Central Michigan spring football: How successful can Tony Poljan be at tight end?
This is the fourth of a series of nine Central Michigan position group previews entering spring football practice, which begins March 19. Today's edition focuses on the tight ends. For more, check back with Central Michigan Life over the next week.
Quarterbacks – March 4
Running backs – March 4
Wide receivers – March 5
Tight ends – March 5
Offensive line – March 6
Defensive line – March 6
Linebackers – March 7
Defensive backs – March 7
Special teams – March 8
It was just a season ago that former Central Michigan coach John Bonamego called Tony Poljan the “future of the program.”
"He’s a kid who is always looking to do the extra," Bonamego said. "He just puts an awful lot of time into everything he does. He epitomizes what you want your program to be about in terms of commitment and work ethic."
It was around that time Poljan was named the starting quarterback for the season opener in 2018 against Kentucky. No. 1 on the depth chart, just like his jersey number.
Now, prepping for the 2019 campaign, he’s wearing No. 85 and has been moved to tight end.
The former signal caller made the move to tight end late last season and new coach Jim McElwain has decided to keep him at that spot.
As a quarterback, Poljan struggled to find success. He completed 76-of-147 passes (51.7 percent) for 625 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions. He was removed from the starting position and replaced by senior Tommy Lazzaro.
By the end of the season, however, Poljan proved worthy in the receiving market. He caught seven passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Mind you, CMU only had a total of 10 passing touchdowns on the year.
Poljan has the athletic ability and size to go up and get jump balls. He also presents the ability for trick plays with his throwing ability, and he proved to be a good runner on direct snaps. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Swiss Army knife ran for 258 yards on 64 attempts with a score.
When it comes to a player that can do it all, Poljan has traits needed in every category. CMU feels the best of those abilities can be used from the tight end position.
Who will join Poljan for playing time?
It doesn’t matter how you look at it, the passing game was a struggle in the 2018 season.
The tight end position alone saw an even larger drop off than the receiving category.
After losing former standout tight end and now Minnesota Vikings backup Tyler Conklin, the Chippewas struggled to find a consistent replacement. Through his three seasons of playing with CMU, Conklin grabbed 83 balls for 1,159 yards and 11 touchdowns. Even after missing four games due to injury his senior season, Conklin managed to catch 35 passes for 504 yards and five scores.
Last season, CMU only got 260 yards and two touchdowns receiving between five players from the tight end slot. It was obvious Conklin wouldn’t be easily replaced, but this was a detrimental drop off in production.
Next up after Poljan in terms of numbers is sophomore Bernhard Raimann. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound tight end snagged 10 passes for 88 yards in 12 games. His longest reception was 19 yards and he averaged 7.33 yards per catch.
Sophomore Keegan Cossou is also expected to compete for playing time at the position. Last season, he saw action in all 12 games and recorded three receptions for 10 yards.
Redshirt freshman Joel Wilson played in four games last season before receiving his redshirt. He made one catch for five yards against Akron on Oct. 27.
Based on the production numbers from tight end for the Chippewas a season ago, freshman Javon Gantt is in a great position to get playing time soon.
The Jacksonville, Florida native was given a three-star rating by the 247Sports Composite. He was a wide receiver at Westside High School but is listed as a tight end for CMU.
Gantt checks in at 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds. He has a 4.82 40-yard dash time and 31.40 vertical jump.