Team preview: Eastern Michigan

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(All information as of July 1, 2006)


At No. 3 on the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 movie quotes of all time is a classic Marlon Brando line that aptly sums up the state of Eastern Michigan football.

"I coulda been a contendah. I coulda been somebody," Brando's character, Terry Malloy, lamented in "On the Waterfront."

The Eagles can relate. They could have been somebody in the MAC West last season if a few bounces had gone their way. EMU lost two one-point games, another by two points and a fourth by seven as it finished the season at 4-7. The record marked the 10th straight season the program has failed to finish with a winning record.

Throw out a 6-5 mark in 1995, and the Eagles are working on their second decade of losing football.

"We need to continue to grow as a team and work on finishing," EMU head coach Jeff Genyk said. "We absolutely have got to continue to improve in finishing plays, finishing halves and finishing games."

If the Eagles hope to finish games this season, they will first have to break in a new quarterback and find a tailback to lead their ground attack. Last season, starter Anthony Sherrell (443 yards) never got going and that meant neither did the team's ground game (eighth in the MAC at 122.5 yards per game).

Replacing Matt Bohnet is especially important to star senior receiver Eric Deslauriers' career, which now includes another season in Ypsilanti after he turned down a chance to play in the Canadian Football League. Deslauriers was a first-round pick in the CFL's draft but opted to return for his final season of collegiate ball.

Deslauriers finished third in the MAC in receptions with 76 last fall. Who's going to get him the ball this season?

Sophomore Tyler Jones and redshirt freshman Andy Schmitt took their battle for the starting job into summer workouts. Whichever one wins the job will at least have the luxury of playing behind an experienced line with four starters back and also having Deslauriers.

In addition to a solid offensive line, Genyk is pleased with the development of the defensive front, which includes second-team All-MAC end Eric Howe.

The Eagles are deep on the line with six veterans returning, and also have some talent at linebacker, led by sophomore middle linebacker Daniel Holtzclaw.

The defense needs to improve on its 2005 ranking -- ninth in total defense (409.5 ypg) in the MAC. EMU was particularly poor against the run, allowing 200.1 yards per game to rank 10th in the conference and 103rd in the nation.