Head Coach: Chris Creighton (Second Year)
MAC PRESEASON POLL: Sixth, MAC West
► How much improvement can the Eagles make with one season under head coach Chris Creighton under their belts?
► Quarterback Reginald Bell showed some special talents at times in his freshman season. Is he capable of more, or will defensive focus on him limit his impact?
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► With a massive turnover along the offensive line, can EMU find enough answers to protect the quarterback and open some running lanes?
► Can a defense that ranked among the bottom of some national statistics improve enough to give EMU more chances to win?
► Reginald Bell enters 2015 as the face of hope for Eastern Michigan football. He brings excitement to the Eagles offense and is capable of ripping off huge gains (e.g. two 70 yard runs against Buffalo last year). His 409 yards passing against Ball State show that he is also a capable passer. On the season, Bell completed 105 of 184 attempts (57.1%) for 1,297 yards with nine TDs and six interceptions. Although his passing rating of 125.9 was 10th in the conference, Bell is a true dual threat who might be even more dangerous with the right pieces around him.
►TE Tyreese Russell, the Eagles leading receiver last year, is gone. Among those returning are Dustin Creel and Kris Strange. However, they combined for just 38 receptions and 407 yards. Just how much help young receivers entering the program can provide this year remains to be seen. Creel is trying to shake off an injury. “He’s injured, but it’s not like a season-ending deal.” Creighton said several practices into fall camp.
► “If guys learn and make us better, we’re not holding people back because they are freshman. … We’ve got a lot of folks that are competing to play,“ Creighton said.
► Some of the biggest turnover comes along the offensive line, which allowed 35 sacks last year (2nd MAC). That came with a largely senior line, so a major task will be building a serviceable – or better – unit. “Basically, there is just one guy in the senior class on the offensive line,” Creighton said. “We’ve got a couple quality freshmen offensive linemen, but we’ve been trying to get .. an upper class guy to come in and fill in. … I’ve been around enough to know that anytime you’re counting on freshmen, you’re probably in trouble, because as good as they may be, it’s a question of whether they are ready or not.”
► The offensive line will be anchored by junior tackle Andrew Wylie.
► Establishing a running game beyond Bell would help. But with massive turnover along the offensive line and the departure of Bronson Hill and Ryan Brumfield, the challenge could be a real uphill climb. As it was, EMU averaged a MAC worst 3.7 ypc in 2014. Darius Jackson could step into the tailback role after splitting time as a runner and receiver last year.
► Allowing 40.9 points per game speaks for itself. The hope is that seven returning starters and another year in the same defense (for a change) will create some improvement.
► Senior LB Great Ibe led the Eagles with 133 tackles. His 11.1 average was third among all MAC defenders. Ibe owned 11 TFL, including five sacks, and should anchor a strong linebacker group this season. Junior linebacker Anthony Zappone was third in stops last season with 90.
► Safety Jason Beck, a true freshman last year, returns at safety after finishing fourth with 86 tackles. Junior college transfer Ikie Calderon, was part of a first wave of incoming players this spring. He could help at safety. Junior DaQuan Pace returns on the edge. “It’s a good group,” Creighton said. “I think DeQuan Pace is a fantastic corner.”
► Senior Pat O’Connor is a stalwart along the front line. He totaled 64 tackles, with 14 TFL and a very impressive 7.5 sacks. He’s a potentially productive fit at several spots along the front.
► Senior Dylan Mulder hit 8 of 12 field goal attempts in 2014. Three came from beyond the 40. Competition at other spots will be determined by the opener – or maybe even later. Improving punt and kickoff performance is likely one of several areas of focus this fall.
► Eastern Michigan opens the season with a home game Sept. 5 against old Dominion. It’s one of three home tilts for the Eagles in September. The only road game is Sept. 12 at Wyoming.
► October will be tough month for EMU. It begins with a trip to Baton Rouge, La. for a game against LSU. That is followed by a home game against Akron, which put a 31-6 loss on Eastern last year. Road games at Toledo and Northern Illinois follow before the month wraps up with Western Michigan at home.
Miami, which also won two games in 2014, will host EMU Nov. 7. UMass, which has a very potent offense, provides the opposition for Eastern’s final home game, while the Eagles wrap up the regular season at Central Michigan.
► “We think there are some guys that were not on our team (last year) that now will be able to contribute.” – Creighton, commenting on the last year’s redshirts, incoming transfers and the new freshman class.
► The MAC Media preseason poll is far from perfect in its prognostications. However, given Eastern’s rugged schedule, inexperience on the offensive side and a defense that has much to prove, the Eagles may be hard-pressed to move up in the standings this season. Incremental improvement would be a building block for better things up the road. “The whole team is hungry to keep getting better, so we feel we’re making improvement,” Creighton said last week.