Central Michigan spring game: What we learned

Zach Libby, Chippewa Country Contributor
Chippewa Country
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Central Michigan's Tony Poljan had an opportunity Saturday to push the agenda for him to be the replacement for Cooper Rush at quarterback in 2017.

Poljan, the former Lansing Catholic (Mich.) recruit, wasn't going to earn the starting role outright following the conclusion of CMU's spring game at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, but he could further open up the probability.

"[Poljan] is an intensely competitive kid," CMU head coach John Bonamego said. "Has a lot of natural leadership and he just has a tremendous amount of upside. But, he hasn't even scratched the surface of his potential."

That announcement for who will lead the newly formed spread offense won't be made until the Chippewas return for fall practice in the month of August, as Shane Morris, the Michigan transfer, wont report to the team until then.

Morris, who is currently finishing up classes in Ann Arbor before graduation in May, has the disadvantage of Poljan getting comfortable with the new system this offseason.

But Morris isn't coming to Mount Pleasant to be a backup again, he's looking for redemption.

Meanwhile, Poljan's throwing ability and size were on display for Team Maroon, who fell 21-20 to Team Gold. He threw two interceptions, not impressive, but his confidence in his arm was seen on more than one occasion.

In the first quarter, he connected with senior wide receiver Corey Willis on a 59-yard completion to set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Minnesota transfer Berkley Edwards, who had 35 yards rushing overall on 11 carries.

Poljan's one and only touchdown pass came at the 10:21 mark in the third quarter, when he found former Ithaca (Mich.) standout Logan Hessbrook from 20-yards out.

Hessbrook came close to reaching the end zone once again in the fourth quarter, but fell short at the 1-yard line after making a not-so effortless grab. He finished with four catches for 62 yards.

"First off all, [Hessbrook] is an unbelievable person," Bonamego said. "Hard working, very passionate, excellent student, he's just kind of a model student-athlete. He's always look to do more and he comes from a great program down the road where they have a tradition of winning. I'm just really happy that he's in our program."

For Team Gold, it was a chance for both Tommy Lazzaro and Austin Hergott to make a leap forward as the battle for the backup role at quarterback continues. Lazzaro, the agile junior, had nine total run attempts for 62 yards, while finishing 8-of-14 passing for 91 yards and a touchdown.

Hergott, who will be a true freshman after greyshirting last season, was 4-of-9 for 48 yards. He did throw an interception, but it occurred during the final play of the first half on a Hail Mary attempt.

"I thought Tommy [Lazzaro] did a great job in executing the offense," Bonamego said. "He can obviously make some things happen with his legs and he's continued to develop and improve. He's trending in the right direction."

Bonamego has said before that the running back corp is the deepest among all the positions for the Chippewas, and it showed Saturday when four different individuals recorded a touchdown, including sophomore Kumehnnu Gwilly for Team Gold.

Gwilly, who saw little action last season but was an All-State first team recipient by the Detroit Free Press in 2015 as a senior for Utica (Mich.), scored on a 66-yard run, immediately after Poljan's touchdown pass.

He had a team-high 101 yards rushing on eight carries. Sophomore Jonathan Ward had 12 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown, while senior Devon Spalding finished with six yards on two carries.

Junior Romello Ross, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, isn't expected to return until the Chippewas start camp in August. CMU averaged 3.7 yards a carry last season, which ranked last in the Mid-American Conference.

"We have to utilize our running backs," Bonamego said. "It's important to be deep in that position and you just got a chance to see them today. I'm pleased with the depth in that position."

Defensively, it was more about evaluating individual players rather than a whole unit, because CMU didn't throw out the first team all at once on either side of the ball.

Bonamego did challenge his players to come out wanting to play hard, which from his eyes was accomplished.

Amari Coleman, the senior cornerback, led Team Maroon with three tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. Junior Zach Oakley recorded 10 tackles and one pass breakup.

For Team Gold, sophomore linebacker Malik Fountain had eight tackles while sophomore Jakkar Jackson added three tackles, including one for a loss.

"We have some really good defensive players," Bonamego said. "When you look at Amari [Coleman], Josh [Cox], Malik [Fountain] and Joe [Ostman], I think we have a good chance in being very good on defense this year."

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