How Central Michigan wants to electrify its offense, and more takeaways from preseason camp
Graduate transfer quarterback Quinten Dormady took a two-step drop, looked to the middle of the field, looked left and delivered an arching pass to the left corner of the end zone.
On the other end was speedy slot receiver Kalil Pimpleton, who extended his hands with two defenders smothering him for an over the shoulder touchdown catch.
It's that type of up-tempo, big-play offense the Central Michigan football team plans to showcase beginning Aug. 29 in the season opener at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
"I don't think words can explain it," said sophomore linebacker Andrew Ward of his excitement for the 2019 opener. "I'm looking forward to getting out with my brothers and handling business."
Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Luke Goedeke sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules after coming to the Chippewas as a tight end from Wisconsin–Stevens Point. Not being able to help while watching the team stumble to a 1-11 record upset Goedeke, but he finally has an opportunity to get on the field and turn the program around.
"It's been a long time coming," Goedeke said. "Having to sit out a year from football was extremely dreadful."
Here's what I saw Monday, just 10 days until the 2019 campaign begins.
– Like practices of the past, the first five periods of practice followed the same format: Fundamentals, stretching, individual drills, team drills and, once again, individual drills. The media watched for roughly 30 minutes.
– The opening team drill the Chippewas participated in was a 7-on-7 mini-scrimmage, featuring the first-team offense against the second-team defense. On the other end of the field, it was the second-team offense against the first-team defense. There were no defensive or offensive linemen.
– During CMU media day last Friday, McElwain raved about the ability to use his tight ends in multiple ways. Well, it was on full display Monday. The first-team offense featured Dormady, Pimpleton, running back Jonathan Ward, running back Romello Ross, receiver Tyrone Scott and tight ends Tony Poljan and Joel Wilson.
– Using two tight ends in one package allowed the 6-foot-4, 217-pound Wilson to act as a receiver, something McElwain has developed into his offense. "We have to play to our strengths," McElwain said. "Our tight end group is probably our deepest of the skill positions, along with running backs. We are still a little thin at wideout." He went on to explain the Chippewa offense will operate in a one running back, one tight end set more often than using one running back and two tight ends. However, along with those two types of schemes, McElwain said he will sprinkle in a one running back, three tight end package.
– That first-team offense went up against a second-team defense that featured linebackers Justin Whiteside (true freshman) and Cory Gildersleeve Jr., cornerbacks Dishon McNary (JUCO transfer), Darius Bracy and Demarcus Governor (true freshman) and safeties Ormondell Dingle (true freshman) and Trey Jones (true freshman). Four of the seven players on the field were true freshman, and McElwain said there will be opportunities for them to get on the gridiron. "You're going to see a lot of new faces on the field as we play this year," the first-year coach said.
– Ward, a linebacker that sat out the 2018 season after transferring from Nebraska, commented after practice on the offense, explaining there is more explosiveness than last year. "I feel like we've got a good plan (on offense)," Ward said. "It's not about weapons, it's more about our scheme. Everyone flies around."
– The second-team offense in the 7-on-7 drill included junior quarterback David Moore (JUCO transfer), running backs Kumehnnu Gwilly and Thaddeus Cornick, wide receivers JaCorey Sullivan and Drayton Law, tight end Keegan Cossou and fullback Oakley Lavallii.
– While Moore was slinging it on offense, senior linebacker Michael Oliver was pacing the first-team defense in hot pursuit. He was joined by linebacker Troy Brown, cornerbacks Norman Anderson and Brandon Brown and safeties Devonni Reed, Da'Quaun Jamison and Alonzo McCoy.
– Even though Ward was not with the first-team defense Monday, he discussed the mentality of defensive coordinator Robb Akey's unit. "Just fly around," he said. "11 hats to the ball at all times and be physical. That's the goal with any defense." He also spoke about Oliver, calling him the outright leader of the room. "We all get along," Ward added. "Everyone gets along, but we are leaning on our leader, MJ. He's a good person to have in your corner and go to for advice."
– As for that backup quarterback position, it seems to be ironing itself out. Once Moore was finished working with the second-team, he gave Dormady a break and took over the starting squad. True freshman quarterback Daniel Richardson replaced Moore with the backups – not senior Tommy Lazzaro. Instead, the moment Moore took over the first-team, Lazzaro jumped in with as a pass-catcher. He was not wearing a green jersey like other quarterbacks during practice. From the looks of it, McElwain may have squared away his top three quarterbacks in Dormady, Moore and Richardson. Redshirt freshman quarterback George Pearson did not practice due to injury.
– Starting center Steve Eipper spent time with the offensive line during individual drills, but he was not in pads. On Friday, McElwain said Eipper was expected to return Saturday or Sunday. Clearly, that wasn't the case. His left leg has been infected from a cut while working construction over the summer. Goedeke said Eipper is key to the success of the offense, noting the veteran knows everything like the back of his hand. "He's just a great leader," Goedeke added. "Everyone knows what they are doing more (this year), and it's just coming together."