With the season opener just around the corner and practice hitting the final stretch, ChippewaCountry takes a look at the upcoming season in this 2009 Central Michigan Season Preview. Here are the preseason awards.
The 2009 Central Michigan roster features some sure fire returning experience and some positions with question marks. We now look at the roster position by position.
Quarterback: Pretty simple here, LeFevour runs the show. As one of the top returning quarterbacks in the country, LeFevour has accomplished just about everything in his career and will leave CMU as the top quarterback in program history. If he stays healthy, he could have a monster year. Backing him up will be either redshirt freshman Ryan Radcliff or sophomore Derek Rifenbury. Neither has separated themselves in camp and head coach Butch Jones said a backup will not be named until September 4th, or a day before the season opener. Radcliff has ran with the second team most of camp and appears to have the slight edge as of now. True freshman A.J. Westendorp looks like a prime candidate to redshirt.
Running Back: Gone are the experienced Ontario Sneed and Justin Hoskins, now youth looks to be served. CMU has a stable of capable running backs and each brings something different to the table. Sophomores Bryan Schroeder and Paris Cotton both saw action as freshman last year and figure to see plenty of carries this year. Schroeder brings that inside ability while Cotton has that extra gear and has looked impressive in pass blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield. Pushing them will be the shifty freshman Tim Phillips and veteran Carl Volny. Another freshman Zurlon Tipton (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) is another candidate to watch as he brings impressive physical skills to the table. Look for a three headed monster of Cotton, Schroeder and Phillips with Volny and Zipton as backup options.
Wide Receiver: Depth. Skill. Speed. Size. Experience none of the above pose problems for CMU's deepest position. Returning starters Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson are both All-American candidates who have set numerous Chippewa receiving records. Brown is one of the most electric players in the country when the ball is in his hands and all Anderson has done is catch a pass in 40 straight games, a streak that is the longest in the nation. Aiding them will be Kito Poblah, who might be the most physically gifted receiver on the team. Poblah came into his own last year when Anderson was battling injury issues and his emergence gives CMU three deadly wideouts. Jahleel Addae was one of CMU's most heralded recruits in 2008 and after redshirting, he appears ready to step up. Jerry Harris, Jeremy Wilson and Cedric Fraser have also drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff in camp and are ready to contribute. The 2009 freshman class also brought some talent as Cody Wilson, Malek Redd and Ronnie Kennedy bring speed and sure hands. Junior Matt Torres adds experience and is one of the teams top special teams players and Sean Skergan played well in limited duty last year. Wide receiver is deep and full of talent and is perhaps one of the best overall groups in the country.
Offensive Line: And the question marks begin. Gone are tackles Greg Wojt and Andrew Hartline and guard Joe McMahon and in must step some youth. CMU will start redshirt freshman Jake Olson (6-foot-8, 282 pounds) at left tackle and converted tight end Rocky Weaver (6-foot-6, 275 pounds) at right tackle. Both have looked good in practice and bring athleticism to the bookends. Backing them up will be true freshman Eric Fisher and Adam Schneid while senior guard Allen Ollenburger can also play tackle. At guard, CMU returns two year starter Jeff Maddux (6-foot-3, 315 pounds) and the other position is a battle between redshirt freshman Matt Kanitz and Ollenburger. Also figuring in at guard are redshirt freshman Mike Repovz, Darren Keyton and Richard Hayes and true freshman Jeff Fantuzzi. At center CMU returns another stud in Colin Miller, who is also a two year starter and on the preseason Rimington Trophy watch list. Also figuring in the offensive line are: rFRNick Reynolds, senior Todd Johnson and true freshman Zach Wiersma. How well this unit plays could determine how far CMU goes as a team.
Tight End: Last year's starter Rocky Weaver was moved to tackle so the tight end position is also in flux. Sophomore David Blackburn is penciled in as the starter with junior Chris Starkey and true freshman Bobby James as the backups. James looked primed for playing time but has been banged up most of camp and had limited practice.
