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Predicting Central Michigan's 2019 two-deep depth chart following spring practice


springgame-12

Head coach Jim McElwain speaks to a huddled CMU football team April 13 after an open spring practice at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

Helmets smashing, coaches screaming, players scoring touchdowns and teams walking off the field victorious are the sights and sounds of fall, and the Central Michigan football team is eager for them to arrive.

The only things that stand in the way of CMU's Aug. 29 season opener against Albany are summer conditioning and fall camp – all encompassed by four long months.

Games will be played eventually, and that's obvious. The unknown is which players will find the field for the Chippewas, as new coach Jim McElwain gave each student-athlete a clean slate when he arrived in early December.

I admittedly only saw one practice, since that was all the CMU Athletic Department allowed me to watch. It's also noteworthy that McElwain rarely spoke on individual players. Rather, he generalized. Now before anyone gets upset with my projections, I realize a lot can change from now until late August.

Nonetheless, here is my prediction of the football team's two-deep depth chart heading into summer conditioning and fall camp.

Quarterback

Starter: Quinten Dormady
Backup: Tommy Lazzaro/David Moore

Explanation: From my observations at practice, it's obvious Dormady fits the mold of a starting quarterback, and I assume the situation will end in him taking the field for the Chippewas in Week 1. However, the backup battle is much more intriguing.

Lazzaro is in his final season, and Moore is a fresh face as a transfer from Garden City Community College. The battle will be tight to the end, so it's tough to predict. Judging by the multiple years of eligibility Moore has left, I wouldn't be shocked if McElwain went with the recent NJCAA transfer to fully integrate him into the system. Because let's face it, Moore should start in 2020.

Running back

Starter: Jonathan Ward
Backup: Kobe Lewis/Romello Ross

Explanation: Ward is back, at least that's how it looks. Both McElwain and offensive coordinator Charlie Frye have raved about his ability to move the sticks. From what I saw at practice combined with the new personnel drive offense, it wouldn't shock me if Ward went for 1,000-plus all-purpose yards. I expect Lewis and Ross to share time as his backup with Kumehnnu Gwilly working as a third-down back.

Wide receiver

Starters: Kalil Pimpleton, Brandon Childress, JaCorey Sullivan
Backups: Julian Hicks, Cameron Cole, Tyrone Scott

Explanation: Pimpleton is speedy in the slot, we all know that. The more surprising player is Childress, as I wrote him off as someone who would get swallowed up by youngsters on the depth chart. But after I watched spring practice, he seemed to be the No. 1 option for Dormady. He looks hungry for success after a poor 2018 showing. Oh yeah, watch out for that Sullivan kid. He made a number of outstanding plays to cap off last season and should bring the same energy this year. He fits into McElwain's new offensive style well with his ability to catch crossing route passes and run wild.

Hicks is another player that could easily squeeze into the starting rotation. Look for Cole, Scott, Drayton Law and possibly even redshirt freshman Keonta Nixon to be reliable pieces off the bench.

Tight end

Starter: Tony Poljan
Backup: Bernhard Raimann

Explanation: Who decided to let Poljan play quarterback? I mean, just from an hour of practice, it was clear he's the best tight end on the roster. Give him a full summer and fall camp to develop at this position and he could be pretty darn good. Poljan and Raimann are both 6-foot-7 and near 240 pounds, so I wouldn't be surprised to see plenty of two tight end packages to open up options for the run and pass game.

Fullback

Starter: Oakley Lavallii
Backup: Hunter Buczkowski

Explanation: Lavallii made a few nice receptions on crossing routes – yes, as a fullback. I like what McElwain is doing with this position. As a bigger fullback, Buczkowski should be a valuable rushing option in fourth-and-short situations.

Center

Starter: Steve Eipper
Backup: Jeff Strome

Explanation: Eipper is essentially a lock to start at center. He made 10 starts in 2018 and has 21 career starts to his name. Strome started one game last season, and he should provide as an emergency backup to Eipper.

