The Central Michigan football team graduates 13 seniors who won more games then any other players in the program history. Behind them are three MAC Championships, four straight bowl appearances, two bowl victories and a top 25 ranking. Needless to say, the empty depth chart positions they leave have some mighty big shoes to fill.
But, CMU has been able to recruit very well and the cupboard is far from bare. In this very early prediction, we take a look at a projected two deep depth chart for the 2010-11 season.
Wildcard: While I fully expect him to redshirt, incoming freshman Kyle Smith has the intelligence and playing ability to factor in right away. Problem is, he won't arrive until the summer and will be well behind everyone else in terms of offensive experience and playbook implementation. While he may have the tools, him starting would be a major surprise and probably a bad sign for Chippewa fans.
Overview: The job has been Radcliff's to lose since Dan Lefevour departed. The junior has a strong arm and is probably a better fit for Enos's offense then he was Butch Jones's. Westendorp really impressed with his intangibles and work ethic last season, and I look for him to separate himself from junior Derek Rifenbury.
Wildcard: Has to be redshirt freshman Zurlon Tipton. If he stays at running back and is healthy, Tipton probably has the best combination of size and speed in the running back group.
Overview: Cotton has drawn rave reviews from the staff so far and figures to be the front runner after Bryan Schroeder abruptly left the team. Phillips flashed his potential all year in practice, but was hindered by an ankle injury that cost hima shot to both contribute and redshirt. Volny is the seasoned veteran, and while he is always a steady contributor and does exactly what is asked of him, he doesn't have the physical skills of the others. This is probably going to be a committee approach again that utilizes each player's specific strengths. Plenty of talent here, although the loss of Schroeder is a big one.
Wildcard: Junior walk-on James Falls has the size at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds to figure into the fullback mix.
Overview: For the first time in a long, long time, the fullback position returns to Mount Pleasant, and it brings an air of mystery. Reed was listed as a fullback under the previous staff, but never saw time as a blocker in regular situations. He will need to bulk up to solidify the position. Lombardo comes in as a freshman who is probably physically ready to play the position at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds. He was a high school running back, but also saw time as a lead blocker in his offense.
Wildcard: Has to be Rocky Weaver. The former tight end transitioned to right offensive tackle out of need by the previous staff, but played as a tight end for the Chippewas in 2008. He would prefer to play tight end and could be a very good one in Enos's new offense. It will all boil down to CMU's depth at offensive tackle and whether they can afford to move Weaver back to tight end.
Overview: Blackburn is the returning starter and he really started to develop last season, both as a blocker and receiver. Flemming is enrolled for spring ball and is up to 235 pounds, and growing. He played both tight end and defensive end in high school and is a tremendous leaper. Sawicki is the most college ready of the incoming freshman and was targeted by Enos late in the recruiting process, and although he was a wide receiver in high school, he has the size to grow into a solid tight end.
Wildcard: Redshirt freshman Malek Redd may lack the prototypical size, but it's hard to hit what you can't catch. Arguably the team's fastest player, Redd was the scout team running back last season and gave the defense fits. He could project as a dangerous slot receiver and return man next season when he is eligible to play off his redshirt.
Overview: It's Poblah's time to take over and become the number one threat at receiver. With the losses of record setting senior Bryan Anderson and junior extraordinaire Antonio Brown to the NFL, Poblah will be the go to guy. He is probably the most physically gifted wide receiver on the team and at a very physical 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, also runs a 4.5 forty. C. Wilson saw extensive playing time as a true freshman, and his playmaking ability will be needed with the loss of Brown. Harris is a budding star who has bided his time. At 6-foot3, he is the total package in terms of speed and hands, look for big things out of him. Fraser has tremendous leaping ability and will also figure into the playing mix. Skergan didn't see much playing time last season, but he has been a steady contributor in the past. J. Wilson lacks the speed to stretch defenses, but he could develop into a possession wide receiver.
Wildcard: Redshirt freshman Adam Schneid has continued to add bulk to his 6-foot-6 frame while at CMU and could project at either guard or tackle with the new staff. He could push for a starting spot at right guard or project as a backup at either tackle positions.
