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2008 Western Michigan Preview - Offense
Western Michigan QB Tim Hiller
Western Michigan QB Tim Hiller
ColledgeFootballNews.com
Posted May 20, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Western Michigan Bronco Offense

Western Michigan Broncos

Preview 2008 - Offense


- 2008 CFN Western Michigan Preview | 2008 WMU Offense
- 2008 WMU Defense | 2008 WMU Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Western Michigan Preview | 2006 CFN Western Michigan Preview 

What you need to know: The offense has a strong group of starters but the depth needs to be developed. Tim Hiller is a veteran quarterback coming off a 3,021-yard season, but he'll be challenged by Drew Burdi for time if interceptions are a problem again. The line loses some key starters off last year's disappointing front five, but it's big and has decent potential. Big Jamarko Simmons is one of the MAC's best receivers and tight end Branden Ledbetter is a go-to target who'll earn all-star honors, and now a second wide receiver has to emerge. Brandon West is a do-it-all threat out of the backfield with good speed and terrific hands. Overall, the attack leans on the passing game. If it's not efficient, the offense struggles.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tim Hiller
267-421, 3,021 yds, 20 TD, 15 INT
Rushing: Brandon West
183 carries, 848 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Jamarko Simmons
84 catches, 980 yds, 6 TD

Star of the offense: Senior WR Jamarko Simmons
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior OT Rob Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman OT Anthony Parker
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Branden Ledbetter
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Simmons, 2) Ledbetter, 3) QB Tim Hiller
Strength of the offense: The starters, O line size, quarterback
Weakness of the offense: Proven depth, consistent running game

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Junior Tim Hiller returned from a bad knee injury that cost him all of 2006 and took over the starting job early on and finished with 3,021 yards and 20 touchdowns with 15 interceptions. The problem was his consistency hitting a big lull in the midseason throwing five interceptions and just one touchdown pass in key back-to-back losses to Ball State and Eastern Michigan. At 6-5 and 228 pounds, he has the size, and when he has time he has the talent to blow up, like he did in the win over Iowa throwing for 367 yards and three touchdown passes, but he'll have to compete to hold on to his job. It's not a bad thing that he has a little bit of competition to deal with for the starting spot to push him that much more.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Drew Burdi is being given every shot at the starting gig. He's not all that big at 6-1 and 198 pounds, but he has a nice arm and can make any throw in the book. Tim Hiller might be a good, accurate passer, while Burdi could end up being a bomber. He's also a good athlete who can run the ball more than Hiller and provide a different look. Now that he knows the offense, he's expected to be folded into the gameplan here and there just to get him a little experience, if he doesn't win the job outright.

Third in the mix will be redshirt freshman Robert Arnheim, a fantastic passing prospect who was a top prospect from Florida after throwing for over 5,000 yards and 49 touchdown passes for Edgewater High in Orlando.
He might not be all that big at 6-2 and 180 pounds, and he's not necessarily a runner, but he has the talent to become the starter within the next few years after serving as the No. 3 this season.

Watch Out For ... the talk about a quarterback battle to be a bunch of huffing and puffing. Hiller is the main main, and while Drew Burdi might get a few reps here and there, there's not going to be the open competition the coaching staff said there is early this spring. It's Hiller's gig with Arnheim and Burdi battling it out for the No. 2 spot.
Strength
:
Production. Hiller is a proven commodity and the offense should be able to move with Burdi or Robert Arnheim under center.
Weakness
:
Backup experience. Burdi and Arnheim have potential and talent, but they don't have any real experience. They'll be folded into the mix, but there could be problems early if Hiller gets hurt right away.
Outlook: Head coach Bill Cubit likes to keep his quarterbacks on edge and pressing forward, and he hasn't been afraid to try out a few options depending on the situation and the team's momentum. Hiller is a veteran who could challenge for the league lead in passing, but he has to cut down on the interceptions. Burdi has a good arm and mobility, and Arnhem has tremendous potential, but they each need time.
Rating: 6

Running Backs

Projected Starter: Junior Brandon West took over more and more of the workload as last season went on and finished as the team's leading rusher with 848 yards and four touchdowns. While he only got in the end zone once over the final six games of the year he produced as both a runner and a receiver throughout the year. A speed back with more power than it would seem considering his 5-10, 169-pound frame, he finished second on the team with 45 catches for 365 yards and two touchdowns and was a phenomenal kickoff returner averaging 25.9 yards per return with a touchdown.


