MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – For Central Michigan defensive line coach George Ricumstrict, the goals for his unit this spring are clear.
“Improvement,” said the former All-MAC linebacker who joined the Central Michigan staff in January. “We need to get better individually. We need to work on technique, our pad level, and gaining a better understanding of the defense. We also have to be able to generate a pass rush with the four guys up front and not have to rely on the blitz.”
The challenge for Ricumstrict is that he has to work toward those goals without his full complement of players. Four Chippewas, Jabari Dean, Louis Palmer, Ben Randle, and Alex Smith, are being held out of spring practice as precaution while they recover from injuries. The good news is that all four are expected to be full go when it counts this fall.
“The tough part is that some of our key young guys are out, so you don’t get a chance to evaluate them except what you saw on the tape from last season. But I am happy with the guys that are on the field. We are working hard, working on developing our skills, and getting tougher.”
At defensive end, 2012 starters Caesar Rodriguez and Joe Kinville are gone to graduation. Returning to headline the position are Kenny McClendon and Blake Serpa. McClendon has played in 36 career games while Serpa saw increased playing time a year ago as the season progressed.
“Kenny gives us a presence off the edge as a pass rusher,” said Ricumstrict. “Blake has had a good spring for us. He has done a good job rushing the passer and against the run.”
Junior Matt Russo and redshirt freshmen Lance Sanders and Mike Jorde are also in the mix at defensive end.
Leading the way at the defensive tackle position are Leterrius Walton and Matt Losiniecki. Walton started seven games in 2012, including the last five of the season, while Losiniecki played in all 13, starting three.
“(Leterrius) has the ability to be a dominant run stopper for us,” said Ricumstrict. “He is a physical guy. He’s got size and he’s got explosion. He has done a nice job in the run game.”
“Losiniecki may have shown the biggest improvement over the spring of the group. We do quite a bit of movement with our guys and he has done a good job with being stout and keeping his shoulders square. He has made some plays in the backfield for us.”
Kelby Latta and Shafer Johnson are also seeing significant snaps this spring. Latta, who Coach Enos has consistently singled out as a young player who could make a big impact in 2013, is a force in the run game but has also shown pass rush ability. Johnson, who played in 10 games in 2012, is strong and runs to the ball well. Both are expected to make an impact in the fall.
Jabari Dean, a starter of 10 games in his true freshman season, is a player who Ricumstrict has yet to be able to work with on the field but is someone who stands out on game film.
“He is a kid I wish had this spring. He could have benefited from these practices. On tape, he is explosive. He plays with good pad level and enjoys playing the game. He is intense. Even though he can’t go right now, you can see it in the eyes in meetings. He is locked in and staying engaged.”
Despite being lean in numbers this spring, the message Ricumstrict conveys about his defensive linemen is simple and straightforward.
“We are a work in progress but we are coming.”