, so I’m trying to help Obbie Jackson (redshirt freshman) and Malik Rucker (Iowa transfer) develop,” Phillips said.
CMU: ‘Comfort level’
John Bonamego has settled in at Central Michigan after completing his second spring practice.
And that should only help his team in Year 2.
“There’s a huge difference between Year 1 and Year 2, the comfort level,” he said. “You have a better realization of what to expect.
“I have a much better grasp of the personnel and who can do what and who struggles to do other things. ... Last year at this point I didn’t have all the names down yet. The same is true with recruiting. ... We’re much further down the road.”
And it helps he has a three-year starting quarterback in Cooper Rush (3,848 yards, 25 touchdowns).
“Cooper is a strength for our team,” said Bonamego, whose team knocked off perennial conference power Northern Illinois during a 7-6 (6-2) run. “Cooper continues to get better and better all the time.”
While he was concerned with his backup situation last season, Bonamego is happy to have redshirt freshman Jake Johnson and freshman Tony Poljan, who originally committed to Minnesota, on the roster.
Defensively, Bonamego expects redshirt freshman linebackers Michael Oliver (Detroit Cass Tech) and Carlos Clark (Belleville) to become impact players sooner rather than later.