Cold and rain couldn't ruin Eastern Michigan's spirits during 2022 spring game
EMU's got a lot of to figure out with its QB room between now and the start of the season, and they got to compete in heavy rain and winds above 15 mph.
It was too cold and wet for comfort (say for some fans), but Eastern Michigan closed out its spring agenda with its 15th practice of the season in front of dedicated fans and over 300 prospective high school recruits. Eastern Michigan fans that stuck around to the end of the practice either watched from the stands, or tried to stay dry by watching it from inside the George Gervin Center.
For EMU's spring game, the team was divided into two sides of a condensed version of a football game, with some added wrinkles (this is a practice, not a full-fledged game, after all). Practices aren’t allowed to last any longer than 75 minutes, so there were four, shorter quarters with running clocks. Kickoffs and punts were also modified to get through the simulation.
The rosters for the two sides were decided via draft; senior safety Russ Vaden picked for the Green team, and senior tight end Gunnar Oakes picked for the White team.
Again, tough to establish the pass when the ball's wet and winds travel at 15-ish mph, but there were still some deep pass attempts for fans to wonder at. Not many of them hit, but that’s almost not as important as what EMU’s football team was able to show.
A quick Google search will show you how many players have lost and gained to the transfer portal, but in watching the spring game, I saw a team that acted like it had a huge returning cast that continued to set the standard for its newcomers.
“We don't have a huge influx of new guys, but we do have two transfer linebackers and I think that have come a real long way, and obviously at quarterback, those are a couple of positions where we had guys come in at [the start of] the semester. So there’s massive improvement there,” EMU head coach Chris Creighton said after the spring game. “We're definitely going to need the summer and we still have our class that's coming in, and maybe a couple of potential transfers that are going to come and help as well.
“But I really like where we're at and where we're headed.”
Outside of quarterback and tight end, position groups weren’t totally depleted from outgoing players in the offseason. There’s improvement for the newcomers currently on roster to make this summer, and more players will end up transferring into the program over the next couple of months. Plus, we didn’t see all of EMU’s new guys either. The high school signees for the 2022 class were in attendance, but they won’t be with the team until June.
The final score isn’t what was important (White won, 10-7), and it was hard to get a complete read on this team in such a short amount of time. But that doesn’t mean I left the practice without a few notes worth sharing.
On the QB room
By season’s end last year, EMU felt good about this position with a strong QB1 in Ben Bryant and an experienced, sometimes exciting QB2 in Preston Hutchinson. Now, Bryant’s transferred back to Cincinnati and Hutchinson is at UT-Chattanooga. No QBs joined the team in the early signing period, which meant Austin Smith was the most experienced QB on the team, and that’s only because he came in for a drive during the 59-21 blowout over Texas State last season.
So, EMU went portal shopping. In January, Taylor Powell announced his decision to transfer from Troy (started out at Missouri) to EMU as a graduate student. Powell’s got a decent deep arm, but he’ll find most of his success through his accuracy.
“I think that the relationship with the quarterbacks and receivers have been so good,” receiver Tanner Knue said following the spring game. “Taylor coming in, he was really outgoing and made it his objective to build a relationship with us, and we've all had a relationship with all the quarterbacks that have been here, so it was just a seamless transition. I think the offseason work of throwing extra and doing extra (will pay) off.”
Freshman Cam’Ron McCoy also came to the team in January from Cincinnati, and is a dual-sport athlete as a member of EMU’s baseball team as well. McCoy escaped pressure on one particular play and used his long stride to run for a first down. He had one errant deep pass, and another pass to a freshman receiver would be picked off by fourth-year sophomore Kempton Shine.
Smith, entering his third year with the program, had about as many reps as Powell, performed just fine. Again, not a ton of huge plays to speak of from the practice, but he doesn’t seem like a young QB that was confused on what was asked of him last night.
Baron May, a year older than Smith, and Christopher Kaminski, a walk-on that’s been with the team since 2019, both had some time on the field as well. Kaminski had the day’s only passing touchdown — a 74-yarder at that — as he found Tanner Knue get behind an entire defense that bit on a play-action pass.
Said Crieghton on the state of his quarterback room: “We've had a really good spring in terms of our quarterback development, there's no question. Austin got here a year ago in January, so he's been here all year... So he was the guy that was most familiar with our offense and probably had the most playing time of our quarterbacks, and he's had a really good spring for sure.
“Taylor Powell's a transfer from Troy and Missouri that got here in January and he's had a really good spring. Crazy how quickly he's picked up our offense and he's been able to exectue it.
“And Cam, like Austin, [is a freshman that] came in January; has a crazy strong arm, but like all freshmen, you know, he's learning and trying to pick it all up.”
