The Eastern Michigan Eagles held their annual spring football game at Rynearson Stadium on Saturday, first time ever on the new gray turf. It was a Green vs. White matchup, where the scoring is set up so it's essentially offense vs. defense. The White team had a good performance, winning 42-27 over Green.
"The biggest thing is we wanted to be more disciplined as a program," head coach Chris Creighton said after the spring game. "If nothing else, we brought attention to that."
Creighton continues, "Being the second year in the same offensive, defensive and special teams system there's some growth for sure. I think it's the first time for anyone in the program to have consecutive seasons with the same system."
Reggie Bell will more than likely start over Brogan Roback
A few short days before the Eagles opened up at home against the Morgan State Bears, Creighton announced that Reggie Bell, not 4-star prospect Brogan Roback, not LSU transfer Rob Bolden, but the redshirt freshman would be the starting quarterback. Bell was the guy then, Bell was the guy basically throughout the season and he'll probably be the starter against the Old Dominion Monarchs on September 5.
In these practices, you're basically playing two-hand touch against the quarterback, which meant that they were always spotted down even if there was some breathing room for either quarterback to still make a play and escape the pressure. When it comes to preparation, that doesn't seem to negatively affect the probable season-opening starter.
"They're calling me down in three yards when I feel like I could have broke for a big one," Bell said, "but I'm not going to say that it doesn't get me into the flow. I think it's all mental."
It's no secret that Roback has been battling for this spot. In the first half, Bell went 3-for-15 for 15 yards in the first half while Roback went 2-for-5 for 22 yards.
"I think he played pretty well," Bell said when asked about Roback's performance. "I just think we need to clean up some things up front to give him time to sit back and throw the ball. He made some good checks; I think he played well overall." The offensive line had enough trouble with the defensive front getting to the backfield time and time again, which had a lot to do with how the game went. All things considered, Bell still seemed to be the guy who can be a playmaker in this offense.
Reggie Bell spotted well short of the goal line after stepping out of bounds on this play, but was still able to finish the drive on a high note with a TD pass to H-back Cole Gardner.
"We've been throwing extra after practice, meeting up and going over film," Bell says after the spring game. "just putting in that extra time, obviously it's really helped." It's good to know that he likes to plan ahead, noting that he sees senior receivers Dustin Creel, Cole Gardener and Indiana transfer Kevin Davis as his go-to guys when they're in a third & long situation. Davis was a 4-star prospect out of high school.
Darius Jackson didn't participate; Blake Banham raised some eyebrows
Darius Jackson starting at running back is easily the most locked-in spot on this offense. He did not play in the spring game, but that made for a good opportunity for Juwan Lewis, Blake Banham and Shaq Vann to showcase their abilities. Besides, the second, third, fourth, etc. spots on the depth chart are tough to earn.
"It's going to be a very competitive spot," head coach Chris Creighton said. "We lack depth in a lot of areas right now, but running back is not one of them." Bell backed this up, saying how they all bring something to the table. "Juwan is more of a big, stocky power back. He doesn't go down easy... Blake is the shifty guy. I can hand it to him or you can put him out in slot... you can put him in different positions." Bell also added that Shaq plays a good contrast between power and shifty, and Jackson's got some speed to his game but can still be seen as "a power back as well."
"They all have a different uniqueness that I like about them."
Blake Banham, 5-foot-10 running back from Minnesota, lined up at different positions. Running back, slot receiver, punt returner, anywhere suitable for a little quick guy is where Banham played. Never really got any attention when he came to EMU, but his versatility and his speed didn't go unnoticed.
"Blake has shown up all spring," Creighton said. "He is a football player and a guy that we could count on. We red-shirtted all but two guys in the freshman class so there's going to be some new faces out there in our current freshman class, not to mention the incoming class."
But if there is going to be a guy that's the go-to backup for Jackson, there's a pretty good case for that to be redshirt junior Juwan Lewis.
Juwan Lewis goes 61 yards up the middle on the read option.
Offensive line is in a state of flux
When Creighton was asked if he looks for size over strength, or either over speed in the way, he responded by saying that he's just looking for the best football players to get the job done.
"We have some different combinations... we're trying to find our top five." Based on what I saw, it looks like the the possible starting five from left to right is Ka'John Armstrong, Darian Miles, Kent Collins, Matt Thornton and Andrew Wylie. Creighton noted that Jeremy Hickey and Dakota Tallman are also flexible options to insert into the line, able to play multiple positions.
Creighton did not say if anybody's "locked in" to a starting role.
FWIW, the defense played well against this offense
Playing without All-MAC honoree Pat O'Connor, Creighton cycled only five defensive linemen. Jeremiah Harris, 6-foot-5, 243-pound sophomore led the way with a pair of sacks. "We came out today," Harris said. "Defense was on fire. It was awesome."
Clay Dawson, 6-foot-4 senior who transferred from Phoenix College got some playing time at the defensive end position, and if nothing else, showed that he's big enough to hold the position down.
Note to self: Clay Dawson has size pic.twitter.com/ybqhOJMlFM— Alex Alvarado (@ARAlvarado13) April 4, 2015
"[Dawson] didn't play much at all this past year, so this spring has been really important for him," Creighton said. "We had to have people step up, and he's been one of the people that has stepped up. He needs to continue to improve to close the gap."
O'Connor was always getting the team pumped up, hooting and hollering like the leader he's been for this team, and was pleased with what he saw from his defense. "We can pick it up from last year, we have the guys to do it and we're in the positions that we could do it." "POC" also notes that not having to learn a new playbook has been a bonus for the team's preparations.
Ike Spearman, leading tackler from the 2013 season that missed all of last year, played with the first string unit, but was helped off of the field with an apparent ankle injury soon after Lewis' long run.
Ikie Calderon looks to be the guy to take Pudge Cotton's role as that hard hitting safety, but redshirt freshman cornerback Ross Williams came away with an interception in the first half of the game.
The offense has playmakers, but the offensive line needs to hold its own. That's not a promising situation at the moment. Reggie Bell will probably be the starting quarterback and he'll have earned it. You probably won't miss Bronson Hill. EMU's changed playbooks for too many years in a row now. These players are fortunate enough to have the same ones for two years in a row, so that's one less hurdle to deal with.