Overview: Loads of experience comes back as four starters return in Olson, Maddux, Miller and Weaver. Maddux and Miller are three year starters while Olson and Weaver had very impressive debuts in their first season as starters. The only hole is at right guard, where All-MAC performer Allen Ollenburger departs. His loss is not huge however, as he was pushed by Kanitz and Repovz for most of the summer. Kanitz gets the nod at guard due to his appealing size, something Michigan State favored in their attack last season. Fantuzzi has continued to bulk up and the former three star recruit could compete for the open spot as well. Repovz was the backup tackle last season and showed the feet to stay at that position. Fisher started a few games as a true freshman and played terrific, even prompting the staff to put special packages to get him on the field. Overall, this is a very talented group with a mix of returning veterans and promising youngsters. As mentioned before, a major question mark will be whether Weaver stays at tackle or moves back to tight end.
Wildcard: Freshman Kenneth McClendon was a late steal for CMU and has the size and speed to come in and contribute as a freshman. At 235 pounds right now, McClendon could easily put on another 10-15 pounds and he displayed his pass rush abilities by registering over 25 sacks during his high school career. Redshirt freshman Adam Fenton and Will Schwarz also could surprise as they continue to add weight and transition from high school linebackers to college defensive ends.
Overview: Question marks dot the defensive end position as three seniors depart. Fraser and Rodriguez both saw playing time last year, but both still lack size and are better suited as third down pass rushers. Fraser has the best frame to add weight though, and if he can put some pounds on (and keep his head in the game), he will be tough to keep off the field. Winston is a former high school defensive end who played in the defensive tackle rotation last season. Reeves was a third down defensive tackle, but expect him to slide to the outside.
Wildcard: Rated as CMU's top recruit coming in, freshman three star Kevin Henry figures to make his presence felt early on the defensive line, whether that be at tackle or end. Keep an eye on incoming freshman Andy Phillips as well, as he was tabbed as a potential early contributor by Enos.
Overview: Where defensive end has some question marks, defensive tackle has solutions. Murnane and Williams are both returning starters who dominated at times last season and Jackson played better then expected as a walk-on. Both McCord and Pettit had the ability to play as true freshman, but benefited from a year in the weight room and should be ready to become regulars in the rotation. This is a very deep group that could very well have six or seven talented players in the rotation.
Wildcard: Redshirt freshman Shamari Benton has some exceptional speed for a linebacker and if he is able to add another 10 pounds or so, he brings some rare physical tools to the table. Benton flashed his ability in practice, and if he isn't a starter, he will be a terror on special teams.
Overview: Led by the "Killer B's" of Berning and Bellore, this is a veteran group of linebackers who have made tons of plays during their time at CMU. Bellore is one of the top linebackers in the country, and Berning became a dominant compliment last season. Zelinsky looked like a future star in limited laying time as a true freshman before a season ending injury. Now fully recovered, he brings another talented playmaker to the Chippewas linebackers corp. Petrucci also battled injuries, but he played very well when healthy and is a solid veteran backup. Smith gained some valuable experience in mop up duty behind Bellore last season and he is a dependable backup who will benefit from another year behind the veterans. Staten was a warrior last season, starting a few games in place of Tim Brazzel despite a hand injury that forced him to play with a club. He will battle for a starting spot. Overall, this is an incredibly deep and talented unit that is easily the best in the MAC.
Wildcard: Redshirt sophomore Jahleel Addae bounced from running back and wide receiver before finally getting moved to defensive back last season. He is tremendously physical and while still learning the craft, is a true wild card at corner because he brings some intangibles that cannot be taught.
Overview: Despite the loss of two senior starters, this is still a very deep group. Bradley was penciled in as a starter last season before academic troubles led to his ineligibility. If his grades are in order, he is a shoo-in at one spot. Williams and Agnew have both started before and Scott was a standout in the spring last season. Hollis brings tremendous speed and has two years starting at the JUCO level to the table. Ray was playmaker in practice all season and was a potential starter before veterans stepped up and he was allowed to redshirt.
Wildcard: Redshirt freshman Leron Eaddy lacks the prototypical size at safety, but was a big time hitter and playmaker in high school. Eaddy also has above average speed and it's just a matter of time before he's starting for the Chippewas.
Overview: Bolden is a returning starter and Seay was a spot starter for the Chippewas last season. Both bring a good combination of size, speed and experience. Carr and White Jr. came to CMU as rangy athletes who needed some time in the weight room, and both have bulked up. They are serviceable backups, but lack some experience.