Who stood out?
Jesus Gomez is currently the only kicker on the roster, which means he was pulling double duty. Gomez, left-legged, made a 53-yard kick that just cleared the crossbar. The game’s last play was another field goal attempt by Gomez going the other direction, from much shorter (30-something yards), wide right. Still, it’s worth nothing that Gomez does have the ability to hit a 50-yarder in crap weather.
The receiving corps of Dylan Drummond, Hassan Beydoun, and Tanner Knue is super reliable. Obviously, Knue dashed for a 74-yard score on a throw from Kaminski. Knue also caught a paif of passes from Smith in one late drive to help offense drive for most of the field and near the red zone.
To add to the WRs, I’Shawn Stewart had some looks, and even had one short play where he juked out a Green team defender for extra yards.
While we’re here, let’s throw RB Bryson Moss on the list of noteworthy jukers on the night.
LB Joe Sparacio, incoming transfer from Boston College, and DL Jaden Gaines, a redshirt-freshman from Georgia, both recorded back-to-back “sacks” in a late defensive series.
LB Zach Mowchan, a freshman from Pennsylvania, played for both teams. When he wasn’t in his white #36 jersey, he covered it up with Maxx Crosby’s old, green, #98 practice jersey. Thought that was pretty neat.
CB Josh Scott, who just joined from City College of San Francisco, showed his hops to get a one-handed pass breakup that looked really skilled to pull off. I’ve got a good feeling about this incoming sophomore.
Returning safety T.J. Peavy notched a PBU early on as well, and Shine earned his INT later on.
Mikey Haney, not because he wowed me with a big hit, but because he exited the practice with an injury with 24 seconds left on the clock.
S Russ Vaden, on Korey Hernandez’s absence (injury)
Man, Korey is just… When we get Korey back, it's going to be a whole different ball game. Korey's definitely a playmaker. If we can get him fully back, I think he'll make a tremendous help to the defense.
S Russ Vaden, on breaking in new transfers
You have to be comfortable, and you have to have the knowledge. And I feel like staying after, talking to people who want to know more, it makes everything a lot easier. When you can sit down and talk to somebody and let them know what's going on and you can understand the standard — it's going to take some days, like failure is your biggest teacher. Throughout practice, it's been showing.
There's a lot of young guys that are willing to step up to the plate now, and I feel like that's going to take a load off of the seniors because they know that they have other weapons we can use to continue to keep this team winning.
S Russ Vaden, on his leadership style
Coming out of the injuries I've come off of and continued to be positive is a big thing for me. I feel like the biggest asset that I have is my energy and my positive aura. Just being positive about everything that I have going on, whether it's achilles tears, talking to other teammates about their injuries, just keeping it motivated. I think that's a big part of my leadership is being vocal, but also with my actions on the field and off the field.
WR Tanner Knue, on the weather
Coach Creighton calls it Winner Ball, so we've had great weather going up to today. I don't know, it was just fun regardless of the weather, it was just fun to get out there and play football with the guys, and do it one last time before the summer.
WR Tanner Knue, on WR coach Dyrell Roberts
I think he's done a great job. He's given us a little bit more flexibility of what we can use and when we can use it, and I think he's a great, great guy and great coach. I've learned so much from him technique-wise. He's taught me to use both hands at the line when I've only been taught how to use one hand, and how to attack things in different scenarios. I've had four different receiver coaches while I've been here, so I think taking things from each coach has helped me so much, and I think coach Rob's given me a lot in a short amount of time, and I'm really excited to work with him in the future. I think he's going to add so much to my game and the rest of the receivers' games.
Creighton, on missing players to injury
We've got a lot of guys that have been out. Not out for the season, but just missed all or part of spring ball. And that's allowed for some of the younger guys or the new guys to get reps too, and when those guys are getting back and healthy in the summer, it's going to really be a positive influx.
Creighton, on offseason workouts
I will say our strength and conditioning has been excellent this winter and spring under the direction of coach [Deonte] Mack. We see some tangible differences this spring from the winter, and are expecting the same this summer as well.
Creighton, on team’s culture
I think that our culture is super strong. Super strong. Our guys are our culture, and we recruit great young men and they run the program as much as anybody. And I'm really proud of how they're doing that. The football piece that goes with it is we do have a bunch of guys who are returning, we do have good experience. Part of our culture is when new guys come, they're immediately accepted. It doesn't take long because they know we're recruiting good people, and our guys, I'm telling you they wrap their arm around them and start teaching them our defense and our offense and just really bring them into the fold immediately. That gives the guy a chance to learn quickly and throw his hat in the ring.
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