Eastern Michigan Eagles
Head coach Ron English has his work cut out for him, if he is still around. The former defensive coordinator at Michigan has a challenged offense and a surprisingly bad defense that gave up a whopping 43 points per game last season. With so many holes to fill there is tremendous room for improvement but this team won’t get any better until they figure out a way to even slowdown opposing offenses. English gets seven starters back on this defense but will a year of experience and playing together result in improved results?
The offense is clearly the strength of this team with third year starter Alex Gillett taking the snaps. He is more of a runner than a passer but the Eagles need more through the air. Gillett ran for 766 yards and threw for another 1,600+ on 56% but a 13/13 TD to interception ratio won’t cut it. The receiving corps has a few quality players but need to have the ball delivered in a catchable manner. Kinsman Thomas (26-473) was the second leading receiver a year ago but needs to boost his numbers substantially as the top option in 2011. The rest of this unit will be a mix of players which is similar to last season with 150 passes completed to 15 different targets. Being able to run the ball will help open up the passing attack but Eastern Michigan lost their top runner in Dwayne Priest and will likely use a three pronged attack with Dominique Sherrer, Javonti Greene and freshman Ryan Brumfield who might end up getting the majority of the carries. The offensive line played reasonably well in pass protection but led the Eagles to over 173 rushing yards per game which was second in the league. With four starters back this unit should be the strength of the offense.
The good news for the defense is that seven starters are back and the bad news is this group was lit up weekly for 454 yards and over 43 points so will experience help? The defensive line had virtually no pass rush as they finished just 118 th nationally with ten sacks. This isn’t a big line and run oriented teams will not think twice about trying to pound the ball on the ground. Brandon Slater looks like the best of the lot at DT but EMU is hoping depth and constantly rotating bodies will keep the defensive front fresh. The linebackers made a lot of plays in 2010 but too many were downfield. Marcus English is the most experienced, starting all 12 games a year ago but needs to be more of a factor after making just 37 stops. JUCO transfers Sean Kurtz, Blake Poole and Justin Cudworth are players to watch and should contribute immediately. The Eastern Michigan secondary allowed 224 passing yards last season which could have been worse if teams wanted to throw the ball but didn’t with the success to be had on the ground. Corner Marcell Rose is the returning leader after making 56 stops and recording six interceptions. Marlon Pollard transferred from UCLA and should make an immediate impact while safety Martavius Cardwell made 46 tackles in 2010 despite missing half the games.
Sean Graham was 5 of 8 on field goals but doesn’t have a big leg and anything beyond 35 yards is iffy. Jay Karutz averaged under 36 yards per boot which wasn’t earth shattering for a team that needs to win the field position war. Marlon Pollard will get a chance to bring back punts and Corey Welch is back to return kicks after averaging 21 yards a year ago.
English seems to have a little more to work with than in his previous two years so there should be some improvement. No, not enough to win the MAC West but maybe enough to escape the division basement and maybe not. I don’t expect the defense to be as porous and with a decent running game and a bit more production through the air Eastern Michigan should at least be more respectable which is a vast improvement in itself.