2011 Central Michigan Preview – Offense
Central Michigan WR Cody Wilson
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Central Michigan Chippewa Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know:
The offense was going to take a massive step back after losing an all-timer of a quarterback in Dan LeFevour and so much talent from a MAC Championship attack, and it did. The passing game grew into a strength as QB Ryan Radcliff started to figure out what he was doing and the yards and production started to come. Turnovers were the big problem with 18 interceptions and 14 fumbles, but if everyone can hold on to the ball, the O should be terrific. The receiving corps is fine, but nothing special, and Paris Cotton leads a decent group of running backs who should make the ground game better. The key will be the play of the line that never seemed to have the same combination twice with injuries playing a big role. If everyone stays healthy, the front five will be a plus.
Star of the offense: Junior QB Ryan Radcliff
Passing: Ryan Radcliff
282-466, 3,358 yds, 17 TD, 17 INT
Rushing: Paris Cotton
142 carries, 651 yds, 6 TD
Receiving: Cody Wilson
83 catches, 1,137 yds, 5 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior WR Jerry Harris
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OG Mike Repovz
Best pro prospect: Junior OT Eric Fisher
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Radcliff, 2) WR Cody Wilson, 3) Fisher
Strength of the offense: Passing Game, Experience
Weakness of the offense: Running Game, Turnovers
State of the Unit: The CMU quarterback situation was going to suffer a drop off. Dan LeFevour might have been the greatest player in the history of the MAC, and he was certainly among the most accomplished, and while the entire team needed an overhaul, the spotlight was brightest on the quarterback situation. The Chippewa quarterbacks combined to throw for 3,408 yards and 17 touchdowns, but there were 18 picks. Yes, the passing game finished 17th in the nation and second in the MAC, but it was 77th in the nation in passing efficiency.
Junior Ryan Radcliff was thrown into a tough situation with some major shoes to fill, and while he wasn't Dan LeFevour, he didn't have a bad first year yardage-wise completing 61% of his throws for 3,358 yards and 17 touchdowns with 17 picks. The biggest difference between the 6-2, 212-pounder and his predecessor is mobility. LeFevour was a tremendous runner, but that's not Radcliff, who ran for one score bit isn't going to take off for big yards. He has a better, livelier arm than LeFevour. Drafted by the Colorado Rockies, he can push the ball all over the field. As far as the picks, he had a rough mid-season stretch throwing three picks in three of four games and gave away 12 in five games. However, he became terrific late in the year against Western Michigan, Navy, and Toledo throwing for 300 yards, 394, and 322, respectively, with just two picks and five touchdown passes.
Senior Brandon Fricke worked his way into the No. 2 role after coming in from Grossmont CC, and he got a little bit of time completing 4-of-8 passes for 33 yards with a pick. At 6-1 and 206 pounds he's not all that big, but he's a good passer who can dink and dunk well if thrown into the fire. He'll battle with 6-1, 221-pound sophomore A.J. Westendorp for the backup job. Westendorp led his high school team to the Michigan state championship in 2008, and he's the team's best dual-threat passer who saw a little time as a linebacker and brings the same mentality to the position … and at tight end. To get on the field, he saw time as a receiver catching four passes for 38 yards.
Watch Out For … Radcliff to settle down. He struggled mightily during an ugly midseason stretch, and then it all started to come together as he didn't press as much, kept the mistakes to a minimum, and bombed away.
Strength: The system. The old coaching staff went after dual-threat playmakers, and while Radcliff didn't take off enough, he can run. Under Dan Enos and his staff, the quarterback is going to be featured and will get to throw at will as long as the passing game is working. The yards will come.
Weakness: The Dan LeFevour shadow. The backup situation is iffy with Fricke only seeing a little bit of time, but the problem for Radcliff will always be the comparisons to a guy who threw for 12,095 yards with 102 touchdowns. Radcliff threw 17 picks last year; LeFevour gave away 36 over his entire career.
Outlook: The CMU passing game should once again be among the best in the MAC. Radcliff will bomb away with the best of them, but he has to keep the mistakes to a minimum and has to be a better decision maker. He's the franchise for the next few years, and he has to stay healthy with an iffy backup situation.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: The rushing offense was along for the ride, and without mobility coming from the quarterbacks, the production wasn't there like it was in previous seasons. There's experience returning, and there's extreme quickness to get excited about, but the goal of the ground game is to take advantage of the times when defenses are keying on the passing attack.
