'Try to get your studs the ball': CMU OC Paul Petrino speaks on potential firepower

Charlestown, Ind. freshman Marion Lukes returns a kickoff for a 90+ yard touchdown against EMU, Friday, Nov. 26.

Sometimes, football is as simple as getting your best player the ball and letting them go to work.

For Central Michigan, this strategy worked a whole lot in 2021. With stars like Lew Nichols III, Kalil Pimpleton and JaCorey Sullivan, it put up a whopping 32 points per game on an average of 444.5 yards of offense. 

The 2022 season has seen turnover, as Pimpleton, Sullivan and offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay are all gone. Nichols is back, however, and Paul Petrino has stepped into Barbay's role. 

Despite the changes, expectations remain high for this Chippewa unit. For the losses, there are plenty of returning pieces who will be factors. Perhaps the biggest is junior running back Kobe Lewis, a 2019 1,000-yard rusher who missed all of 2021 with a knee injury. He's currently rehabbing in Georgia but should be full-go by summer

In his absence, all Nichols did was lead the country in rushing. Now, both are back with sights set on being one of the top running back duos in the country. Throw in sophomores Myles Bailey and Marion Lukes and the Chippewas have a formidable foursome. 

"They're your four biggest studs, you know?" Petrino said. "You try to get your studs the ball, and so we'll definitely come up with all different ways to feature them all and get them the ball."

With so much talent at one position, however, it can be a challenge to get all parties involved. After all, there's only one ball. 

The Chippewas have a plan, though. 

"We're gonna have to do some things to get multiple running backs on the field," said head coach Jim McElwain. "So you may see us in some personnel groupings, you know, with more than two backs on the field but creating one back formations because, again, these are all guys that need to touch the ball." 

Who's next at receiver

The Chippewas have immense shoes to fill at receiver with Sullivan and Pimpleton off to the pros. The cupboard isn't bare, though, as Dallas Dixon is back for his third year. Petrino said it's been Dixon who has stepped up to lead the room. 

Carlos Carriere, a Maryland transfer, will provide an immediate boost at the position when he arrives on campus in June. A graduate transfer, he enjoyed the best season of his career with the Terrapins in 2021. His brother, Matteo, will join Jordan Kelly and Langston Lewis as members of the 2022 recruiting class to join the team in the summer. 

Until then, however, it's on the returning pieces to step up. In Petrino's eyes, two standouts have been redshirt freshman Finn Hogan and sophomore Alec Ward. 

"Finn Hogan has jumped in there and done some good things for us," Petrino said. "He's probably made the next most plays (behind Dixon) out there, and Alec Ward, those two have made a lot of plays for us." 

The Chippewas' new offensive coordinator also said Kenny Brewer and Levar Gumms have impressed throughout camp.  

Offensive line notes

Much like the wide receivers, CMU has two players leaving its offensive line for the professional ranks. Both tackles, Bernhard Raimann and Luke Goedeke, are projected NFL Draft picks and leave large footprints for youngsters to fill. 

Three starters return on up front, with Jamezz Kimbrough at center and Tyden Ferris and Deiyantei Powell-Woods at guard. The latter has been splitting time in the spring between guard and tackle, with Hillsdale transfer Cole Johnson also getting reps at guard. 

Keegan Smith suffered an injury in the regular season finale against Eastern Michigan but will compete for reps at guard along with backing up Kimbrough at center when healthy. 

When Powell-Woods isn't manning a tackle spot, sophomore Brayden Swartout and redshirt freshman Davis Heinzen have been holding down the fort. 

With so much youth, the spring has been dedicated to finding an identity for the unit. 

"You've got to kind of find, 'What is our personality?'" Petrino said. "What are our go-to's, where are we gonna hang our coat? What is our coat hanger that we're going to put, this is the play that we know we're going to execute really well, this is the next best play we're going to execute really well. Sometimes that can change year in and year out, by how well your right guard pulls or how your left guard can reach the three technique, or who's your best puller or who's your best pass protector. That's what spring ball is all about."