Projected Top Reserves: West is a do-it-all All-MAC star, but that doesn't mean there won't be a place for Glenis Thompson, a 5-8, 210-pound junior who brings an interesting mix of power and quickness. Now that Mark Bonds is gone, Thompson will do far more after running for 127 yards and a score as he gets more work in short yardage and pure running situations.

WMU doesn't use a traditional fullback, but 6-0, 225-pound senior Kirk Elsworth will be a combination of H-Back and fullback. He won't get too many carries, running just once last year for 19 yards, he'll be a blocker.

Watch Out For ... true freshman Aaron Winchester. The Broncos went after a few running backs in this year's recruiting class to season for the future, but Winchester might be too good to keep out of the mix. Don't be shocked if he bumps Thompson out of the No. 2 job.
Strength
:
West. He's a tough, talented veteran who can carry the workload by himself. WMU doesn't ask its backs to handle it 35 times a game, so as long as West's touches are kept around 20, he should last the year. Last year he set a school record with 2,119 all-purpose yards, and he could blow that away this season.
Weakness
:
A proven No. 2. Thompson should be fine with an increased workload, but he hasn't shown yet that he can carry the running game if something happens to West. Thompson needs to shine early on to keep the young newcomers from having to burn a redshirt and from being in before they're ready.
Outlook: The offense won't ever revolve around the running game, but that doesn't mean it can't be effective. West will produce, and as long as his yards per carry are around five, after averaging 4.6 last year, and as long as he remains effective in the passing game, he'll do his job. The key will be finding a second option now that Bonds is gone. Thompson will get the first look, but several young prospects will likely get a chance.
Rating: 5.5

Receivers


Projected Starters: Senior Jamarko Simmons might not be Greg Jennings, the current Green Bay Packer star, but there's a place for him at the next level. At 6-2 and 234 pounds, he's a huge, physical target who outmuscles everyone and has the talent to come up with monster games. He led the team with 84 catches for 980 yards and six touchdowns after starting out as one of the nation's hottest targets catching 38 passes in his first three games. He cooled down somewhat over the course of the season, and had a major meltdown against Central Michigan after being ejected from the game, but he's an All-MAC playmaker who'll be the focus of the passing game from the start.

With everyone paying attention to Simmons, someone has to step up and shine in the number two role. The spotlight will be on senior Schneider Julien after coming to the program as a superstar JUCO transfer a few years ago. He could've gone almost anywhere and was a major coup for WMU, but he hasn't panned out as a receiver with just 13 catches for 120 yards. Expected to provide some pop as a kick and punt returner, he's been merely average. However, he has the talent to be a game-breaker at the Z, and if the light goes on, he could be the MAC's breakout star.

On the outside X position, taking over for third leading receiver Herb Martin, is 6-0, 206-pound sophomore Jordan White after catching 19 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown. He's a big, dangerous all-around target who'll provide several big matchup problems whether he plays outside or in, and now he's finally healthy after playing last year with a still healing knee. He played in four games in 2006 before getting hurt.

6-5, 230-pound senior Branden Ledbetter doesn't get the credit he deserves in a league full of good tight ends, but he's a talented, steady target catching 38 passes for 550 yards and six touchdowns averaging a whopping 14.5 yards per catch. More of a big wide receiver than a true tight end, he's great around the goal line, great at stretching the field, and great at keeping the chains moving.


Projected Top Reserves: Looking to battle Julien for time on the Z is 6-0, 172-pound true sophomore Juan Nunez after making ten catches for 169 yards and a touchdown. He might not be big, but he can flat-out fly with some of the best wheels on the team. The former high school star sprinter could grow into a major deep threat in four-wide sets, if he doesn't push Julien out of a spot.

5-8, 167-pound sophomore Jamelle Murray is the exact opposite of Simmons at the T providing a quicker inside option. He got a little bit of work in with three catches for 27 yards and a touchdown on the year and will be a big factor in the rotation at several spots.

