EMU Strong at Receiver, Linebacker Early on in Fall Camp
Some positions are still largely up for grabs, but EMU's been able to show some strengths through its first three fall practices.
Thanks for reading The Ypsilanti Eleven! After EMU’s first three days of practice this year, I’ve got some early notes and observations to share. Subscribe now for more reporting like this!
Practice Dispatch: Five Positions To Highlight
On Tuesday, Eastern Michigan’s first practice had beautiful, sun-shiny weather. Everybody had a jump in their step, drills were moving, and it felt like a very productive day for everybody on the field.
Things sort of got muggy on Wednesday, and it was dark and overcast on Thursday. Practice sort of moved with the weather. Sure guys were still hootin’ and hollerin’ to keep practices positive, but we’ve officially entered the “What did I just tell you?! Run it back; same group!” part of the football season.
The Ypsilanti Eleven has been the only media outlet out in the field (well, I sat in the stands for a total of six hours so far) to cover Eastern’s football practices this season, so I’ve got plenty of notes on the team to share.
I’ve only seen the first three practices of the year and there are a lot of positions that are up for grabs this year, so there aren’t any hard conclusions to draw just yet, but this is the first time the coaches are able to watch this team practices all together like this.
Let’s highlight five spots on this team through its first three practices, for better or worse, and see where the groups are at with their timelines.
Wide Receiver: Deep and Talented
Wide receiver is the position I feel most comfortable with this year, and that’s not surprising. After three practices, the starters haven’t missed a beat, and even better, there’s not a whole lot of drop-off from the 1’s to 2’s.
Big potential: Lots of guys worth mentioning here, but I want to start by highlighting a new face that hasn’t dropped the ball much (if at all?) in the early goings of camp. Isaac Smith (6’2, 201 lbs.) spent two years at Wisconsin before he came to EMU over the offseason. Smith didn’t see the field with the Badgers, but I think he’s on pace to play off the bench this September.
Linebacker: Chase Kline is Really Big
Chase Kline is listed at 6’4, tied for second-tallest defensive player on Eastern’s preseason depth chart. I don’t know how many offenses are used to seeing a 6’4 middle linebacker that moves and acts the way he does. The team isn’t in full pads just yet, and that’s probably good news for EMU’s offense because he seems like he’s been waiting for this moment for a long time. He seems like he’s doing a good job of commanding his defense and setting standards for his guys, and physically, obviously, he’s fairly dominant out there.
Unhelpful observation: I’m sure Kline would rather live a life where he doesn’t have to wear an armbrace, but it’s still a sweet look for him.
Tight End: Spots Largely Up For Grabs
This is a group that I think has a lot that needs to be proved. It’s not easy to follow up three years of Thomas Odukoya and Bryson Cannon with new faces, but that’s the task EMU’s offense faces right now with its tight ends.
The preliminary depth chart has senior Gunnar Oakes as the starter (38 games, 3 starts), and Danish sophomore Andreas Paaske (no games played) is listed as the backup. I think experience is going to give Oakes an upper-hand and could end up leading this position in total snaps this year, but I don’t think he’s exactly running away with the starting role either. He’s already shown that he’s a decent receiver over the middle, but he’s not the best vertical threat.
Paaske’s a very tall target at 6’7 and the hope is that he becomes a good passing target this year, but that’s still something he’s got to work towards. Freshman Max Reese, who I’ve mentioned before, looks pretty natural as a receiver, but he’s also going through a huge learning curve to be more of a well-rounded tight end.
Who knows? Maybe one of Jere Getzinger, Aaron Jackson, or Cole Rusk start to take leaps forward in the coming weeks.
(Interior) Defensive Line Off To Good Start
The defensive line sets the table for EMU’s entire defense, so this is a group that needs a lot of strength in its numbers.
I’m not surprised to see returning starters Jose Ramirez, Alex Merritt, and Jordan Crawford do well so far, and other returners like Grant Trueman, Peyton Price, and Melvin Swindle are also showing positive signs.
The defensive end spot opposite of Jose Ramirez is still largely up for grabs right now, I’d say. This isn’t a concern just yet, but it’s a position I’m circling.
New names to learn: The D-line’s interior looks really, really good right now. I already liked how this unit looked with its returning guys, but I like how strong junior college transfer Jaavon Brown has looked so far in drills. Get used to seeing Tim Grant-Randall out there in trenches, too.
Punters: The Position Group You Came to Read About
Eastern Michigan’s got to replace its multi-year starter at punter, which is harder than it sounds considering that Jake Julien was good enough to end up signing with the New England Patriots out of college. None of the punters on EMU’s roster right now have ever punted in an FBS game before. Senior Blake Ochsendorf has the most college experience since he previously punted for Minnesota State, but hasn’t done so for Eastern.
On paper this is a four-man race: Ochsendorf, Mitchell Tomasek, Adam Heston, or Ryan Kingston. If I had to guess, I’d say the two favorites right now are Oschsendorf or Tomasek. They’ve all shown good boots at some points during camp so far, but Ochsendorf and Tomasek are the two that are probably the most consistent about getting punts deep with hangtime.