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Central Michigan spring football: With Tice expected to kick, who replaces punter Sheldon?

Junior kicker Ryan Tice kicks a field goal for the 3-0 lead to start the first half agaisnt Buffalo on Oct. 6 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

This is the final of nine Central Michigan position group previews entering spring football practice, which begins March 19. Today's edition focuses on special teams. For the other position groups, follow the links below. 

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

Special Teams

With each spring football season comes a few questions – Who will replace seniors? What kind of performances will returning players have?

That is no different for the Central Michigan football team. In fact, those questions can be extrapolated because of their 1-11 overall record 2018 season and the hiring of new coach Jim McElwain. 

The Chippewas will have plenty of questions to answer heading to the beginning of spring practice, a few of which involves special teams.

Is true freshman Luke Elzinga ready to punt?

The biggest question facing the CMU special teams unit going into spring practice is blaring – Who is going to replace Jack Sheldon?

Sheldon averaged 40.43 yards per punt on 89 attempts last season. He put 16 punts inside the 20-yard line and only had three touchbacks. Last season, Sheldon was able to flip the field and give the defense plenty of room to work.

This season, McElwain will have at least three options to handle punts for the Chippewas. 

Senior Kaden Keon returns for CMU and is expected to take on kickoffs, but there is a possibility that he could punt as well. 

He did not register a punt last season, but his experience and his leg could give him the nod. Keon tallied 13 touchbacks on kickoffs in 2018.

McElwain's other option has the statistics from his high school career but needs to prove himself in Mount Pleasant. He is incoming freshman Luke Elzinga, who looks to be a more probable replacement for Sheldon if he's ready.

Elzinga, a Grand Rapids native, averaged 48 yards per punt in his senior season at Grand Rapids Christian High School.

Elzinga was named all-conference and a 2018 Pro Team Hall of Fame All-American. On top of that, he owns the longest punt in Grand Rapids Christian football history with a 76-yard missile against Northview High School on Oct. 26.

Look for Elzinga as a frontrunner for the job based on his numbers at the high school level.

Tice is back

Senior kicker Ryan Tice returns to the Chippewas after a 2018 campaign that saw him kick 80 percent at 10-for-12 on field goals with a career-long 53-yard make against Ball State Oct. 13. He only missed one extra point on Nov. 10 at home against Bowling Green. 

Tice came on as a transfer from Michigan just before the season opener against Kentucky and made a significant impact for CMU.

He spent time behind senior Michael Armstrong at the beginning of CMU's 1-11 2018 campaign, then left his mark. Tice took the job from Armstrong for good after four games, leaving Armstrong to work sparingly as the kickoff specialist.

Going into the 2019 season, Tice is practically a lock for placekicking responsibilities. 

Returner Davis recovers from injury

Four players return that might just take kicks back for the Chippewas in 2019.

Seniors Jamil Sabbagh and Jerrod Davis, along with sophomores Kobe Lewis and Darius Bracy, made contributions to the return game last year and look to do the same this time around.

Sabbagh led the way with eight punt returns, averaging 3.38 yards per return and had his longest return on Sept. 22 against Maine – a 15-yarder. 

In place of Sabbagh, Bracy averaged 5.67 yards on three returns. His longest was a 10-yard return against Toledo Nov. 23. Bracy also racked up 45 yards on two kick returns with his longest a 25-yarder, also against Toledo. 

Lewis lead the team with 26 kick returns, averaging 21.96 yards per return. His season long was a 38-yard runback against Western Michigan on Oct. 20. 

Davis returns after suffering a season-ending injury against Kentucky. He brought back three kicks for 41 yards with his longest a 20-yarder.

Expect Lewis to take most of the kick returns with a rotation of Lewis and Bracy joining him. For punt returns, Sabbagh might just handle most of the work. Bracy also has the ability to rotate in for Sabbagh, giving CMU a change of pace.

Two options at long snapper

There are just two long snappers on the roster for CMU in sophomore Jeff McCarty and redshirt freshman Franklin Lama. 

McCarty handled the duty of long snapper for the Chippewas last season under former coach John Bonamego. Look for him to do the same for McElwain in 2019.