An early look at Central Michigan's offensive depth chart
Across college football, coaches love to praise their team's depth. In conversations with the media, leaders take the podium and preach the skill across all areas of their squad.
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, depth has never been more important. Now, with teams in the Mid-American Conference required to test athletes four times a week, the possibility of a player missing time due to testing positive is very likely during the six-game season that will begin on Nov. 4 against Ohio.
Lucky for Central Michigan and coach Jim McElwain, there are plenty of options for the Chippewas, especially at the skill positions. There will still be plenty of holes to fill, but a core group of contributors return from last year's MAC West Division championship team.
Here's a look at how CMU's two-deep depth chart may look when the Chippewas open the season:
Starter: David Moore (senior)
Backup: Ty Brock (junior) or Daniel Richardson (redshirt freshman)
With Moore's suspension expired on Oct. 7, he will likely get the keys to the offense. In six games last year, Moore threw for 1,143 yards and five touchdowns. He showed his abilities as a passer in limited opportunities, including a pair of beautiful deep throws to junior receiver Kalil Pimpleton in his first start, a 45-24 win over Akron.
Moore will have high expectations in 2020, and rightfully so given the example he set in his 2019 audition. Had he not been suspended, he would've had a case to lead the offense for the remainder of last season even after incumbent starter Quinten Dormady returned from injury.
Moore holds the advantage over both Brock and Richardson for a variety of reasons. His in-game experience gives him the edge over Richardson and his familiarity with the scheme puts him ahead of Brock, who is a graduate transfer from Sam Houston State.
It is believed that Richardson is the future at quarterback, so another year to learn behind Moore won't hurt his development. Brock brings leadership and character to the locker room and will be a welcome addition.
The battle for the backup spot will be one of the more interesting storylines to follow as the season progresses. Should anything happen to Moore early in the season, Brock may be the first option. However, the competition will likely wage late into the season and possibly even into 2021, where everyone will have the same eligibility.
Starter: Kobe Lewis (junior)
Backup: Lew Nichols (redshirt freshman)
Serving as a change-of-pace from now-departed starter Jonathan Ward, Lewis managed to rush for over 1,000 yards. Now, in his third season, Lewis will become the feature back in the offense be a focal point in the offense from day one.
As for his backup, look for Nichols to step into the spotlight. The redshirt freshman played in each of CMU's first four games before sitting out the rest of the season to preserve his eligibility. Now, with another year of free eligibility, Nichols will get a chance to shine as the backup running back.
It's uncertain whether Lewis and Nichols will split carries in a similar fashion to how Ward and Lewis did last season. If offensive coordinator Charlie Frye decides to open the offense through the air, there may not be as many carries available for Nichols. Even if that's the case however, expect Nichols to get the first shot at being the second back in the backfield.
Outside of these two, there is little depth at running back. John Shelton IV, a walk-on freshman, is the only other option listed on the roster with redshirt freshman Josh Crawford opting out. Expect Kumehnnu Gwilly, who moved to linebacker in the spring, to get some carries should the team need help. True freshman Zahir Swann, originially a receiver, has also been getting reps in the backfield.
Starters: Kalil Pimpleton (junior), JaCorey Sullivan (senior), Tyrone Scott (sophomore)
Backups: Drayton Law (junior), Keonta Nixon (junior), Dallas Dixon (junior)
The Chippewas know what they have in their starters. Pimpleton and Sullivan were First Team All-MAC performers in 2019 and Scott emerged as a vertical threat and solid third option for the offense. With all three returning, there is plenty of experience out wide for CMU with the first unit.
However, the depth at this position is uncertain past those three. Law and Nixon have been limited contributors in their first two seasons and will get first crack at backup reps. Dixon is a walk-on transfer from Northern Michigan who brings two years of experience.
Norman Anderson, a junior, has switched sides of the ball and will compete for playing time at receiver this season. After starting three games at cornerback last season, Anderson will be sliding over to receiver due to the depth that the Chippewas have in the secondary.
Starter: Joel Wilson (redshirt sophomore) or Hunter Buczkowski (senior)
Backup: Austin Hergott (junior)
With Tony Poljan off to Virginia, CMU has big shoes to fill at tight end. Bernhard Raimann, who has 20 catches in two years, has slid to offensive tackle. This move signifies that McElwain and his staff have confidence in the options remaining.
Buczkowski served as a fullback last season but is now listed on roster as a tight end. His blocking prowess will help in run situations and his experience will help with all the youth at the experience. Wilson, on the other hand, missed all but three games last year. Expect him to see a big role in the passing game.
Hergott is a converted quarterback who has yet to see time as a tight end. He will compete with another convert, senior fullback Oakley Lavalli, for the third tight end role. Though Frye didn't use three tight ends often, there are certain situations that call for an extra blocker.
Starters: Bernhard Raimann (junior), Deiyantei Powell-Woods (sophomore)
Backups: Romello Tarver (sophomore), Vashon Bailey (redshirt freshman)
Luke Goedeke burst onto the scene as a sophomore, starting all 14 games at right tackle. A former D-III tight end, he was as pleasant a surprise as any last year for CMU, becoming Pro Football Focus (PFF)'s highest-graded Chippewa. He was projected to anchor the offensive line, but will miss the season due to a knee injury.
With Clay Walderzak graduated, the Chippewas suddenly have to find answers at both tackle positions. Expect Powell-Woods to slide over to one side given the experience he earned last year. On the other side, McElwain and company have a plethora of inexperienced options.
Tarver missed the season due to injury and Raimann is a converted tight end. There's also Keegan Cossou, who moves over from defensive line. We could see tackle-by-committee early on if nobody is able to set themselves apart.
Starters: Derek Smith (senior), Danny Motowski (sophomore)
Backups: Tyden Ferris (sophomore), Aarion Harvey (junior)
Smith is another mainstay on the offensive line. He has played both guard and tackle in his time at CMU, so his versatility will be helpful. He was the Chippewas' best pass blocker a season ago according to PFF. As a senior, his leadership will be valuable as well.
Motowski started the last two games of the year after Oge Udeogu suffered a season ending injury. As the incumbent, he will likely get first crack at the starting position. Don't be surprised if Ferris gets a heavy amount of snaps as well.
Starter: Jamezz Kimbrough (junior)
Kimbrough slid over to center in the offseason to replace graduated senior Steve Eipper. McElwain raved about Kimbrough during a conversation with Central Michigan Life in April, stating that the junior handled the position switch well.
Jeff Strome, the backup center last season, is not listed on CMU's 2020 roster. In his absence, expect Harvey or Smith, both being versatile veterans, to get reps backing up Kimbrough. There's always a chance that one of the backup linemen or someone further down the depth chart, such as Romello Tarver or Albert Jespersen, could see time in practice at center as well.