Spring Game offers football chance to introduce new system, quarterback
On April 22, the Central Michigan football team will have an opportunity to showcase its new-look offense to fans in the annual Spring Game. The game is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
Coming off a season where CMU football earned a 6-7 record with a 55-10 loss to Tulsa in the Miami Beach Bowl, the Chippewas are aiming to bounce back with a new offensive system and quarterback.
Since Cooper Rush has no more years of eligibility, head coach John Bonamego has assumed the task of finding a new quarterback to run the offense. Tony Poljan is leading the pack at the moment, but graduate transfer Shane Morris from University of Michigan may shake things up in the fall when he arrives.
For now, students and fans can expect Poljan to get the bulk of the snaps in the Spring Game in Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
While some players see the Spring Game as the most exciting part of spring practice, Bonamego described the game as a "dress-rehearsal" to prepare for the fall season.
Fans can catch a glimpse of the new spread offense that was implemented this spring, led by new offensive coordinator Chris Ostrowsky. He was the former head coach at Northern Michigan University, and led a team who averaged over 30 points per game last season.
On National Signing Day 2017, CMU scored 26 recruits, almost double the amount of recruits brought in for the 2016-17 season (14). The 2017 recruiting class features 14 defenders and 12 offensive players. The class is also punctuated by tight end Keegan Cossou, defensive lineman Johnathan Berghorst and safety Devonni Reed.
This year also marks Bonamego's third year with the team after being hired in 2015.
Positions to watch
CMU lost 16 players to graduation, including their star quarterback in Rush.
Bonamego said the running back position may be one of the team's deepest positions. Running back Romello Ross will return to a crowded running back situation after missing the 2016-17 season due to a torn ACL. Senior Devon Spalding is expected to lead the group, but Ross and sophomore Johnathon Ward could be battling for the No. 2 spot behind Spalding.
"I try to help (the other running backs) out as much as I can and they help me out too," Spalding said. "It is a brand new offense, (so) we are all starting from square one. I lead vocally and try to help the younger guys out as much as possible and direct the team in the way that I think is best. I say what I need to say, but I also lead by example as well."
Another position battle that might play out during the Spring Game is between junior Tommy Lazzaro and freshman Austin Hergott who are dueling for the backup quarterback spot. Lazzaro has more experience than Hergott, but since there is a new offensive system, Bonamego said that they both have a chance.
The Chippewas have an experienced receiving core returning, which is ideal for a spread offense. Bonamego said senior tight end Tyler Conklin has surfaced as a leader and starters Corey Willis and Mark Chapman are returning at wide receiver.
"We talk about getting the ball in the hands of our playmakers a great deal," Bonamego said. "That includes that running back group and also our fairly talented wide receiver group. We have a good number of playmakers on offense when you look at (Corey) Willis, (Mark) Chapman, (Brandon) Childress, (Eric) Cooper and certainly Conklin who has emerged as a significant weapon."
Willis is returning with accolades as CMU's offensive player of the year in 2016. He led the team with 71 receptions, 1087 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
Conklin ranked third in receptions and caught for 11 touchdowns in his junior season.
The team also returns many starters on defense. Senior defensive end Joe Ostman is back to help anchor the defensive line. Juniors Amari Coleman and Josh Cox are returning at cornerback and Sophomore Malik Fountain at linebacker.
Bonamego said the safety position is one to look out for because there are multiple defenders fighting for a starting position after the graduation of Tony Annese.