Click here for COVID-19 updates affecting the campus community

Evaluating candidates to be CMU's next defensive breakout star as spring ball commences

Ypsilanti junior linebacker George Douglas intercepts a pass during CMU's game against Western Michigan on Nov. 18 in Kelly/Shorts Stadium. The Broncos won 52-44.

In each of Robb Akey's two seasons at Central Michigan, at least one Chippewa defender has broke onto the scene.

Heading into year three, it'd be no surprise of linebacker Troy Brown or defensive end Troy Hairston II was named first team All-Mid-American Conference. Both will likely gain noticeable recognition during the preseason. 

There's also defensive lineman Robi Stuart, returning for his fifth season to anchor the run stopping efforts. LaQuan Johnson is also working his way back after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the Chippewas' first game. 

But there's plenty of new options, namely a fistful of newcomers. 

And as for who the next breakout star will be, that's what Akey is looking for heading into spring ball. 

"I'm excited to find that out," Akey said. "That's one of the great things about spring practice." 

Here are five candidates to be the Chippewas' next breakout star on defense:

George Douglas, junior linebacker

Douglas took a massive step forward in 2020, leading the Chippewas in tackles during the six-game season. Now, he figures to be a mainstay in the Chippewas' 4-2-5 look as the middle linebacker. There are areas for him to develop, namely in pass coverage, but he's physical and athletic and those are two skills that spell success at his position. 

Douglas may get targeted a little more because of Brown working opposite him. There's also plenty of competition at the linebacker position with additions such as Michigan State transfer Marcel Lewis and freshman Lawai'a Brown, so that may lead to another uptick in production from the Ypsilanti native. 

Willie Reid, sophomore safety

Reid went from secondary contributor to first team All-MAC as a sophomore, picking off passes in each of CMU's last three games. He played a much higher percentage of snaps in his second year of action, averaging 63.5 snaps per game. 

"Willie Reid had the opportunity to play a role as a starter for us and really developed," Akey said.

Working with new secondary coach Mike Zordich will also help him. There's a bit of a log jam at the position, with senior Alonzo McCoy returning along with junior Devonni Reed. However, with Reid establishing himself as a turnover creator, it will be tough to keep him off the field if this trend continues. 

Donte Kent, freshman cornerback 

A player who was somewhat of an afterthought thanks to all the newcomers in the secondary, Kent established himself late in the season as a legitimate option. Kent played a combined 86 snaps in the Chippewas final two games, including getting his first career start in the finale against Toledo. 

Kent intercepted a pass in a comeback win over Eastern Michigan but struggled at other times. He was burnt twice for touchdowns during his freshman campaign, a product of his inexperience at the college level. 

"I'm excited about the start that we got with Donte Kent coming off of last season," Akey said. "What can he do in his second year, what that's gonna look like and what he might turn that role into (is exciting)."

Thomas Incoom, junior defensive lineman

With the loss of Mohamed Diallo to the transfer portal, CMU was missing an experienced pass rusher to go opposite Hairston. With Incoom, a Valdosta State transfer, the Chippewas have a big-bodied, physical rusher to attack the quarterback while Hairston serves as the speed rusher. 

Incoom was named first team All-Gulf South Conference in 2019 after forcing four fumbles and totaling 9.5 sacks. There's plenty of talent here and certainly motivation, with Incoom having his first opportunity to show off his abilities at the Division I level. 

Marcel Lewis, sophomore linebacker 

Lewis was a very highly touted recruit coming out of Chippewa Valley High School, choosing to go to Michigan State. However, he transferred out after playing three games in two seasons with the Spartans.

There will have to be a good impression made for Lewis to jump Douglas on the depth chart, but it's safe to assume he's the leader in the clubhouse amongst the newcomers. The good news is that, unlike last season, there will be nonconference opportunities for game reps for Lewis to get into games and prove his abilities.