2017 football season features change in offensive system, key returning veterans
Options and opportunity are in store for the Central Michigan football team this season.
Fans can expect two starting quarterbacks calling the shots for a new offensive spread system when the Chippewas take on Rhode Island at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31 for their season opener at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
Head coach John Bonamego made the announcement on Aug. 20 during CMU Media Day that redshirt freshman Tony Poljan and graduate transfer Shane Morris will both play in Thursday's game before the final decision on the starting QB position is made.
"They've split — right down the middle — reps with the first unit," Bonamego said of Morris and Poljan. "I'd like to see both play in the first game and see if what we're seeing in practice carries over to when the bullets are live. Either way, we're in a great situation."
Morris, Poljan and the rest of the team will showcase the new spread-style offense they've learned and adjusted to during training camp. The new system was instilled by first-year offensive coordinator Chris Ostrowsky, who came to CMU after a five-year tenure as head football coach at Northern Michigan.
Ostrowsky called the importance of running the ball a "staple in the offense." In the backfield, Ostrowsky has senior Devin Spalding, sophomore Jonathan Ward, Minnesota transfer Berkley Edwards and junior Romeo Ross at his disposal. Spalding is expected to lead the group, having the most touchdowns and carries in the 2016 season.
The Chippewas will see all five starting interior defensive linemen return with junior Shakir Carr and seniors Joe Austin, Derek Edwards, Austin Doan and J.P. Quinn. Austin and Quinn started every game in 2016, while Doan and Carr each started in nine games.
Also returning are seniors Amari Coleman and Josh Cox, CMU's standout starting cornerback duo. Coleman enters his third year as a starter after earning First Team All Mid-American Conference honors with last season's league-high 15 pass breakups. Cox made the transition from safety and earned Third Team All-MAC honors.
To complete the defense, CMU also returns junior linebacker Malik Fountain and senior end Joe Ostman, who also earned All-MAC honors in 2016.
A foot injury sidelined senior tight end Tyler Conklin on Aug. 9 during training camp. While there's still no timetable for Conklin's return, Bonamego didn't rule out the possibility Conklin could play later in the season. Until then, Saginaw Valley State tranfer Logan Hessbrook and senior Zach Crouch are competing to fill the position.
Hessbrook is a product of the Ithaca High School football program, which won five MHSAA Division 6 championships from 2010-15. Crouch caught four passes for 86 yards in 2016. Bonamego said both players are "poised to have good seasons."
"I had Zach in my office after spring ball and I said, 'Zach, I have to apologize because I don't spend as much time with you and consequently I don't know you as well as other guys on the team,'" Bonamego said. "That's because he does everything right."
CMU looks to rebuild from a 6-7 season in 2016, which ended in a loss to Tulsa at the Miami Beach Bowl. The Chippewas were picked to finish fifth in the MAC in both the preseason media poll and the poll of league coaches.
Thursday's game will be available on ESPN3. Follow Central Michigan Life on Facebook and follow @CMLifeSports on Twitter for live updates throughout the game.