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CMU spring football: What Jim McElwain said before opening spring practice


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Jim McElwain watched his Central Michigan football team as it plays in the Mid-American Conference title game on Dec. 7 at Ford Field in Detroit. 

Central Michigan opens its 2020 spring practice on Saturday and coach Jim McElwain met with the media for the first time since the New Mexico Bowl on Friday.

McElwain, going into his second spring season with the Chippewas, said the team needs to move on from its success of last year and get ready to focus on this year.

CMU finished its 8-6 campaign with a Mid-American Conference West Division championship in the biggest turnaround in college football last season. 

"Here's your opportunity to write your book and write your script," McElwain said. "It starts with what we do in the offseason."

Here are the rest of the topics McElwain and players addressed in their first media availability of the spring season.

Injuries

Tight ends Tony Poljan and Benhard Raimann both suffered injuries late in the season and will practice but are limited on rep counts throughout spring practice. 

Defensive tackle Robi Stuart and tight end Joel Wilson will both miss the first half of the 15 spring practices. McElwain said Stuart has an achilles injury and Wilson has a knee injury. Wilson missed the entire season with a foot injury he suffered in the season opener against Albany on Aug. 29.

Offensive lineman Nick Follmer underwent his third back surgery during the offseason and will not practice for the Chippewas.

Another offensive lineman, Romello Tarver, quarterback George Pearson and wide receiver Javon Gantt will not participate in spring practice after undergoing knee surgeries early in the season. 

Cornerback Gage Kreski and Alec Muck will not participate in spring practice after suffering sports hernias. 

Safety Alonzo McCoy will not practice with a shoulder injury he suffered in the New Mexico Bowl. 

Cornerback Kyron McKinnie-Harper was suspended indefinitely for a "violation of team rules." 

McKinnie-Harper was accused of three counts of larceny by conversion, one count of using a computer to commit a crime, one count of unauthorized computer access and one count of computer fraud. 

McElwain did not elaborate on the suspension. 

Timing of practice

Teams have 15 practices to work with during the spring season. 

Typically, teams open the spring campaign somewhere around the beginning or middle of March before the program's spring game in April. 

With the Chippewas opening practice on Saturday, McElwain said the plan of action will be 10 practices before spring break (March 7-16), another week off after the break, then five more practices to wrap up the program.

McElwain said the first 10 practices will be about working on the fundamentals while the final five will be focused on situational practices and scrimmages.

The Chippewas will wrap up spring practice on March 28. 

The coach added the strength and conditioning team will be able to work with the players for a longer period before the end of the spring semester, which McElwain said was important for the team. 

"We'll get a lot more development out of that phase," McElwain said. "They're eating and doing the things we can watch them do and help with the strength and athletic piece moving forward." 

David Moore

The senior quarterback is serving a season-long suspension after testing positive for a banned substance on Oct. 8, 2019. 

Moore's appeal case has been assigned but there is not a timetable for a decision from the NCAA. 

"The case has been assigned," McElwain said. "There is no definitive day on when exactly they will go through the appeal process."

Position changes

McElwain addressed several position changes as the Chippewas open spring camp.

Junior Norman Anderson is set to move to the wide receiver from cornerback, where he made two starts last season. 

Kumehnnu Gwilly will move from running back to linebacker along with Ormondell Dingle, who moves down from the safety position. 

Additionally, Jamezz Kimbrough slides over from the guard position to the center, a spot vacated by Steve Eipper. 

"You want to give guys opportunities where maybe the lines aren't as long," McElwain said. "We want these guys to have the shortest distance to get on the field for us."

Recruiting

After signing 20 players in the December early signing period and one on National Signing Day, McElwain said he liked what the coaching staff was able to accomplish. 

He said there are "two or three" guys the team has in reserve in case of injury or a current Chippewa decides to leave. 

"We feel a lot better going into the spring," McElwain said. "With this recruiting class, we answered some things with depth by position which is going to be really important." 

McElwain said the team is keeping an eye on the transfer portal. 

Coaching hires

Just before spring practice, McElwain hired Tim Skipper and Keith Murphy as assistant coaches. 

Skipper replaced Mark DeBastiani as the linebackers coach after DeBastiani left to take a defensive assistant coaching job at Appalachian State. 

Murphy was brought in as the special teams coordinator/safeties coach, a position left by Ryan Beard as he took the defensive coordinator position at Missouri State. 

"Excited to have Tim and Keith join us, both guys are tremendous people and teachers," McElwain said. "Having those guys that have familiarity with what we're doing and what we try to accomplish – it's good to get going again, put it that way."

Derek Smith

Going into his junior year, Smith said he has more familiarity with McElwain and the rest of the coaching staff as opposed to last spring season. 

"Guys understand the expectation of what we have," Smith said. "Last year, we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into with the new coaches and everything. This year, the guys understand the expectations and how practice flows."

With the departures of three guys on the offensive line, Smith, a left guard, said he understands the role he has to take with his unit is expanding. 

Smith said the best preparation to lead the offensive line boils down to the little things to be successful. 

"The biggest thing is film study," Smith said. "If you can learn your opponent on film, know what you're doing on the field, you can translate it to practice and being locked in at walkthroughs and answering questions to the best of my ability." 

Troy Hairston

With spring practice starting early, Hairston said he was excited for the opportunity just to play football again and he relishes every chance he gets to play. 

Hairston missed last spring after undergoing surgery.

"It's always a great time to play football whenever you can," Hairston said. "I'm just glad it's here, it's here sooner than expected, but it's where I want to be." 

Making the move to defensive end in 2019, Hairston said the players rotated in a lot and several players were able to see meaningful playing time throughout the season. 

That said, Sean Adesanya, one of the 15 total players who have finished their college careers, leaves a void in the line and Hairston said there is always work to be done to prepare for the season.

"We've been rallying together in the room and putting in extra work on our own," Hairston said. "We know who we lost. But with people going out and new people coming in, there's things we need to understand and there's improvement with everybody."

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