Central Michigan Chippewas 2018 position group preview: Wide receivers

Then-freshman wide receiver Brandon Childress attempts to catch a ball during the Chippewas' spring football game on April 16, 2016 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. He missed most of the 2017 season with a torn ACL.

Central Michigan began fall practice on Aug. 3, meaning the 2018 season is just around the corner. For more position group previews, check Central Michigan Life over the days leading up to kickoff:

Position: Wide receivers

Projected starters: Brandon Childress (redshirt junior), Jamil Sabbagh (redshirt junior), JaCorey Sullivan (sophomore)

Key backups: Devon Spalding (fifth-year senior), Damon Terry (redshirt junior), Cameron Cole (junior), Bailey Edwards (redshirt freshman), Julian Hicks (redshirt freshman)

Breakdown: In the 2018 season, it won't be Shane Morris heaving passes for the Central Michigan football team. The Chippewas will also be without top pass catchers Mark Chapman and Corey Willis. 

The time is now for redshirt sophomore Tony Poljan to take the reins and manager an unaccustomed core of receivers. 

Here's CMU head coach John Bonamego's breakdown of the wide receiver room: “I like how they work. I like the confidence that some of the young players have. I like our athleticism and explosiveness. (Wide receivers coach) Marcus Knight does a good job with those kids with culturing the room, accountability and paying attention to details. It’s always a work in progress. There’s something to coach on with every play on every single day, but as long as they maintain their focus and Marcus does a tremendous job of holding them accountable, then they will improve. It’s just a youthful group. They are making young guys mistakes like misreading coverages, getting off a press coverage, finishing with the ball in the proper arm or getting up the field. It’s the little details that you have to master to operate at top efficiency.”

Bonamego, in his fourth-year at CMU, has appointed one starting wide receiver. Meanwhile, the other two spots are unprotected. 

He said through the first week of camp, Childress has set himself apart. The 6-foot-2, 184 pounder took a redshirt in 2015 before playing 10 games in 2016 and just two in 2017 due to a torn ACL. 

The 2016 season featured 23 receptions for 327 yards and one touchdown. Last campaign, Childress caught just five passes for 42 yards and one score. Of the two games he played in before going down with a season-ending injury, the former Baldwin High School star started one. 

While Childress is locked in as a starter for Week 1 at Kentucky on Sept. 1, two other spots remain. 

Bonamego hinted at redshirt junior Jamil Sabbagh as a player who has developed from a special teams contributor to a top receiver on the roster. 

"(Sabbagh) had a good scrimmage Saturday," Bonamego said on Aug. 14. "He's putting together good practices one day after another, which is what you want to see." 

Last season, the 5-foot-9, 178-pound speedster saw action in 10 games, making one start. He caught one pass for seven yards against Ball State. 

JaCorey Sullivan, like Sabbagh, found himself in the shadow of Chapman and Willis in 2017. Now, he has an opportunity to shine. 

The 6-foot-1, 221-pound sophomore played in eight games on special teams but did not record any statistics. 

He coerced Muskegon High School the 2016 MHSAA Division 2 state championship game. Sullivan, a representative of CMU's 2017 recruiting class, polished his senior year with 25 receptions for 571 yards and made 74 tackles and five interceptions on defense. 

Senior running back Devon Spalding runs the ball during the football game against Syracuse University on Sept. 16 in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse, New York.

Spalding, making the move from running back to wide receiver, is expected to be the fourth on the depth chart. 

"Devin Spalding is really moving up as he gets more experience," Bonamego said. "He's really doing well."

As a fifth-year senior, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound receiver is on his last chance with the Chippewas. 

The issue that's held Spalding back from excelling at running back is injuries. He played 11 games as a freshman, five as an injured sophomore, 11 as a junior and four as an injured senior. Above all else, Spalding is just excited to be back on the gridiron with his teammates. Looking forward to the 2018 season is different for him than previous years. 

"I can't put it into words," Spalding said. "Obviously everybody wants to play at the next level; winning's fun, playing with your guys is fun, and I'm having a lot of fun right now.

"I couldn't appreciate it more. I love every second of it. I loved every second in the weight room this year. I loved every second of running. I just love every second of being out here."

Spalding has played in 31 games for CMU and rushed for 1,432 yards and 13 touchdowns. His best season to date was in 2016, running 138 times for 758 yards and six touchdowns along with 204 receiving yards and one score. 

One of the closest teammates to Spalding is CMU junior starting running back Jonathan Ward, who describes him as "one hell of a player." Even when Spalding was cemented on the bench with an injury, he set a precedent for all the running backs. 

When looking for Spalding this season, check the No. 25 jersey. He wore 25 for his first three years at CMU before switching to No. 13 in 2017. Now, he's back to his original number.

Other key projected backups include Terry, Edwards and Hicks. 

"I think Julian Hicks is emerging," Bonamego said. "Each day, he seems to be doing a little better in flashes. Bailey Edwards has had his best practices so far. He’s really come on and started to figure things out. He’s going to be challenging for some playing time.”

The most active of the three in 2017 was Terry, as Edwards and Hicks both took a redshirt. 

Terry, at 6-foot, 210 pounds, saw action in 10 games, starting three in 2017. He made three catches for 35 yards, returned four kickoffs for 91 yards and made six tackles on special teams. He also played in 10 games on special teams in 2016 after redshirting the year prior.

Looking deeper into the depth chart, Cole, redshirt freshman Drayton Law and freshman Keonta Nixon could all make immediate impacts.

Cole caught six passes for 104 yards and one touchdown, but Bonamego has not referenced him when discussing wide receivers.