Kelly Gears Up For Chippewa Spring Drills

MOUNT PLEASANT - Weather or not, Central Michigan University head football coach Brian Kelly is looking forward to the start of spring drills on Friday, March 19.

"We will be outside as much as we possibly can," said the Chippewas' new mentor. "We're going to play in Michigan weather and we'll practice in it, too."

Kelly plans to wrap up his first spring at Central Michigan with a game April 17. But, in the meantime, there's a lot that needs to be done.

Kelly breaks it down into three categories.

"First, we need to set the standard from the very beginning as to the way we'll practice and that changes with different coaches and philosophies," Kelly said. "Second, we'll install our offense, defense and special teams. It's important that the players get a grasp of these in the spring.

"Third, we'll evaluate our players in terms of who are our leaders and competitors. We're looking for leaders on the field and those guys who compete."

While Kelly has watched film from the 2003 season, he feels that can be misleading.

"Film doesn't give you a clear picture of the football player," he said. "It's the interaction early in the morning when you challenge them and it's the year-long conditioning that gives you a better picture."

The former Grand Valley State University coach wasn't particularly impressed with what he saw initially but that has started to change.

"There's a desire to win here," he said. "But, they don't know how to win. Every day you learn how to win. In the past two or three weeks, I think the players are starting to understand what kind of commitment it takes to win and they've been willing to do it. They're beginning to understand what it takes to be a champion.

"They didn't know at what level you needed to be committed to win. What they did in the past was not enough. The biggest thing for us in the spring is to elevate that level."

The Chippewas return 46 lettermen and 19 starters (including special teams players) from a team that went 3-9 in 2003 and finished seventh in the Mid-American Conference West Division with a 1-7 record. The most glaring weakness was on defense where CMU allowed 501.8 yards and 35.7 points per game.

Kelly has enjoyed the challenge, thus far.

"It's almost like molding clay," he said. "It's extremely challenging but also exciting. We want to bring this football program back to the level of success that it once had. There's no doubt in my mind that we'll do it. The only question is how quickly."

Kelly and his staff enter spring ball with few questions as to who will play what position.

"We have a pretty good idea who the guys are," he said. "We've made some position changes that should help."

Most notably are moving Isaac Brown from halfback to safety and putting tight end Joe Staley at right tackle. Both played as true freshman in 2003.

"Brown could be an outstanding safety for us and Staley will give us another athletic starting tackle (Adam Kieft is at left tackle)," Kelly said.

Brown, a 6-1, 199-pounder, carried the ball six times for 22 in 2003 while the 6-5, 251-pound Staley grabbed 11 passes for 130 yards and a TD. They'd like him to play at 265 in the fall.

Jeff Jenerou (6-7, 308), last year's starting right tackle, has moved to the starting slot at left guard. Right guard Drew Mormino (6-4, 287) and center Eric Ghiaciuc (6-3, 294) are also returning starters.

In addition to finding depth at halfback and settling on a rotation at wide receiver, Kelly's biggest concern is at quarterback.

"If any position is wide open it is at quarterback," Kelly said. "We won't come out of spring ball with a No. 1. It will take at least five months to develop, and that will last through the summer into fall ball."

Senior Jeff Perry, who started the first four games of 2003 before being sidelined for the year with a leg injury, will see limited duty in the spring. Among those he'll be battling for the job this spring will be senior Grant Arnoldink, junior Kent Smith and redshirt freshman Nick Gildersleeve.

The Chippewas will launch the 2004 season with a pair of road games at Big Ten foes -- Indiana (Sept. 4) and Michigan State (Sept. 11).

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