Quarterback Matt Bohnet has graduated after giving the Eagles solid play for two straight seasons. Bohnet, a transfer from Iowa, ranked 36th in the nation in total offense and passed for 2,181 yards and 14 touchdowns. Tyler Jones looks to be the stater in 2006 after passing for 245 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 267 and a TD. The very athletic Jones looked good last season in games against Toledo and Miami (Ohio). Pressing Jones for playing time at quarterback is Andy Schmitt. Schmitt is bigger at 6-4, 225-pounds, and is also athletic.
Running Backs The tailback position in 2005 was "assignment by committee." Several players received quality playing time including two true freshmen, Dwayne Harrison and Tim Conner. Harrison gained 236 yards on 58 rushes while Conner added 137 yards on 45 rushes. Pierre Walker was injured in the opener and awarded a medical hardship season and will return along with newcomer Corey Everson and redshirt freshman Olufemi Ogundari. There is not a lot of size within this running back unit or a certain “featured back” but there is speed and talent. Three incoming freshmen, Richard Franklin, LJ Robertson and Clint Allen, will press for playing time too. At least one of these true freshmen will see the field this fall. Overall, EMU needs a better rushing attack this fall after ranking 85th last season.
Receivers/Tight Ends Eric Deslauriers (6-5, 205) enters his final year as a top five active receiver in four categories. The Canadian product has the size, speed and hands to play at the next level and is on the preseason Fred Biletnikoff Watch list for the nation’s top receiver. Deslauriers often receives double-teaming but still had an 875-yard receiving season with 8 TDs in ’05. There is plenty of firepower in the receiving corps returning with Travis Lewis (6-2, 197) and Trumaine Riley (5-8, 164). The speedy Riley also returns kicks (finished sixth in the league in kickoff returns with a 22.4 average). There is good receiver depth with John Bonner, Jacory Stone and Brian Ceckiewicz. The tight end position is very solid with former QB prospect Ken Bohnet (6-5, 245) (Matt’s younger brother) and R.J. Montemayor (6-5, 245). Bohnet grabbed 11 balls for 64 yards while playing just six games due to injury. Montemayor played in 10 games last year and had one touchdown.
Offensive Linemen The offensive line returns four of five starters. Tackles Courtney Ford (6-5, 302) and Kevin Minor (6-2, 289) join guards Khalid Walton (6-4, 320) and Chris Thomas (6-4, 315) as this unit brings size and experience into the offense. The lone hole to fill on the front line will be Mike Romeli’s center position – a mainstay of the EMU offense for four years starting 37 games during his career. Desi Mayner is the new center. JUCO transfer Tom Schmeding will press for the starting position at one tackle spot this fall. The highly recruited Schmeding is huge (6-6, 310) and can move. Kevin Minor, Jake Bleeker and former DT Joe Charles (6-1, 309) are solid backups. Overall there is good depth and talent along the EMU offensive line which has become one of the team’s primary strengths.
Defensive Linemen The defensive line returns three players who proved to be very good and can certainly become one of the top D-lines in the MAC this season. DE Kevin Howe (6-3, 245) along with defensive tackles Jason Jones (6-5, 252) and Josh Hunt (6-5, 275) each return. Howe earned second-team All-MAC honors in 2005 after finishing 2nd in the league in sacks (10.5) while adding 16 tackles-for-loss. Jones is a former high school basketball star and recorded a solid season with 47 total tackles with 6.5 sacks. Hunt is a transfer from Colorado and did well starting in 10 of 11 games and recording 37 tackles. Still, this undersized defensive line finished last in the MAC in tackles for loss. Corey Riley is the other DE with Greg Egbuigu and TJ Lang as top backups. Several true freshmen enter this fall with a good chance to earn a spot in the two-deep lineup but none of the five DL prospects are bigger than 260-pounds. EMU gave up 199 yards per game last year on the ground - that stat should be much better this season.
Linebackers The entire linebacking crew returns, including freshman All-American Daniel Holtzclaw. Make it known now, Holtzclaw is one of the top LBs in the MAC and will certainly receive votes for the conference defensive player of the year award. The true freshman opened eyes throughout the league finishing ninth in the nation in interceptions with five and also recorded 91 total tackles – 3rd best on the team. Michael Richardson and Darran Matthews also return. Richardson recorded 102 tackles last season with Matthews adding 64. The strength of the defense is this starting LB unit. Corey Jackson and Spenser Smith return as top backups providing quality depth. True freshman Andre Hatchett, a speedy LB prospect from Indianapolis, turned down an offer from Toledo to play at EMU. He will make an impact this fall as either a starter, special teams player, or a top backup.
Defensive Backs The defensive secondary needs work with three of four starters graduated. Gone are Rontrell Woodruff, Corey Parker and Steven Lewis. Woodruff was a second-team All-MAC selection last year and accounted for 110 tackles with Parker adding 83 tackles. The lone returnee in the secondary is CB Duan Bracey (5-9, 189). Bracey can play any of the four secondary spots as well as fill in as a kick return specialist. The list of DB prospects includes Lyle Garrison, Blake Smith, Jacob Wyatt, Corey Reid, Chris Campa, and Chris May. Along with limited experience, there is limited size with the players listed above. That can be a real problem in a pass-happy league that has several receivers that stand 6-3 or taller. The Eagles ranked #46 in pass defense last year.
Special Teams Andrew Wellock is one of the top place kickers in the country. He was a runner-up for the 2004 Lou Groza Award as the top kicker in the nation and enters his senior season as a top preseason candidate. He already holds the EMU career record with 52 field goals and tied the school record for career long with a 52-yard field goal in the 2005 season finale at Buffalo. While Wellock did not have his normal spectacular year in 2005, look for him to rebound in 2006 – he also handles punts.
Final Thoughts Eastern Michigan was just a few points away from a seven or eight win season last year. Instead, they found ways to lose games at the end they should have won and finished 4-7 for the second straight year under Jeff Genyk. Two of the key offensive areas for Genyk to find consistency in are quarterback and tailback. The offense line and receiving units should be quite good. The defensive side of the ball could be one of their strongest in recent memory with seven returning starters. The big problem with the defense is DB area where proven experience and limited size may cause a serious problem. If EMU can find ways to win the close games they lost last year, a six or seven win season is not out of the question. Given their difficult and down-right unfriendly ’06 schedule, look for the Eagles to struggle this year in the win column but actually field a much better team than their final record indicates.
Mark it down! EMU will not win “The Michigan MAC Championship” this season – Coach Jeff Genyk coined this phase two years ago when he was hired and preaches to win these two games first and foremost. Hosting a much-improved Central Michigan team and traveling to Western Michigan will take its toll on the Eagles. In fact, they may lose both games this season.
Schedule Analysis This is not a favorable schedule at all for EMU. Opening the season with three straight road games including the season opener against divisional rival Ball State really stinks. Non-conference games against MSU, Northwestern and Navy are virtually unwinnable for this program while a road trip to Louisiana-Lafayette should be entertaining. League crossover games with BG, Ohio and Kent State are very manageable, but playing six of your first eight games on the road is not. EMU was dead last in the national last year in home attendance average (just over 5K per game) – don’t look for those numbers to go much higher this year with three of their five home games played in November.
Most Important Game Hosting Central Michigan on September 23. This is the home opener against a long-time rival after three straight road games to begin the season. The Eagles beat the ‘Chips at Mount Pleasant last year in overtime and really need to get a win at home before two more road trips.