We continue our series of camp previews for selected non-AQ schools.
Opening camp: Western Michigan
Schedule: Practice starts today.
Sidelined: DE Freddie Bishop; DT Drew Nowak; DE Weston Peiffer could all be limited at the start of camp because of injuries. CB Deshon Lawrence is out after suffering a potential career-ending neck injury in the spring.
What’s new: The entire defensive staff was fired after a dismal 2009 in which the defense ranked No. 101 in the country. Former Hofstra head coach Dave Cohen was hired as defensive coordinator and plans on installing a more aggressive style of play.
Key battle: The cornerback position is wide open. Lawrence is out, and Dave Lewis is no longer with the team. That leaves sophomore Damond Smith as the only player at cornerback with game experience. Among the other contenders -- redshirt freshman Lewis Toler, who had a nice spring, and Tronic Williams, a converted wide receiver.
New on the scene: LB Dex Jones. A transfer from Wisconsin, Jones played running back with the Badgers before leaving for the Broncos. After sitting out last season because of NCAA transfer rules, Jones had a fantastic spring and is penciled in as the starter on the weak side. He is going to need a big year to make up for the loss of Austin Pritchard, the best player on defense in 2009.
Breaking out: TE Blake Hammond. The 6-foot-4, 239-pound sophomore fits the mold of predecessors Tony Scheffler and Branden Ledbetter. He has great hands, and can spread the field as a deep threat. Good blocker, too. Without Ledbetter last season, the Broncos struggled to find consistency at the position. Hammond emerged in the spring and is a player to watch.
Don’t forget about: DT John Rice, a transfer from East Mississippi Community College, arrived in time for the spring. His addition was much needed, considering some of the injuries along the line. Rice, whose uncle is Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice, should be able to provide depth for a unit that needs it.
All eyes on: QB Alex Carder. When you are taking over for the face of the program, then all eyes most certainly are on you. Tim Hiller started for three years at Western Michigan and became one of the best players in school history, setting records for career passing yards and total offense. Carder, a sophomore, won the job over Drew Burdi in the spring and has only seen limited playing time.
Quoting: “I really like him. I know everyone’s concerned about Hiller moving on. He was a great quarterback for us, but that’s just an opportunity for the next guy.” -- Coach Bill Cubit on Carder