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Eastern Michigan Spring Game Notes
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It hit 83 degrees.
Potato Bowl-winning rings were shown off to the new recruits’ families.
The program’s Ring of Honor added a name of an all-time great.
Eastern Michigan couldn’t have asked for better weather to host its fun-filled spring game in front of fans who decided to show their support on Friday evening.
Even if it wasn’t a true spring game, or scrimmage, or anything that required a point system, the team had plenty of action in its low-contact practice.
Recognizable faces made important plays.
Plays were made by newcomers as well.
Quarterbacks threw the ball in the air.
Speedsters were able to show off their legs a little bit.
The defense made a couple of turnovers.
Like most “spring games”, EMU isn’t without its injuries, but the team wasn’t so depleted that it couldn’t still run simulated drives and plays all evening. I don’t have a whole list of names and diagnoses, but starters and returners like Brian Dooley, Samson Evans, Mikey Haney, Alex Howie, and Alex Merritt all sat out the contest. Unlike last year, thankfully, there weren’t any serious game-related injuries suffered, which is always good news.
Friday evening’s spring game was both a great chance to celebrate the bowl-winning season one last time as truly transition into the 2023 season. As great as finishing with a 9-4 record was, the team was very up-front in saying that those are great secondary goals that they’ve accomplished.
A MAC title is still what they really want to bring to Ypsilanti.
Below are some notes from my view of EMU’s spring simulation session:
EMU Spring Game Notes
Ring ceremony: Before the public was allowed through the gates of Rynearson Stadium to enjoy Friday evening’s spring scrimmage, the team celebrated with a ring ceremony to commemorate EMU’s Potato Bowl victory in December. On the front, a diamond-filled block E with ‘Potato Bowl Champions’ around it. On the left side, it has the game’s score ‘EMU 41, SJS 27’, the phrase ‘STACK ‘EM’, former coach Fred Reed’s initials, and the team’s record. On its right side, it has the year, the person’s last name, the bowl log, and their position. Tariq Speights, a former linebacker with the team (and a former contributor to this newsletter), helped pick out the ring’s design for everybody.
Jose Ramirez on the Ring of Honor: EMU was ready to announce another name small change made in the stadium, too. Jose Ramirez, preparing for the NFL Draft but had enough time to swing by for the day’s events, saw his name added to the program’s Ring of Honor. He’s the fifth Creighton-coached player to have their name added.
As a general rule of thumb, I try to be pretty neutral about my judgement towards line play in events like these. It’s teammates vs. teammates, and I’m not going back and re-watching any film here.
It was odd watching EMU’s first unit be, basically, a completely new crew. With Dooley, Howie and Chris Mayo out, here’s what EMU had as its starting offensive line, from left to right: Jez Janvier, Mickey Rewolinski, Dimitri Douglas, Dan Sunderman, and Zack Conti. It’s second line: a Mack Indestad, Nick Gallegos, Carson Lee, Owen Snively, and Dennis Strey Jr.
Quarterbacks looked healthy and competent. Lots of deep passes tried out to varying levels of success.
The best throw of the night was a 58-yard bomb from Austin Smith to Hamze El-Zayat, a graduate transfer from Fordham who joined the team last year. That moved the offense across midfield and down to the 2-yard line, but Smith’s next pass was picked off by newcomer cornerback Jesse Vasquez.
Smith seemed like he has a ton of control of the offense, as he should. His playing experience last year was limited, but meaningful.
After Smith, it seems like Ike Udengwu is talented enough to make a push towards the QB2 slot on the depth chart in the summer, but time with the team and generally catching up to Division-I speed will take a little bit of time, but he certainly makes the depth of this team better.
Cam’Ron McCoy had a deep pass picked off by Cameron Smith, but that was the worst of his day. His legs are a real difference-maker for the offense — he ripped off for a long run in Friday’s scrimmage.
Tight end Max Reese, who spent his redshirt year changing positions from wide receiver right out of high school, got to catch a few passes. He received one handoff on a sweep play from his tight end spot — a creative way of getting him involved in the offense in his second year with the team.