Back again as the main man for the ground game is senior Paris Cotton , who only got 142 carries and only averaged 4.6 yards per carry, but he tore off a team-leading 651 yards with six touchdowns and caught 25 passes for 245 yards. At 5-9 and 179 yards, the Miami native is small but extremely quick. He was able to see time as a workhorse, running it 23 times against Bowling Green, 21 times against Virginia Tech, and running for 209 yards and three scores on 21 carries against Eastern Michigan.
With second-leading rusher Carl Volny done, it'll be up to sophomore Zurlon Tipton to be the main backup after finishing third on the team with 203 yards. The 6-1, 215-pounder brings the thump and the power, and while he only averaged 3.6 yards per carry, he scored five times with four of the scores coming in the final two games. One of the most productive runners in Michigan high school history with 5,115 yards and 76 touchdowns, he was also a physical defender with 301 career tackles and 16 sacks.
It's not like CMU uses a fullback on a regular basis, but Tyler Lombardo is a 6-1, 244-pound thumper who got a start against Eastern Michigan and was a strong blocker. A star high school linebacker who also ran for 17 touchdowns as a senior, the sophomore can be a short-yardage runner if needed.
Watch Out For … Tipton. Cotton isn't the type of back who can handle a 200-carry workload, and Tipton showed what he could do late in the year with more work. He might not be too flashy, but he can pound between the tackles.
Strength: A good thunder and lightning tandem. Tipton is fast and doesn't fit the role of a pounding back, but in comparison to Tipton he's a good power back with Cotton able to rip off big runs from time to time.
Weakness: The offense. The backs don't get too much work in the CMU offense, but the difference between now and a few years ago is the quarterback production; it won't be there with Ryan Radcliff under center. There isn't going to be that much work.
Outlook: The running backs have to come up with big yards per carry, and they didn't last year. The line has to be better, but the backs have to crank out around five yards per crack and have to take advantage of their opportunities. The more they can get involved in the passing game, the better.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: The receiving corps had to completely and totally reload after losing Antonio Brown, Bryan Anderson, and pass-catching running back Bryan Schroeder gone, and it did a good job of finding new playmakers. The whole team had to rebuild, and the receivers struggled a little bit with their consistency, but there was enough production to get excited about the possibilities now that QB Ryan Radcliff knows what he's doing.
The hope going into last year was for the one strong veteran, Kito Poblah, to grow into a top No. 1 target, and while he did a good job finishing second on the team with 44 catches, it was Cody Wilson who stepped up his play and produced as the main man. The 5-10, 186-pound junior followed up a 25-catch season with 83 grabs for 1,137 yards and five touchdowns, and he ran for 95 yards and a score. Good throughout the first half of the season, he blew up late catching 11 passes for 115 yards against NIU and closing out with 35 catches for 420 yards and two scores in the final three games. He became more and more comfortable with QB Ryan Radcliff, and now he should be an All-MAC star. While he might not blow past anyone, he's a steady midrange target who averaged 13.7 yards per catch and will be ultra-reliable.
6-3, 185-pound junior Jerry Harris is one of the team's biggest gargets and he came up with a nice season finishing third on the team with 30 catches for 332 yards and three scores. While his production tailed off late, catching just four passes in the final four games and getting shut out by Toledo, he has the size and the athleticism to be a deadly No. 2 playmaker.
Senior Cedric Fraser is a 6-3, 198-pound veteran who caught 16 passes for 210 yards in a spotty season. He got hurt and was out late in the year, but he has good enough size and enough experience to be a factor in a rotation with Harris. He knows what he's doing, while sophomore Jordan McConnell is a 5-10, 188-pounder who'll grow into a role working behind Wilson. He caught a pass in the season finale against Toledo, but he's a good enough athlete to now become a factor.
Senior David Blackburn only seems like he's been the team's main tight end option for ten years. He didn't get many passes thrown his way early in his career, but he found a bigger role last season catching 22 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns as a nice field stretcher and a dangerous option on key plays. At 6-3 and 242 pounds he has nice size and is a good blocker, and now the one-time great recruit who got offers from Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State should explode with at last 35 grabs. He'll be backed up by redshirt freshman Caleb Southworth a tall, lean 6-5, 208-pounder who's an honor roll student and a state champion-level sprinter.
