Football Hits the Home Stretch of Spring Season

MOUNT PLEASANT - The Central Michigan University football team hits the home stretch of its spring season this week. The squad concludes drills with its spring game this Saturday, April 16, in Kelly/Shorts Stadium beginning at noon.

Following the game will be an autograph session and a barbeque. The game and autograph session are free while the barbeque is $4 for students and children, and $6 for adults.

The squad has been practicing three mornings a week since March 18, and head coach Brian Kelly has been impressed with his team's attitude.

"First and foremost, our kids are really locked into what we are doing and there is a focus and real determination on the field to improve," Kelly said. "I like our work ethic and the way we practice because those are the building blocks for success. Those are things that take time to build and it is clear that we will leave this spring knowing that our kids know how to practice, commit themselves and get focused when they are on the field."

The way the team has bonded during the spring season and the team chemistry it has built has been one of the most important things to come out of the spring season.

"I think our players care about each other," Kelly said. "They care about one another in the sense that they respect each other and how hard everyone is working. There is clearly a culture in our football team where our players know that if they do the right things, they will get treated fairly.

"That culture creates a breeding ground for what I talked about with our players coming to practice with a purpose and giving us everything they have. I believe we have done a good job of making sure we have the right mixture of values that you need to get good chemistry on a team."

The continued improvement of the offense, especially quarterback Kent Smith, has been a main point of emphasis the past few weeks.

"On the offensive side of the ball, we entered spring drills with a lot of areas that needed improvement," Kelly said. "That starts at the quarterback position. What we have done with Kent this spring is try to be more focused on certain situations he struggled with last year.

"One of the main things we have focused on with him is the red zone because we averaged almost 400 yards per game but just 21 points. To be good in the red zone, you have to be instinctual, react quickly and have a great understanding of the concept, which he continues to get better at in each practice. The nice part is last year Kent was just worried about catching the shotgun snap and now he is able to focus on the finer details of the offense."

Having the same defensive system in place for the second-straight season has already created a new attitude and confidence for Central Michigan's defensive group.

"Continuity is a big thing for our defense this spring because it finally has some stability with the defensive system it plays," Kelly said. "Entering last year, it was learning its fourth different system in four years and working with a new coaching staff. This year, the system has stayed the same along with a majority of the staff.

"I see a lot of confidence with our defense because it doesn't have to think, just react. To play great defense, we have to be a group that is having fun and has a great attitude, and I think our coaches have done a great job of creating that attitude. The defense is tired of being looked at as the reason why we haven't been a competitive team."

An influx of new players has helped improve the special teams along with a group of kickers that continues to get better.

"One of the most noticeable things about our special teams is the speed and depth that our redshirt freshmen bring in," Kelly said. "We did not have a lot to choose from last year, and this group gives us the type of athlete that will help us develop solid special teams.

"We feel good about what punter Tony Mikulec did last season as a redshirt freshman and he is still holding that spot. Place-kicker Mike Gruzwalski is back and is going to be challenged by true freshman Rick Albreski, so we think we will have a really competitive situation with our kicking game."


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