Blake Daniel is a tight end that deservedly got some attention. He transferred from Davenport University last year but did not play, and his 6’6” frame stood out in pads. He caught one scoring pass during red zone simulations and is an interesting target to keep in mind moving forward.
Again, it’s hard for linemen to stand out in these situations, and twice as hard for a defensive player to be heard without any loud hits being made. Peyton Price is still a tough disrupter inside.
Jesus Gomez made a 43-yard field goal, then immediately made another kick from 50 yards out.
There are a lot of good options at wide receiver this year. Tanner Knue and Darius Lassiter already have trust earned with the team, but head coach Chris Creighton is happy with this team’s depth, which includes Javon Swinton (Indiana transfer), Terry Lockett Jr. (Michigan State transfer), El-Zayat (graduate transfer), and J.B. Mitchell (class of 2021 signee).
Said Creighton: “The spring game became a spring situational scrimmage, two-hand touch. Obviously, nobody went to the ground and we stayed healthy and got everybody reps. The defense got some takeaways in the two-minute period, which was phenomenal. It’s been a really good learning spring in development, defensively. Offensively, our offensive line got a lot of our young guys got massive amounts of work because we have had some guys out. We’ve got three quarterbacks that have been competing and some new transfers that got here in January. Overall, it’s been a really good day.
Creighton, on offseason vibes after bowl victory: “At the ring ceremony, we shared a bowl game highlight and, honest to God, it gave me chills. I think part of that is because we hadn’t thought about that. We talk about it in recruiting and all that, but that’s not where we are at headspace-wise. And that’s a good thing, believe me. It’ doesn’t feel like a team that’s coming off of a bowl win in a negative way. I think there’s some juice and some energy. The final thought on the 2022 season within our team is that we failed what we set out to do. Even though we won the Michigan MAC, won the bowl game, tied for the MAC West, and lots of things happened that hadn’t happened before, or a really long time, those things were not the final season goal. So it’s a really determined team right now.
Creighton, on how bowl game defines 2022 season: “I don’t think you can talk about the bowl game without talking about Toledo. … We were up three with two minutes left, they made some plays and ended up being MAC champs. … It was Eastern Michigan football in that we ‘Stacked Em’, those last four, which was our theme, but it also showed our resolve and our toughness, mentally, coming back from Toledo, being down to Kent State and being down in the bowl game, but finding out way to pull it out and sticking together throughout it.”
Creighton, on coaching hires: “One of the most important things I do is hire the right people. We are emphatic about, obviously, they’ve got to be expert coaches, but they’ve got to be great people. All of us are far from perfect, but part of being a great person is caring about other people, and as a great coach you’ve got to care about the guys that you’re coaching and the people that you’re working with. We’ve just got really good people. We lost some really good people, three of them to the National Football League. Somebody’s got to put in some sort of clause to go find them somebody else first. … We had a recruiting family that had been here at the Toledo game and we offered their son soon after that. They were here either late January or early March and they said some of the faces have changed, but the culture is as strong or stronger. And I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.”
Chase Kline: “I’m very excited to be with coach Needham. I’ve been playing multiple positions which is good, I think I have a versatility that I can help bring to this team.”
Kline, on replacing Jose Ramirez’s excitement on field: “Jose’s just Jose. He’s a fantastic person, we’ll never really get to replace Jose the man. But I think everybody just has to step it up a notch and take one little bit. It’s not about one new guy standing up and being the new Jose. It’s about everybody working as hard as they can and pitching into that effort, and that will come. That next Jose will come out. Jose’s a fantastic football player and there will never be another Jose Ramirez here.
Tanner Knue: “It’s definitely been different without Dylan (Drummond) and Hass (Beydoun) because I pretty much came in with those two guys and have grown and learned a lot from those two guys. Us three guys have really been the leaders of the receivers group but now I’ve taken that role on just myself. I would consider myself a leader but a lot of other guys who have stepped it up.”
Knue, on punt returns: “I think I’m doing a good job in that. I got one game rep last year. I’m just doing my due diligence in working harder in that category because other than last year I didn’t really have any experience in practice returning punts so I think I’m doing a really good job of learning and growing and being able to judge the ball much better.”