Watch Out For … Even more from the tight ends. Blackburn took a little while to get going, and then he broke out with a seven-catch game against Ball State. He came on late in the year, and now he and Southworth should be more trusted targets who'll get the ball their way on a regular basis.
Strength: Wilson. Unlike last year, there's decent experience returning with a few good options to play around with led by Wilson, who earned Second Team All-MAC honors and should be a reliable No. 1 to revolve the passing attack around.
Weakness: Depth. It wasn't developed enough last year with the running backs playing a big role and only three wideouts playing a regular role. Harris finished as the No. 3 target, but he has to prove he can take his game to another level. Fraser and McConnell have to show they can produce.
Outlook: The receiving corps is a shadow of its former self, but 2009 is 2009. Wilson is reliable and Wilson is decent, but the running backs and tight ends are going to be a huge part of the show. It would be nice if a few young targets could step up their play to spread things around, but it's going to be Wilson, Harris, Blackburn, and a lot of question marks.
Unit Rating: 5.5
State of the Unit: After a phenomenal 2009, the line struggled last year to find the right combination and struggled to produce. In a very, very quirky twist, CMU has been tremendous up front in odd years and awful in even ones. Miserable in 2006, the line came back to rock in 2007. Lousy in 2008, it was tremendous in 2009, and it was bad last year allowing 33 sacks and doing little for the ground game. It's an odd year, and with experience should come more production.
Junior Eric Fisher became one of the team's most versatile linemen last year starting nine times and rarely in the same spot. Originally a backup, the 6-7, 295-pounder got in the mix at right tackle for four games before moving over to right guard for two games and finishing up at left tackle. Now the star recruit of a few years ago should be a fixture at left tackle with great size and decent athleticism. He'll be backed up by 6-5, 284-pound redshirt freshman Kevin Henry, a very smart, promising athlete who was used as bit as a defender and a pass catcher in high school.
6-8, 290-pound junior Jake Olson stepped into a starting role in 2009 and was terrific, and he was on his way to being the anchor of the line before getting knocked out for the year in the third game of the season with a leg injury. Very big and very athletic – he was a high school high jumper – his injury was a nightmare for a line that desperately needed him. Now he's going to work as a too-tall right guard until he's back to form. 6-3, 291-pound sophomore Aaron McCord didn't see any time last year, but he's a big backup who could step into a role if Olson moves out to tackle again.
Manning the middle will be the team's biggest lineman. 6-3, 301-pound junior Darren Keyton started eight times at right guard, stepping in for mainstay Allen Ollenburger, and he did a decent job. He has starting experience in the middle, getting the call three times in 2009, and now he'll be the quarterback of the line.
6-4, 281-pound junior Mike Repovz went from being a little used backup to a key part of the mix starting the final five games of the season at right tackle. He struggled in pass protection, but he showed enough athleticism to potentially work on the outside again. Now he'll start at right guard where he should be great on the move, while 6-3, 282-pound sophomore Cody Pettit will have to be at the ready in case there's shuffling. Repovz could be a better fit at tackle, and Pettit could move outside too if needed.
With Repovz working one spot over, 6-6, 290-pound junior Rocky Weaver is getting his gig back at right tackle. The starter for the first three games last year, he moved over to the left side when Jake Olson went down. He's far better suited to the right side with a good frame and decent athleticism, and now the former starting tight end – he caught eight passes for 65 yards and a score in 2008 – will be back in his normal spot. Sophomore Jeff Fantuzzi was a top high school defensive lineman but will be better on the offensive front. He has yet to see the field, but he's a promising 6-4, 293-pounder who'll soon get into the rotation.
Watch Out For … More consistency. The line was figuring out what it was doing throughout last year, and everything was thrown into a tailspin when injuries started to strike. As long as the starting five stays healthy, the line should be fine.
Strength: Experience. With the problems with injury and the right combination came experience, and now the coaching staff has options to play around with. Getting Olson back is a huge plus and Weaver should be a rock at right tackle again.
Weakness: Proven production. Yeah, things should be better, but the line needs to be night-and-day better after doing little right and not showing any consistency. Again, blame that on the injuries and the problems keeping the right players in the right spots.
Outlook: Expect a night-and-day improvement. With Keyton taking over for Colin Miller, the one player who stuck in the same spot for the entire year, at center, and with Olson and Weaver back in the mix and Fisher in the right position, the line should quickly go from a major negative into a possible strength.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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