Observations, notes and news from Central Michigan's fifth preseason camp
Jim McElwain is happy to be back.
Finally, after one season as an assistant, he's back into the role that he feels fits him best – head coach.
The Central Michigan football team suited up Wednesday at the Bennett Track Grass Field for the fifth day of preseason camp, but it was McElwain's first opportunity to speak with the media since fall practice began.
"It's something you wait all summer for," McElwain said. "It's something you go through spring practice for."
McElwain immediately noted the work put in by his athletes during the offseason, adding that many changed their bodies and habits through bonding together in and out of the weight room.
"Understanding the things and how we go about doing it," McElwain said of the growth. "It's been really good and eye-opening."
Once again, music was absent at practice. The players moved quickly between drills, making every second count.
Here's what I saw on Wednesday, the fifth day of camp:
– Let's actually start with what I didn't see, and that was starting center Steve Eipper and fellow offensive lineman Erik Ditzhazy. Eipper has only practiced twice this fall, as he is battling a leg contusion. Ditzhazy has a boot on his foot, but McElwain expects him to return Saturday. "More precautionary than anything," McElwain said of Eipper. "Not a big deal at all. There isn't anything (else) major."
– Just like Monday's practice, the first five periods followed the same format: Fundamentals, stretching, individual drills, team drills and, once again, individual drills. The media watched for roughly 30 minutes.
– Unlike Monday's practice, the first-team offense was the second group to take the field during the only 11-on-11 situation accessible to the media. McElwain was ingrained in the offense alongside coordinator Charlie Frye. "Charlie's the offensive coordinator and he handles it," McElwain said when asked if he'd call plays. "I'm in on all aspects, whether it's defense, offense or special teams. That's what we do, and how we do it. We've got two great coordinators and really good staffs on both sides." McElwain called his system a "matter of checks and balances" to make sure the ball gets to the playmakers, help is given in protecting the quarterback and personnel is solidified. "That's probably the biggest piece," McElwain said of the personnel aspect. "If I was just standing around out there, I'd get bored anyway."
– The second-team offense went out first, commanded by senior quarterback Tommy Lazzaro. He was with running back Romello Ross, wide receivers Mark Patritto, Keonta Nixon and Bailey Edwards, tight end Bernhard Raimann and offensive linemen Romello Tarver, Deiyantei Powell-Woods (true freshman), Ja'Raymond Hall (Michigan transfer), Danny Motowski (true freshman) and Tyden Ferris. It's important to note that during Monday's practice, junior quarterback David Moore led the group. This time, it was Lazzaro.
– As expected, senior graduate transfer quarterback Quinten Dormady rolled with the first-team offense, accompanied by running back Jonathan Ward, wide receivers Kalil Pimpleton (Virginia Tech transfer), JaCorey Sullivan and Tyrone Scott, tight end Tony Poljan and offensive linemen Jeff Strome, Luke Goedeke, Derek Smith, Clay Walderzak and Oge Udeogu.
– Following practice, McElwain named Dormady the starting quarterback until further notice. While this means he could be replaced by the Aug. 29 season opener, it's unlikely. The first-year coach said the rare double graduate transfer will continue to work with the first-team offense. "He's been there and he understands the system," McElwain said. "The other guys are doing a good job, but he's the starter right now."
– The first-team defense that Dormady's group faced included safeties Da'Quaun Jamison, Devonni Reed and Alonzo McCoy, cornerbacks Brandon Brown and Darius Bracy, linebackers Michael Oliver and Troy Brown, defensive ends Amir Siddiq and Sean Adesanya and defensive tackles Robi Stuart and LaQuan Johnson.
– Going back to Lazzaro's time at quarterback, his second-team offense went up against a second-team defense that featured safeties Alonzo McCoy and Ormondell Dingle (true freshman), cornerbacks Norman Anderson and Dishon McNary (JUCO transfer), defensive back Rolliann Sturkey, linebackers George Douglass and Chuck Jones and defensive linemen Joshuwa Eldridge, Tico Brown and Evan Plate.
– Later on in practice, the first-team offense went back onto the field to compete against the defense (without linemen). Dormady went first, followed by Moore and Lazzaro, in that order. Dormady completed two passes to Sullivan, one to running back Charles Highbaugh and another to Raimann. By the time Moore got under center, some of the top receivers (Pimpleton, Scott, Sullivan, Drayton Law and Cameron Cole) went to the south end of the field to work on individual drills, leaving Moore and Lazzaro to work with backup receivers. Even though true freshman quarterback Daniel Richardson didn't work specifically with the first-team or second-team offenses Wednesday, McElwain pointed him out after practice. "You know what, Daniel Richardson has done a heck of a job," McElwain said. "It's good to see."
– Deron Irving-Bey is wearing No. 91 and was at practice today after re-enrolling in classes at CMU. He was academically dismissed six months ago but has finally made his way back to the classroom and field. However, his chances to play in 2019 are still up in the air.
– McElwain gave his thoughts on not practicing at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. He called the game field a "special and sacred place," so his Chippewas mustn't abuse the privilege to play there.
– Like he has a few other times, McElwain brought up the struggles of the 1-11 season. He said there's been improvement each practice. For McElwain, he looks at the constant development as foreshadowing for what's to come. "Here’s a team and a bunch of guys that weren’t really happy with what happened in the past, but the biggest thing for us is that they call it history for a reason," he said. "It’s what you learn from it. We’ve got a long way to go, but you see the little things that happen on a daily basis and you know you’re headed in the right direction.”