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Posted on Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 2:56 p.m.

Eastern Michigan football team focused on rebuilding defense, QB battle open in spring practice

By Michael Florek


Eastern Michigan football coach Ron English (center) is focused on defense during spring practice.

Joseph Tobianski |

None of the players on the current Eastern Michigan football team were born. Tight ends coach Tom Burpee was 5 years old. Running backs coach Mike Hart just 1.

In early December 1987, the Eagles played in the California Bowl, beating San Jose State. Twenty-five years later, it remains Eastern’s last bowl appearance.

After a 6-6 record last year, the program’s most wins in a season since 1995, the Eagles began spring practice with their best chance to end the quarter-century bowl drought.

Eastern lost just two starters off of its offense, but will have to rebuild a defense that led the turnaround. The defensive unit, which ranked 34th nationally in yards allowed, lost six starters.


The Eastern Michigan football team will hold its Green-White game at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 15 at Rynearson Stadium. Admission is free.

An athletic department garage sale will be held at noon and players and coaches will be available on the field for autographs and photographs after the event.

Nearly halfway through spring camp, Eastern coach Ron English, a former defensive coordinator, has honed in on his specialty, focusing on finding successors for his two departed safeties and three defensive linemen.

“We’ve transitioned well, we’ve recruited well," English said. "We’re just young and inexperienced.”

English brought in six defensive linemen in this year's recruiting class to replace second-team All-MAC performer Brad Ohrman, nose tackle Brandon Slater and defensive tackle Jabar Westerman. Two of them, Cy Maughmer and Travis Linser, are junior college transfers that enrolled in time to participate in spring practice.

Maughmer was rated the 77th-best defensive lineman in the nation by coming out of Apache Valley High School in Arizona. He spent one season at Glendale Community College while Linser played at Phoenix Community College.

With the duo in camp, along with defensive end Devin Henderson, a junior college transfer last year who sat out the season due to academic issues, the departing defensive linemen's impact lessens.

“Defensive line wise, we’ll be just fine,” English said. “Cy Maughmer is going to be stout. He really is. Travis Linser is really a freshman. This is his second semester in college … so he’s a little more raw, a little more youthful, but I think Cy is going to be really stout and really help us in there.

“(Henderson) is in camp now and he’s going to be a good football player like we thought he would be. “

The two safety positions are the more pressing concern. With it being early in spring ball, English refused to name possible candidates to fill the voids.

On the other side of the ball, English called the offense "a little bit ahead." But losing just two contributors doesn’t necessarily mean everything will be the same.


Alex Gillett is the returning starter at quarterback, but he's facing competition for the job in spring camp.

Jeff Sainlar |

Senior quarterback Alex Gillett has played in 33 games in his career and threw for 1,504 yards and 14 touchdowns with seven interceptions last season while leading the team in rushing with 918 yards.

Redshirt sophomore Tyler Benz threw just two passes this year while redshirt freshman Mark Iannotti hasn’t played a collegiate game.

Yet English, wasn’t ready to give the keys to the offense back to Gillett.

“We kind of told him we’re going to open this thing up for a competition,” English said. “We’re going to let him compete with the other guys on the roster and see who performs the best thing spring and make a decision there.

“Obviously Alex has the advantage because he’s played a lot of football here.”

For now, the defensive-minded English will leave most of that evaluation up to the offensive coaches. He has more pressing concerns.

“They all look the same to me,” he said of the quarterbacks. “I’m over there coaching the safeties right now, so I can’t think about anything but that.”

Michael Florek covers sports for Contact him at



Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 10:17 p.m.

Since coach English doesn't pay attention to the offense that explains why EMU has kept the same offensive coordinator. Too bad he doesn't know how to utilize a great talent when he has one right in front of him.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 3:06 p.m.

While I understand the concept of "everyone competes for their starting job" we all know Alex Gillett is the starter next season and the coach is missing a wonderful opportunity to give his team an identity and for a player to stand out. In my view, he should be celebrating Alex Gillett returning and thus, raising the expectations of both the players and the fan base. Coach is, well, a good coach so far (not great, they should have been 8-4 last year and were lucky to be 6-6) but this is still a program that lacks any identity whatsoever. Players roam the campus anonymously and the fan base is not taught to invest in its best players. Alex Gillett in two years has about about the same wins as than the last two QBs combined, yet coach plays down his role? Unless coach really does have someone else in mind to start he, and the program need to push Alex Gillett as the star of this team. Give the team and identity and let the fan base get excited about the fall and raise expectations. Lastly, getting a bowl bid should not be the goal of this team. Bowls are now proof only of mediocrity, which need not be celebrated. The goal of this team should be the MAC title.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 12:35 p.m.

Ok, at what point do we start talking about removing football from EMU? It's impossible to to get any talent to commit with big brother next door, every player(yes every player), gets at least a partial scholarship, the cost of running this program at this level is incredible. From a national spot light, wouldn't EMU be better served having a division 1 Mens hockey team, much like LSSU, Michigan Tech, Ferris State, Western Michigan, Miami(Ohio), etc. And put more emphasis on sports that we can compete in Soccer, wrestling, swimming/diving, etc. Let's be realistic, 6 wins, the most since 1995? We haven't had a season over .500 in 17 years? We are borderline to be being removed from Division 1-A status.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 2:35 a.m.

Impressed with the coaches? I wouldn't let the O coordinator coach a kids flag football team. I can't count the number of time he has been 1st and goal at the one and run three plays up the middle for no gain. There have been games he has called less than 10 pass plays, and than English blames the QB and the offense after the game for not getting it going. Now he admits he has no idea what the offense is doing. Not that that is a real suprise to anyone. Good Luck Eagles.

Terry Star21

Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 9:40 p.m.

I would like to encourage all my Michigan football friends to frequent these Eastern football games and hep support our neighbors to the east, whenever possible. I had the opportunity to see three of their games last year when Michigan didn't play - I was impressed with the coaches, payers and team. One was a great come from behind, as exciting as you will ever see. Problem is, there weren't more than 3,000 in the entire stadium (to my best calc.). And they have a great barbecue sandwich, with two sides and cake for $5.00 (about the cost of a bottle of water @ M). our neighbors fine EMU football


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 8:10 p.m.

Wow, Coach English sure has a short memory. I guess the number 1 passer and number 1 rusher for the last two seasons does not deserve his support. I guess it was that great defense of his that has led EMU since he has been here.