Observations, notes and news from Central Michigan's 10th preseason camp
With the sun beating down on the Central Michigan football team during its afternoon practice, the Chippewas ignored the temperatures as they prepared for the arrival of the regular season, which will take place upon kickoff at 7 p.m. Aug. 29 against Albany at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
"I like the way these guys are attacking each day," said coach Jim McElwain. "I think they've learned, you know, 'Don't worry about how you feel, don't worry about the heat, go out and practice knowing that we only get one opportunity to get better and that's right now.' They've done a pretty good job."
I was able to attend approximately half an hour of practice Aug. 12 at the East Grass Practice Field, and though that may not seem like a long time, there was plenty to take in during the efficient, fast-paced camp that McElwain has implemented in his first year at the helm of the program.
Here’s what I saw on Monday, the 10th day of fall camp:
– At the beginning of practice, the quarterbacks and centers were the only ones occupying the practice field neighboring the Marriott Hotel. In this session, quarterbacks Quinten Dormady, David Moore, Daniel Richardson and Tommy Lazzaro alternated in calling out plays and barking the cadence. Each play required different footwork and timing for the quarterback crew to execute. The centers snapped the ball and followed through by taking the first three steps of their blocking assignment. Senior Steve Eipper was missing from the ranks of the snappers, and his absence was obvious; the rest of the centers had occasional misfires that forced their signal caller to abandon the play. Eipper is currently sidelined with an infected cut suffered while doing construction work this summer and will be out until at least Friday, when he will be re-evaluated.
– The clack of football cleats on concrete could then be heard coming from the freshman parking lot behind Kelly/Shorts Stadium, and the rest of the CMU football filed into the gap leading to the practice field. Junior tight end and former starting quarterback Tony Poljan let out a big bellow, and moments later, the Chippewas ran out to the middle of the field for a quick huddle before breaking into groups to do dynamic stretching.
– After roughly five minutes, the stretching groups disbanded into two sets of offense going opposite directions. The junior transfer Moore led a full 11-on-11 set at quarterback while the true freshman Richardson threw on the other side of the field in a 7-on-7 passing attack session. “The way we practice, those guys are getting tons of reps,” McElwain said of his backup quarterbacks. "David’s been doing a great job moving the team and throwing on time and I’m real happy about that, and Daniel Richardson is taking huge strides. I’m excited about Daniel.”
– Though this section of camp was only a couple minutes in duration, both offenses were able to get through around a dozen plays in quick succession due to the hustle and efficiency of the players. McElwain has instilled a sense of urgency and energy in the program over the offseason, and he’s been happy to see his players following through with high effort. "I saw some guys really flying around and competing and that's a good thing," McElwain said.
– The team then divided into position groups and focused on specific aspects of the overall scheme, be it offensive or defensive. The tight ends and fullbacks were lumped together while working on trips packages and the proper releases for a variety of combinations. Meanwhile, the running backs took reps with picking up rushers and protecting the quarterback. The quarterbacks and receivers worked in tandem on routes 15-to-25 yards beyond the line of scrimmage – posts, flags and crossing routes. Down in the trenches, the offensive linemen honed in their footwork coming out of a three-point stance and the defensive line hit the sleds to practice explosion and staying low at the snap of the ball. The inside linebackers went through read steps and pursuit to outside runs while the defensive backs did the same thing from a different perspective, crashing down to stop the run once the threat of a pass was gone.
– Upon completion of the first round of position-specific drills, the Chippewas quickly assembled a scrimmage that began with the first team offense and a defense of backups taking the field. Dormady took his place behind center while Poljan lined up at tight end. Running back Jonathan Ward stood next to Dormady, and receivers Kalil Pimpleton, JaCorey Sullivan and Tyrone Scott looked in from out wide for the snap of the ball. Against the second unit of defense, Dormady's offense looked pretty comfortable going through plays – the timing was good for most of the deep passes to Sullivan and Scott while Pimpleton and Ward collected short tosses and turned upfield with startling agility and speed.
– In fact, the offense was having their way against the scout defense to the point where Scott started to challenge the starting group of defensive backs, talking in particular to sophomore Darius Bracy. From what I could tell, Bracy decided he wasn’t about to just stand there and take heat from the redshirt freshman Scott, so within a handful of plays, Bracy was out on the field in coverage. On one of the final plays of the team scrimmage, Dormady dropped back, fired a pass to Scott on a flag route, and… it was batted away by Bracy, who immediately got up in Scott’s face and let him know exactly how he felt about the receiver’s trash talk. “I think we’ve got some good skill at corner, and we test them,” McElwain later said.
– The chatter between Scott and Bracy was a fun back-and-forth to watch from the sidelines: two important pieces of the CMU football team showing their intensity and competitiveness, making each other better in the process. I looked over at McElwain following the exchange. A small smile danced on his lips before he called for order.
– Following the short scrimmage, players returned to their position groups to develop individually. In this second go-around of position drills, the linebackers and defensive backs intermingled in a setup that included time on the sleds and roll-tackling on the red cushioned rings set in motion by staff. The defensive line worked on responsibilities when penetrating off the line, and about 20 yards to the right of that group, the offensive line and fullbacks spent time preparing for blitz packages that they’ll likely see this season. In the meantime, the running back crew found themselves split out wide alongside the receivers, hauling in passes from the quarterback committee on 30-yard fly routes down the numbers. Ward looked very comfortable in this drill in comparison the other running backs, who sometimes took false steps or misplaced their hands. Expect to see Ward in the slot or spread wide this season.