Sophomore Anthony Middleton isn't as big as Ledbetter, but he's a big, talented target who caught 15 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns highlighted by a four-catch, 60-yard, two score day in the upset at Iowa. He's not going to block too much, but the 6-4, 215-pounder will be a physical receiver who'll be a dangerous option.

Watch Out For ... Julien. He has to come up with a big year. He has to. He has next-level talent and athleticism, and now that he'll see single coverage and get a more prominent role, he needs to take advantage and become a dangerous playmaker.
Strength
:
Simmons and Ledbetter. The top wide receiver is bigger than the tight end and both will come up with a huge seasons worthy of All-MAC consideration. These two are matchup nightmares with too much strength and toughness to not combine for at least 130 catches.
Weakness
:
Proven No. 2. Julien should be a star, and Jordan White has the potential to be a major factor, but neither has done it yet. Ledbetter is a good second target to Simmons, but a dangerous second wide receiver would make the offense fly.
Outlook: The potential is there for WMU to have one of the league's best receiving corps with good potential and a great tandem in Simmons and Ledbetter to count on. Everything will be fine as long as these two are producing, and the passing game could be unstoppable if Julien finally lives up to his potential and White grows into a playmaker.
Rating: 6

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: The line will revolve around the left side early on with senior Rob Johnson returning at tackle and sophomore Phillip Swenson back at guard. The 6-4, 307-pound Swenson wasn't always consistent and needs to do more for the running game, but he wasn't bad in his redshirt freshman season starting all 12 games. One of the team's biggest linemen, he needs to be even more physical while making sure he keeps his weight in check. Staying under 310 pounds is a must.

Johnson started four times last season as he continued to learn the ropes. The former defensive lineman is a massive 6-5 and 338 pounds with surprising quickness. He's a good pass blocker, and now he has to be great.

The big key to the line will be replacing center Robbie Krutilla, the anchor of the front five. Junior Paul Wasikowski started all across the line last season with three starts in the middle, a start at left tackle and one at right guard. The team's most versatile lineman is more natural at guard, but he has good size at 6-3 and 291 pounds and enough experience to be the quarterback of the front five at center.

6-6, 307-pound sophomore Nick Clemens returns at right guard where he's growing into a good all-around blocker. He's not all that quick and he's not going to shine in pass protection, but he's strong and can blast away for the running game. A winner, he was the leader of a line that won a Wisconsin high school state championship.

The focus early on will be at right tackle where 6-5, 305-pound redshirt freshman Anthony Parker takes over. A decent athlete who should be a fixture on the line for the next four years, he needs to prove right away that he can be a consistent pass protector.

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing for the the starting right tackle job will be 6-4, 307-pound senior Steve Ellingsen after beefing up a bit over the last year. He has seen time at guard and could move inside not that he added more than 25 pounds. With three games of starting experience, he can step in at any time. 

Backing up Nick Clemens at right guard is big, beefy redshirt freshman Jonathan Jack, a 6-6, 340-pound mauler who will be in the rotation right away. He has the size, but he has to prove he can use it to improve the running game. If nothing else, he should see action in short yardage situations.

Watch Out For ... an adjustment period. This was supposed to be the MAC's best line last year, wasn't, and now three key seniors are gone. This is a young group with two sophomores, a redshirt freshman and a junior joining Johnson, so it could take a little while.
Strength
:
Size. This is a huge, HUGE line with Johnson checking in at 338 pounds, guards Swanson and Clemens each around 307 pounds, and Parker at 305. Jack is 340 pounds and Ellingsen is 307. That means there needs to be better ...
Weakness
:
Run blocking. For such a big line, it wasn't physical enough on a regular basis. This group is big enough and strong enough to dominate and impose its will on just about anyone in the MAC. Being better in pass protection would be nice after allowing 28 sacks.
Outlook: A major disappointment considering all the returning veterans and a good 2006 to build on, now there's a bit of a rebuilding job to be done. On the plus side there's a lot of size and plenty of upside with players like  Parker at tackle and sophomore guards Swanson and Clemens looking to shine right away. This will be a good line in time, but it needs to grow up right away to give the Broncos into the MAC title race.
Rating:
5.5

 

 

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