Spring football practice is finished at Miami University. Now it’s time for the coaching staff to break it all down.
Head coach Don Treadwell expressed his satisfaction with spring drills Friday, one day after the 15th and final practice session.
“I think you’re always moving forward,” Treadwell said. “Many guys who only played sparingly or didn’t play at all last season got a chance to jump in the front seat and strap on the seat belt and really have a better feel and appreciation of learning a system. That’s very positive for our team.”
The RedHawks are coming off back-to-back 4-8 seasons in the first two years of the Treadwell era, and while they’ve lost quarterback Zac Dysert, they’ll be among the Mid-American Conference leaders in returning starters in the fall.
Treadwell said MU entered the spring striving to improve its rushing offense and defense.
“The irony is that they both serve one another,” Treadwell said. “You give your defense a better chance to learn how to stop the run by preparing against an opponent who runs the ball.”
Tackle Austin Brown and end Wes Williams are back up front, with Brown returning for a fifth year after missing most of last season with a back injury.
Middle linebacker Kent Kern was among the squad’s leading tacklers last season as a freshman, even though he did not register a start.
“This was a really good spring for us,” Kern said. “Our confidence is definitely at a much higher level than it was last year, and I think we’ve all put last year behind us. We don’t even think about that anymore, to be honest with you.
“The defense has changed its mind-set. We’re definitely playing more aggressive. We’re going to come downhill and punch you in the mouth a little bit at the line of scrimmage.”
Treadwell said the vast majority of the team, including incoming freshmen, will spend the summer working out in Oxford. Fall camp begins Aug. 3, and the season opener is Aug. 31 at Marshall.
Here are some notes on each position:
Defensive backs: Brison Burris will return for his third season, and Treadwell said he’s developed into a field general at a safety position. Dayonne Nunley is an All-MAC performer who didn’t participate in spring practice after undergoing knee surgery at the end of the 2012 campaign, but he should be fine this summer.
Two players on the rise are cornerback Jarrell Jones and safety Jay Mastin.
“Jarrell was more limited to special teams last year,” Treadwell said. “He’s been more of a physical presence because he does a great job off the field with his conditioning.
“Jay didn’t play at all last season as a true freshman, but the defensive staff is very encouraged by his progress this spring. When you talk defensive football, you hear words like eye control and awareness. A lot of young guys don’t have those things, but he’s demonstrated this spring that he’s a guy who can do that.”
Linebackers: Chris Wade erupted for a huge season in 2012 at outside linebacker, and he’s back this year. Kern and Josh Dooley were standout rookies who look to join Wade in the starting lineup this fall.
Some names in the mix this spring: Nate Gerbus, Tyler Tucker, Tre Clifton and Joe Donlan.
“Kern and Dooley played a lot last season, but they were still freshmen. They’ve really improved,” Treadwell said. “At middle linebacker, you want a guy like Kern who can play instinctively and who’s not just a robot. Dooley has been more of an outside backer, a guy that ran track in high school. In this day and age, you need a guy that can be a cross between a safety and a linebacker.”
Defensive line: Brown and Williams are the mainstays, but Treadwell feels he has some rising stars in this area. Included are ends Bryson Albright and J’Terius Brown, and tackles Jalen Johnson and Mitch Winters.
Johnson sat out last year after transferring from Valparaiso, while Albright was a solid contributor in his first season of collegiate action.
“One of the things with Bryson is just getting bigger,” Treadwell said. “He’s got a tremendous frame, but he’s got a lot of pizzas and peanut butter he still needs to eat to put on muscle mass, and he’s starting to do that now without losing his agility.”
J’Terius Brown didn’t play at all as a freshman last fall, but was an impressive member of the scout team.
Offensive line: Zach Lewis, Marcus Matthews, Trevan Brown and Josh Harvey are returning veterans. That’s the good news.
The bad news? John Anevski and Nick Custer are recovering from surgery, and Brandyn Cook is dealing with a back problem. The center position is unsettled because all three of those players can play there.
Custer is the only player on the roster who faces an uncertain fall camp because of an injury (he had surgery this spring). Lewis, Matthews, Delvin Becks and Brown put in some work at center this spring, and Treadwell said there is no clear No. 1 guy at that spot right now.
“Ultimately, we just want the best five on the O-line,” Treadwell said. “We don’t really worry about who’s going to be the center because we know we’re going to be OK with whoever is there.”
Another guy to keep an eye on is tackle Jeff Tanner, who will be a senior in the fall.
Receivers: Nick Harwell is one of the best receivers in MAC history, but he’s been suspended from the team since getting arrested about a month ago. It seems unlikely that he’ll return for his senior campaign.
“At this time, there’s been no change in his status,” Treadwell said. “Once things are completed through the university process and any other process that he’s currently working through, then we’ll be able to resolve a little bit more even what our options are.”
Dawan Scott played a lot last season and looks to be the new No. 1 receiver, but Treadwell said Rokeem Williams, Fred McRae and Sam Shisso are guys that could rise up and have breakout seasons.
The tight end position is filled with a veteran trio: Steve Marck, Dustin White and Orlando David.
Quarterbacks: Austin Boucher is set to step in as the No. 1 guy, with Drew Kummer and Austin Gearing as the backups.
The RedHawks aren’t likely to be throwing the ball as much as they did with Dysert at the controls. Don’t be surprised if the quarterback position includes a fair amount of carries in 2013.
Gearing is arguably the best runner of the three, but Boucher is the clear No. 1 right now.
“You can see Gearing’s athleticism when you watch him do certain things, but the experience of a guy like Boucher makes a difference because he’s going to put himself in position to do certain things because of that game experience,” Treadwell said. “Gearing still needs to be refined.”
Running backs: Miami has been trying to get more ground productivity for a couple years. Jamire Westbrook and Spencer Treadwell both played a lot last season and lead the returnees.
Among the contenders are Jack Snowball, who didn’t do any hitting this spring as he recovered from a shoulder injury, and Spencer McInnis, who is also helping out as a slot receiver.
“It’s still kind of by committee, but we feel we have improved our running game,” Don Treadwell said.
Special teams: Very little is expected to change with the legs. Kaleb Patterson (placements), Mason Krysinski (kickoffs) and Zac Murphy (punting) will all return.
MU is looking for significant improvement in its return game. Treadwell said McRae and Rokeem Williams could develop into weapons on punt and kickoff returns, respectively.