2009 Western Michigan Preview - Offense
Western Michigan RB Brandon West
Western Michigan RB Brandon West
Posted May 12, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Western Michigan Bronco Offense

Western Michigan Broncos

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Western Michigan Preview | 2009 WMU Offense
- 2009 WMU Defense | 2009 WMU Depth Chart
- 2008 WMU Preview | 2007 WMU Preview | 2006 WMU Preview 

What you need to know: The offense that finished first in the MAC and 11th in the nation in passing should keep up the production with veteran QB Tim Hiller working behind a veteran line with four starters returning. Brandon West and Aaron Winchester are talented all-around backs who can catch as well as run with power and speed, but the offense is about the passing game. And that’s the early problem. With Jamarko Simmons, Schneider Julien, and Branden Ledbetter gone, the team needs some new recruits to become major factors right away to help out Juan Nunez. The key to the season could be the left knee of Hiller, which underwent ACL surgery this off-season. There are good backup options, but Hiller needs to be on the field for the offense to explode.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tim Hiller
339-522, 3,725 yds, 36 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: Brandon West
204 carries, 1,026 yds, 8 TD
Receiving: Juan Nunez
57 catches, 701 yds, 7 TD

Star of the offense: Senior QB Tim Hiller
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore OT Jonathan Jack
Unsung star on the rise: Senior TE Matt Stevens
Best pro prospect: Junior OG Phillip Swanson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hiller, 2) RB Brandon West, 3) OG Phillip Swanson
Strength of the offense: The passing game, starting offensive line
Weakness of the offense: Proven depth, proven No. 2 receiver


Projected Starter: The time is now for senior Tim Hiller to take the offense to another level. He came up with a terrific 3,725-yard, 36-touchdown season (along with ten interceptions), but the offense sputtered in the final two games of the season against Ball State and Rice, both losses, and while he threw for 471 yards against Central Michigan, the team lost. He was playing through a balky knee that required ACL surgery this off-season, and while it was as big a deal as the total reconstruction that cost him all of 2006, he’ll still need time to recover. At 6-5 ad 228 pounds, he has the size and he has the arm, and after being around since 2005, he knows what he’s doing. He’s not a statue, but he won’t run for many yards. When all is said and done, he’ll obliterate the WMU record books, but only if his left knee holds up.
Projected Top Reserves: With Hiller’s knee an issue, junior Drew Burdi has to be at the ready to fill in. He got the bulk of the work this off-season and he’s been around long enough to know what he’s doing. The 6-1, 198-pounder is a good runner, amassing 120 yards and a score in his limited action, and a decent passer, throwing for 87 yards with a touchdown in mop up duty, with the best arm on the team, he can make any throw in the book. He doesn’t have an honest shot of winning the starting job, but he should be more in the mix.

6-2, 205-pound redshirt freshman Alex Carder will be a major producer in the near future. A great recruit for the program last year, Carder has a big-time arm and the mobility to provide an extra dimension to the attack. While he’s the clear number three option going into the season, he’ll be in the hunt for the starting job next year.

Watch Out For ... Carder in 2010. Burdi has been around long enough to be the clear number two this year, and the likely starter next season, but Carder is an interesting option who needs developing.
Big time numbers. The Broncos led the MAC in passing averaging 295 yards per game, and if Hiller is fine, that won’t change. There are good backups at the ready in case Hiller struggles.
Hiller’s left knee. While Burdi is ready to step in and produce, he’s not Hiller throwing the ball. If Hiller is healthy, the team can go into every game with a realistic hope for 300 yards. He has to return close to 100%, and he has to be able to last the season.
Outlook: Head coach Bill Cubit always likes to create some sort of a competition, real or not, to keep the quarterbacks on their toes. He doesn’t have to do that this season with a clear cut pecking order of Hiller, Burdi and Carder. However, the X factor all season long will be Hiller’s knee. While it wasn’t as bad as it was a few years ago, the knee can’t wear down by the end of the year. As long as Hiller is under center, WMU’s offense should be able to throw on anyone.
Rating: 8