Offensive guard

Starters: Erik Ditzhazy (LG), Jamezz Kimbrough (RG)
Backups: Shawn Wiley (LG), Jeff Strome (RG)

Explanation: Kimbrough, like Eipper, is also easy to project as a starter. He took the field to open the game for all 12 games last season. While he is recovering from an injury, Kimbrough is expected to be full-go for the season opener. The second guard position could go to anyone, but I think Ditzhazy, Wiley and Strome are the front runners for that position at the moment. Once fall camp rolls around, one of those three should be able to create some space between the others.

Offensive tackle

Starters: Derek Smith (LT), Oge Udeogu (RT)
Backups: Ja'Raymond Hall (LT), Nick Follmer (RT)

Explanation: Smith started seven games in 2018 and two games in 2017. He brings reliability and knows the offensive players. Right next to him should be Udeogu, a recent Iowa State graduate transfer. He fits the style of McElwain's offense and brings a 310-pound frame to the table. Hall might be able to steal the job from Smith, but if that happens, expect it to be toward the middle of the season. Follmer started six games last campaign, but I still like a veteran Udeogu leading the way up front.

Defensive end

Starters: Sean Adesanya, Deron Irving-Bey
Backups: Amir Siddiq, Leon Page

Explanation: Adesanya is practically a lock for one of the two starting defensive end positions. This prediction also assumes Irving-Bey is able to get his grades in check at community college and rejoin the team sometime this summer. His size and explosiveness are unmatched, so much so that it wouldn't surprise me if he nabbed a starting spot right away.

Defensive tackle

Starters: D'Andre Dill, LaQuan Johnson
Backups: Robi Stuart, Jonathan Berghorst

Explanation: The starters at this position were the easiest to predict of any on the defense. Johnson has a quick first step for his 282-pound build, while Dill is a senior leader and should be 100 percent recovered from injury for the season opener. Also, the coaching staff believes Johnson can become a star, so watch out for him this year.

Linebacker

Starters: Michael Oliver, George Douglas, Andrew Ward
Backups: Troy Brown, Christian Mercer, Chuck Jones

Explanation: Oliver played in all 12 games for the Chippewas under former coach John Bonamego in 2018. Right behind him on the depth chart was Troy Brown, but from spring practice, it seems George Douglas and Andrew Ward have emerged. I expected the pair to fill out the starting linebacker spots with Oliver pacing the group. Off the bench, Brown delivers the ability to give CMU much-needed starters minutes.

Cornerback

Starters: Brandon Brown, Darius Bracy
Backups: Dishon McNary, Norman Anderson

Explanation: Brown and Bracy played exclusively with the projected first-team defense and were excellent. Filling the losses of two 2019 NFL Draft members won't be easy, but that's why McElwain brought in McNary from Independence Community College. McNary nearly had an interception while also adding a few pass breakups in the spring practice scrimmage. With the rotation of those three, along with Anderson, the Chippewas might be able to survive through the 2019 season with two former stars seeking the NFL.

Safety

Starters: Da'Quaun Jamison, Devonni Reed
Backups: Alonzo McCoy, Gage Kreski

Explanation: Jamison and Reed are the most starter-ready safeties on the roster, so I'd expect those two to be locks. McCoy has starter potential and is expected to take over for Jamison in 2020. As for Kreski, he's a reliable veteran off the bench. In 2018, Jamison and Reed played all 12 games, while McCoy took the field in seven games and Kreski was out there for 10.

Kicker

Starter: Ryan Tice
Backup: Kaden Keon

Explanation: Why not? Tice is money – just check the numbers.

Punter

Starter: Luke Elzinga
Backup: Brady Buell

Explanation: Out of Grand Rapids Christian High School, Elzinga is one of the best young kickers in the Midwest. He won't arrive on campus until the summer, but all he has to do is pin opponents deep. Thankfully, that doesn't take much studying of the playbook. He should be a starter for four-straight years.

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