Five questions surrounding Eastern Michigan football
You don't need to be around Ron English long before his enthusiasm and intensity shows. Now that he's at the head of an Eastern Michigan program where players and were lackadaisical at times last season, will his personality be contagious on game day?
Given his fiery on-field demeanor, English will have to light a fire under his players if he hopes to get them to play with passion against other schools besides rival Central Michigan. With a new system in place, there are going to be learning curves. But if, as Eastern Michigan quarterback Andy Schmitt contends, everyone has bought into English's system, how does that translate to the Eagles' play on the field? English doesn't strike people as the most patient person in the world. But until Eastern shows it can make the new system work, English's toughness and attention to detail will have to fill in the gaps.Can the offense produce consistently? Eastern Michigan showed hints of what it is capable of the last two weeks of the season last year against Temple and Central Michigan. Two games: 108 points. Schmitt set an NCAA single-game completion record with 58 while setting five school records with 516 passing yards in a 56-52 win over the Chippewas. But there were plenty of games where Eastern couldn't muster two touchdowns in a spread offense that wasn't a new concept to the Eagles' skill players. Now, in a pro-style offense that Schmitt and his teammates say better suits them, producing shouldn't be an issue. Eastern returns leading rusher Terrence Blevins and leading receiver Jacory Stone from an offense that averaged 417.5 yards per game. In recent years, Eastern - which was outscored on average by 10 points per game last season - has found ways to shoot itself in the foot in prime scoring chances. A pair of four-win seasons during former coach Jeff Genyk's tenure easily could have yielded six or seven wins. With a new system, the Eagles should concentrate on consistency rather than trying to turn things around in one season.
Where does the defensive leadership come from? Two weeks into camp, English said no defensive starter has emerged as a leader. After losing All-MAC linebacker Daniel Holtzclaw and safety Jacob Wyatt - the team's second-leading tackler - to graduation, the Eagles need to find someone to produce the energy that Holtzclaw provided. Given English's experience as a defensive coordinator at Michigan and Louisville, the defense will get plenty of attention. But once the season begins, someone - whether it be defensive lineman Brad Ohrman or linebackers Jermaine Jenkins or Andre Hatchett - has to take ownership of a group that ranked next to last in the Mid-American Conference in rush defense.
Is English the coach that reverses football fortunes? Given his coaching pedigree and the glowing endorsement he received from former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, English was by far the best candidate to replace Genyk. Yet, for all of his football know-how and name recognition, English still has to build Eastern's program. The cover the school's football media guide reads, "Embrace the Process." English is smart enough to know that turning things around at a school that hasn't posted a winning record in football in 14 years won't happen overnight. English, who has put his dedication to righting the ship out on billboards and TV commercials, has to figure out a way to make the most of what he's got. Will he be able to steal a recruit from a bigger-name program here and there? Maybe. But he has quickly learned that to make a difference, he has to change the culture. He has a good talent base to begin that process. But before long, he will find himself working from scratch, leaving him to rely on all the things that got him the job to try and move the Eagles toward respectability.
So what do the Eagles do this year? There is no Indiana State gimme to start the season. Eastern faces Big Ten opponents on the road in two of its first three games. If the Eagles could manage to beat Army at home on Sept. 5, that at least gets English's first win out of the way early. Eastern had a disappointing 17-13 loss to the Black Knights at West Point last year in a game when the Eagles had every opportunity to steal a road win. Finding wins from there on out isn't an easy task for a team again projected to finish in the MAC's West Division basement. But should the Eagles find a way to steal some games - especially on the road against Central Michigan, Northern Illinois or Toledo - and Eastern better its 3-9 showing from a year ago. Best case scenario: 5-7. Worst case scenario: 1-11.