Running Backs

Projected Starter: Senior Brandon West is back for his fourth year as the team’s most dangerous rushing option, and he’s coming off his best year yet with 1,026 yards and eight touchdowns. Also a receiver, he caught 38 passes for 280 yards and three scores. The 5-10, 188-pounder became more dangerous around the goal line and had a few games as a workhorse with 29 carries against Eastern Michigan and 25 against Northern Illinois. While he’s a speed back, he provides good power for his size. Along with his talents as an outlet receiver and as the main running back, he’s also a top-shelf kickoff returner averaging 22.8 yards per try.
Projected Top Reserves: 5-9, 190-pound sophomore Aaron Winchester was the key to last year’s recruiting class and he showed why as a key fill in late in the year when West was hurt. Like West, Winchester is a fast with a little bit of pop when he has to run inside, and like West he can catch, with nine grabs for 96 yards in a limited role, and is a good kickoff returner averaging 23.5 yards per try. He was the star in a 27-17 win over Toledo with 111 yards on 28 carries, and he finished with 272 yards on the year.

Senior Glenis Thompson provides the power to the mix. The 5-8, 210-pound former JUCO transfer didn’t get too much work, running just 14 times for 47 yards, but he has the build and the potential to do far more. Providing even more power, and a fullback if needed, is redshirt freshman Jamie Simpson, a 6-1, 237-pound thumper who’ll can block and be used in short yardage situations as well as an H-Back.
Watch Out For ... true freshman Antoin Scriven. WMU isn’t afraid to throw rookie backs into key spots, like it did with Winchester last year. Scriven is a team-leader type of player with the pop to be the No. 1 back if injuries start to strike.
Versatility. West and Winchester are the same back. They can catch, run with power, run with quickness, and return kicks. WMU’s offense revolves around the pass, but these two are more than just complementary players.
The offense. The backs are great for what the Broncos do, but it’s not like the backs are built to run 20 times a game, every game. WMU’s attack finished 96th in the nation, and 11th in the MAC, in rushing, and although West will have a 100-yard game here and there, the overall production won’t change much.
Outlook: The offense won't ever revolve around the running game, but the backs are ultra-effective and can carry the attack if needed. West is an all-star back who might have a place at the next level as a do-it-all specialist if he can come up with another big season. Winchester is speedy, tough, and will be used more and more this year. WMU will still try to throw for 300 yards a game, but the ground attack is still a plus.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: Step one is replacing the No. 1 target, Jamarko Simmons, at the T position. 6-2, 180-pound sophomore Robert Arnheim won’t bring the same size, but he has promise. The former star quarterback prospect moved over to receiver early last year and finished with seven catches for 58 yards and a touchdown, highlighted by four grabs with a score against Illinois. He’s not a blazer, but he’s a good route runner.

The star of the corps will be junior Juan Nunez at the outside X after finishing third on the team with 57 catches for 701 yards and seven scores. He blew up for 10 catches for 145 yards and a score against Central Michigan, but he was a steady producer all season long. While he’s only 6-0 and 172 pounds, the former star high school sprinter will stretch the field and be Tim Hiller’s deep threat.

Stepping in for Schneider Julien at the Z position will be Jordan White, a 6-0, 206-pound junior who came up big this spring. He’s talented and could be a game-breaker, but he has to prove he can stay healthy after missing all of 2006 and all of last year hurt.

6-4, 253-pound Matt Stevens will take over for Branden Ledbetter after starting five times and making six catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns. He’s fantastic in the red zone and has the athleticism to become a dangerous target up the middle on a regular basis.

Projected Top Reserves: The team’s best receiver could be Ansel Ponder when he gets to campus. The 6-2, 187-pound freshman spent last year at Hargrave Military Academy scoring 13 times last year. He’s being called the best combination of size, speed, and athleticism of any receiver WMU has ever had, and that includes Greg Jennings. He has all the tools to be special.

Trying to play a big role at the Z is Seth Patterson, a 6-3, 185-pound redshirt freshman who spent last year on the scout team. A decent prospect, he’ll have to battle be in the hunt for the starting job and will likely end up being part of a rotation instead of becoming a star.

Certain to find a spot somewhere is JUCO star Chleb Ravenell, a 6-0, 185-pound junior who caught 16 passes for 345 yards and seven scores last year for Georgia Military College. He’s a home run hitter who’ll be a threat to score from everywhere on the field.

Dervon Wallace saw a little action as a freshman catching two passes for 16 yards. At 6-0 and 180 pounds, he’s a quick, tough player who should shine as the season goes on working at the Z in a combination with Seth Patterson.

