When you’re at rock bottom, there’s only one place to go. Second-year coach Ron English and his staff will look to an influx of junior college players and the benefit of his returning players to improve a team that went winless in 2009.
If the Eagles are to improve, they will have to do so with two unproven quarterbacks. In the MAC, a team is only as good as its quarterback.
The conference has always been pass oriented and last season when the Eagles had to rely on their freshman quarterback, they struggled. It will be interesting to see how second-year quarterback Alex Gillett handles the role with a full off-season to prepare.
Gillett saw plenty of playing time last season after veteran Andy Schmitt went down with a season-ending injury. He appears to be a frontrunner for the starting job but never looked completely comfortable in the role last season.
The only other quarterback on the roster, redshirt freshman Devontae Payne, will also see some time on the field. Payne stands at 6’6” and is more of a traditional pocket passer than Gillett but still knows how to scramble.
In his senior season at South High School in Cleveland, Payne threw for 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns with only four interceptions, and ran for 166 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Much of the quarterback situation depends on the rest of the offense, which can be described as mediocre. The line is a work in progress.
A large part of English’s off-season program was getting his linemen (on both sides of the ball) bulked up. He hosted breakfasts to make sure players were eating enough to gain the mass needed to compete.
English also added larger pieces by recruiting junior college players. Junior college players are generally more developed than an incoming freshman from a physical and skill set stand point. Junior college players are a great way for EMU to get immediate help on the lines.
A gain in mass for the offensive line could mean a larger gain of yards for Dwayne Priest, the team’s senior tailback. Priest rushed for 633 yards last season, but look for that production to increase in 2010. English is desperate to establish a rushing game and Priest is the go-to guy right now.
The bulkier defensive line will help improve what can only be described as a dreadful defense. English has been outspoken about his defense not being physical enough. During the offseason English showed his defensive players tape of the 2006 U-M team. English wanted to show them tape of what a defense could do when they really “bought in.”
If the Eagles do “buy in,” they should see a dramatic improvement in their run defense. In 2009 their run defense looked more like a stationary obstacle course than something to be feared. Their pass defense put up solid numbers, but that in part was because teams were so busy rushing the ball.
Eastern looks to be improving its situation, but that may not show this season in the win-loss column. A tough out-of-conference schedule will test the Eagles with teams like Army right off the bat, along with a game at the horseshoe in Columbus at Ohio State.
Given this is only English’s second season in Ypsilanti, you have to grant him one more free pass. A reasonable expectation for this team will be a 2-10 record. The progress is there, but so is the difficult schedule. Expect at least one more year of struggle in Ypsilanti.