Defensive Line: Another position that poses some question marks for the Chippewas is the defensive line. The ends look solid with the MAC's returning sack leader Frank Zombo (6-foot-4, 269 pounds) at one end and veterans Sam Williams and Larry Knight at the other. Knight and Williams combined for 10.5 sacks last season and offer matchup problems as well as athleticism. Backing them up on the edge will be true freshman Caesar Rodriguez and sophomore Kashawn Fraser. Fraser played well last year and has the outside speed while Rodriguez has displayed a solid motor and ability to get to the quarterback in camp. True freshman Will Schwarz looks to redshirt as he transitions from linebacker. At defensive tackle, starter Sean Murnane returns but losses have hurt the depth as Josh Allison, Mark Dietz and Tredale Kennedy are no longer with the team. Due to that, CMU will be playing some talented, but inexperience players inside. John Williams (6-foot, 280 pounds) saw some playing time last year and he looks to start next to Murnane. True freshman Aaron McCord (6-foot-3, 290 pounds), Cody Pettit (6-foot-3, 262 pounds) and Aaron Kaczmarski (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) look to factor in immediately. McCord has size you can't teach and Pettit was a standout in the annual Big 33 game featuring top high school players from all around the Midwest. Helping alleviate some of the depth concerns inside was the return of redshirt freshman Steve Winston (6-foot-3, 274 pounds) who sat out spring practice after drawing rave reviews from coaches in workouts and practice. He could also figure in as a starter. Other players who look to play include redshirt freshman Chris Reeves and walk-on Daniel Jackson(6-foot-1, 300 pounds). Last year the CMU defense led the MAC in sacks.
Linebacker: Junior Nick Bellore is perhaps the top returning linebacker in the MAC and has been a starter since he arrived on campus. He is a solid leader and makes plays all over the field for the Chippewas. Joining him will be Matt Berning and Tim Brazzel. Berning is a thumper while Brazzel brings speed and coverage ability as a converted defensive back. Backing them up will be sophomores Mike Petrucci and Armond Staten with a quarter of talented freshman also pushing for playing time. Shamari Benton, Kyle Zelinsky, Adam Fenton and Alex Smith are four heralded recruits who will help on defense and special teams. Zelinsky has looked real impressive in camp at linebacker and has displayed good coverage ability while Smith and Fenton have been turning heads on special teams early on. Also factoring in a linebacker are: sophomore Landon Carter, junior Shane Torzy and sophomore Derek Carter.
Secondary: And finally we come to the most heavily scrutinized postion on the Chippewas roster. Decimated by injuries and inconsistency last year, the CMU pass defense was ranked as one of the worst in the country. Among the players who started games last year that missed multiple games due to injury were: Josh Gordy, Eric Fraser, LaVarus Williams and Tommy Mama. All four are healthy and ready to contribute this season. At corner, Gordy is penciled in as one starter while the opposite side will feature a fierce competition between Williams, Mama, Kirkston Edwards and true freshmen D.J. Scott and Evan Ray. Both Scott and Ray have looked solid in camp and Scott may have the inside track on the number three spot. Safety also looks to feature competition as Dannie Bolden, Bobby Seay, Fraser, Lorenzo White and John Carr are battling. Seay started 12 games last year and Fraser (6-foot-1, 214 pounds) has started multiple games in 2007 and 2008. Carr has looked impressive in camp and White brings tremendous speed. The secondary could go from a position of weakness to a position of strength as eight players return with starting experience.
Special Teams: Another area of strength, CMU returns kick Andrew Aguila who was All-Mac 3rd team last year. Also returning is punter Brett Hatmann who at 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds, has size and athleticism rare in punters. Some guy named Antonio Brown is back to return punts. Brown averaged 20.5 yards per return on punts last year, good enough for tops in the nation. Joining Brown in return duties will be Tim Phillips, Malek Redd and Ronnie Kennedy. Eric Fraser also has experience as a return man.
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