While Matt Stevens is the starting tight end, 6-3, 239-pound senior Chad Baliko, 6-6, 215-pound redshirt freshman Jeff Zipfel and 6-5, 236-pound redshirt freshman Blake Hammond will all see plenty of action. They’re all good receivers and the can all work into the WMU attack that does a great job of using the tight ends.

Watch Out For ... the JUCO transfers. Nunez will be the team’s No. 1 target coming into the season, but that could quickly change with Ravenell and Ponder two tremendous talents who’ll be counted on shining from day one.
The system. WMU is great at making stars out of receivers, and vice versa. If the newcomers don’t do well right away there might be problems at wide receiver, but Tim Hiller will find his targets and get them numbers. The tight ends will be good, as always.
Proven stars. Nunez is good, but can he carry the receiving corps? The offense loses 209 catches, 2,452 yards, and 19 touchdowns with Jamarko Simmons, Schneider Julien and Branden Ledbetter gone.
Outlook: The numbers will be there and the passing game will be fantastic once again despite the loss of some star targets. Nunez is a good veteran to build around, while Ponder has superstar potential and Ravenell is good enough to quickly become one of Hiller’s favorite targets. There are decent options all across the board with Arnheim and Patterson good prospects to develop, but they’re not stars. The tight ends could be used even more, and they should be.
Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The line gets everyone back but Rob Johnson, a starter at both tackle spots where needed. He played the first eight games at right tackle before moving over to the left side. 6-5, 305-pound sophomore Anthony Parker will get the first look on the left side after switching around with Johnson. He started out the year on the left side before moving to the right. He was better on the right side when he didn’t have to deal with the speed rushers, but he’s a good athlete and he should grow into the role on the left.

The star of the line will be Phillip Swanson, a 6-4, 307-pound All-MAC performer who came up with a consistent year using his size to be a sledgehammer for the running game and the feet to be decent in pass protection. Versatile, he got two starts at left tackle before moving back over to his more natural guard spot. Keeping his weight in check is the big issue, he needs to stay under 310 pounds, but he’ll be fantastic as the team’s anchor.

Paul Wasikowski had to replace all-star Robbie Krutilla at center, and he did a good job when he was able to stay on the field. He was part of a rotation, but he started down the stretch in the final three games of the year. At 6-3 and 291 pounds, he has decent size and enough experience to start to be more consistent. He’s also versatile enough to move to guard when needed; he started two games, including the Illinois win, at right guard.

6-5, 307-pound junior Nick Clemens is back for his third year at right guard where he was the team’s only lineman to start every game at the same spot. He’s not all that quick and he’s not a star in pass protection, but he’s strong, can open holes for the running game, and he doesn’t make big mistakes. A winner, he was the leader of a line that won a Wisconsin high school state championship.

Getting the start at right tackle is the massive 6-6, 340-pound sophomore, Jonathan Jack. He has the size, but he has to prove he can use it on a regular basis to improve the running game. Even though he’s a bit too big, he carries it well and moves stunningly well for a large tackle.

Projected Top Reserves: Depth is a problem everywhere but center, where 6-1, 290-pound junior Nick Mitchell split time with Paul Wasikowski.  He started seven times and was more than solid when Wasikowski had to move over to guard. He’s a good veteran who’ll be a major factor somewhere on the inside throughout the season.

Adding more size to the equation is Ben Samson, a 6-4, 345-pound tackle who’s being penciled into the rotation on the right size behind Jack. A good prospect who needs to keep working on his weight, he’ll be a key blocker on the outside over the next few years.

Watch Out For ... the freshmen. There’s little to no depth across the front line meaning two redshirt freshmen, Sam Jaeger and Kevin Galeher, will be the key backups at guard, while true freshman Ben Samson needs to be ready to step in at tackle.
The starting five. Assuming Jonathan Jack is ready at right tackle, the starting five should be rock solid. The run blocking was mediocre, but this group was fantastic in pas protection allowing just 14 sacks in 535 pass attempts.
Depth. It’ll be a nightmare if there are major injury problems early on. The Broncos will be relying on several untested players to be see key minutes, and if they have to start, it’s uh-oh time.
Outlook: One of the better surprises of the season, the line rebuilt in a hurry and became one of the team’s strengths. There aren’t any sure-thing all-stars, outside of Phillip Swanson but there are good, large veterans all across the starting five to form a brick wall in pass protection. They could stand to do more for the running game, but they’re good when they have to be. The problem is the lack of proven depth, but there’s talent to build up and develop.
Rating: 5.5