The first couple of seasons for Chris Creighton haven’t exactly been years you would see put into the EMU Athletic Hall of Fame, but they were crucial years in the building process of what Creighton envisions for the future of the football program.
The 2016 team was able to showcase their skills Saturday afternoon in Eastern Michigan’s Green (defense) vs. White (offense) spring football game. With an adjusted scoring system, the defense defeated the offense, 28-20, where many of the younger players apart of Creighton’s recruiting classes saw action in hopes to make an impact on the field in the fall.
EMU lost a big part of last years offense with running back Darius Jackson graduating. The good news is the Eagles return Jackson’s partner in crime, Shaq Vann but Vann might not be the only one to stand out in the backfield for EMU this season.
“The challenge to all of us has been, how can we have a 1-2, or 1-2-3 punch [at running back] so that we’re not taking a step back from this last year,” Creighton said. “We want our program moving forward in every way.”
Although its clear Vann will take the starting job, the reliever in the backfield is still up for grabs. Breck Turner, a redshirt freshman, stood out at the running back position today having more carries than any other running back, multiple carries for over 5-yards, multiple broken tackles, and was finding holes in the offensive line. Ian Eriksen is another running back in contention for a spot on the field, but didn’t see the action due to an injury, but will be ready for the season.
“Shaq is very comfortable in that lead role,” Creighton said. “And we absolutely believe in Ian Eriksen and Breck Turner. There’s not a clear cut number two.”
The wide receiver position is very young compared to past seasons. Only four of the ten players returning have game experience, none of them with more than one year. Injuries have sidelined some of the receivers, but redshirt-freshmen receivers Dieuly Aristilde and Kezio Snelling shined amongst the strongest on the field with the first and second team offenses.
If there’s one thing that needed to be fixed from a year ago, it was stopping the run. EMU ranked last in all of college football in the stopping teams on the ground, but new defensive coordinator Neal Neathery implemented a new 4-2-5 defense in hopes to solve the defensive woes.
“I just want to make sure guys are learning what they’re supposed to do,” Creighton said. “To be able to play fast, and tackle, and be able to get to the football.”
On the defensive line, Pat O’Connor returned to the field after being sidelined in the 2015 season with a shoulder injury, Jeremiah Harris is back to being healthy after a hand injury, and Luke McLean amongst other veterans return up front for EMU. The new name that caught the eyes of many is redshirt-freshman Maxx Crosby.
“[Crosby] was the defensive scout team player of the year last year,” Creighton stated. “He’s really taken some big steps forward this spring.”
The biggest question mark on the defensive side of the ball will be who will start at linebacker. With only two linebacker spots on the field as apposed to four from a year ago it has made it very competitive position.
In 2015, Anthony Zappone’s season ended with an ACL tear, but was back on the field alongside Kyle Rachwal, a redshirt-sophomore that saw more of the field toward the end of last season. Jaylen Pickett moved to linebacker from being a safety, and EMU returns Ike Spearman, Derric Williams, Nathan Adams, among many others trying to work their way into a starting role, which Creighton says could be determined during the season.
Eastern Michigan opens up the season at home with Mississippi Valley State on Sept. 3.
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