An early look at Central Michigan's defensive depth chart
Last season, Central Michigan showed flashes of brilliance defensively under first-year coordinator Robb Akey. Led by a stout defensive line and the emergence of linebacker Troy Brown, the Chippewas ranked second in total defense and tied for second in interceptions in the conference.
In 2020, a majority of the unit is back. Two leaders, Sean Adesanya and Michael Oliver, have graduated, however both have able replacements. Defensive back Kyron McKinnie-Harper, who was the Chippewas' top cornerback last season, is also no longer with the team. Yet, there are plenty of options at the position in this case as well.
With so much experience returning, just how high can the Chippewa defense fly in 2020?
Here's a look at Central Michigan's 2020 defensive depth chart:
Starters: Robi Stuart (Senior), Mohamed Diallo (Senior)
Backups: Jacques Bristol (Sophomore), Tico Brown (Sophomore)
Stuart was excellent last season. Pro Football Focus rated him as the Chippewas' best defender, earning a 81.7 grade. Over the first three seasons of his career, he's compiled six sacks and has established himself as a solid pass rusher.
Diallo, who transferred in from Texas A&M last season and played six games, is a major breakout candidate. He played well late in the season and the opportunity to start full-time should do wonders for him.
Bristol returns to the team after initially opting-out of the season. As a true freshman last season, he showed flashes of his potential but struggled to get pressure on the quarterback. Another year in the rotation should help him out, as it will for Brown, who was a solid contributor last year and the experience he gains this year will help for the future.
Starters: Troy Hairston (Junior), LaQuan Johnson (Sophomore)
Backups: Amir Siddiq (Junior), Max Saylor (Sophomore)
Hairston was a pleasant surprise this season, moving down to defensive end from linebacker. He played well, especially in pass rushing situations. With an entire year at the position under his belt, there are high expectations for Hairston on the edge.
After playing four games as a freshman and keeping his redshirt in 2018, Johnson was unleashed last season. He was excelled in pass-rushing situations, posting two multi-sack games. The backups, Siddiq and Saylor, played sparingly in 2019 and will be big parts of the rotation in 2020.
Starters: Troy Brown (OLB) (Junior), Chuck Jones (MLB) (Junior), George Douglas (OLB) (Junior)
Backups: Corey Gildersleeve Jr. (OLB) (Redshirt freshman), Kuhmennu Gwilly (MLB) (Senior), Justin Whiteside (OLB) (Redshirt freshman)
After emerging as one of the best linebackers at the Group of Five level, Brown will look to take the next step on the national level this season. Given that each of the first three games will be on Wednesday nights, he'll have plenty of opportunities to show off his skills.
Jones played in all 14 games last season at middle linebacker, making him more than capable of replacing Oliver. He was one of the Chippewas' most consistent tacklers last year and will be counted on to be an anchor this year. Douglas also emerged as a starter late in the season after Andrew Ward suffered a career-ending injury.
Backing these three up will be a series of inexperienced options: Gildersleeve started in the New Mexico Bowl and has a shoe-in on the backup spot, Gwilly is a converted running back and Whiteside played in just one game last year. If these three can't run with the position, look for sophomore Nick Apsey or redshirt freshman Ormondell Dingle to potentially step in.
Starters: Brian Edwards (Junior), Richard Bowens III (Junior)
Backups: Dishon McNary (Junior), Darius Bracy (Junior)
CMU cycled through defensive backs early on last season before settling on the rotation of McKinnie-Harper, Bracy and Montrae Braswell. With McKinnie-Harper and Braswell gone, the additions of Edwards, a Florida transfer, and Bowens, who comes to CMU from Iowa State, become paramount.
Both Edwards and Bowens bring experience at the Power Five level that will translate well. Additionally, they're two of the best athletes on roster. Behind them, Bracy brings plenty of experience and can fill in when the team needs him. McNary played in one game last year, turning in a not-so-great performance. If the Chippewas have depth in the secondary, that boosts the team to the next level.
Starters: Alonzo McCoy (Senior), Devonni Reed (Junior)
Backups: Gage Kreski (Senior), Willie Reid (Sophomore)
Where the cornerbacks lack depth, the safeties have a plethora of it. McCoy and Reed have been mainstays in the secondary since they stepped on campus, playing 55 games combined. The loss of Da'Quaun Jamison will hurt, but there are replacements galore in the back half of the secondary.
Kreski and Reid both have plenty of experience as well. Reid played a lot of snaps last year as the nickel back and will likely keep that spot. Kreski, a senior, is a physical player who attacks on special teams. Redshirt freshman Trey Jones didn't play last year, but he'll likely get reps this season after opting back in.