Jeff Genyk, a long-time assistant at Northwestern, takes over in Ypsilanti and brings with him a new attitude, along with new offensive and defensive schemes. Genyk, who recruited the greater Detroit area for the Wildcats, is no stranger to southeastern Michigan. A finalist for the top job at Bowling Green three years ago, Genyk is now getting his chance to rebuild a program that hasn't won a MAC title since 1987 or had a winning season since 1995.
OffenseQuarterback Matt Bohnet, who began his career at Iowa, is ready to lead EMU's new spread offense. Considering the Eagles averaged just 153.7 passing yards per game last season, Bohnet should provide a major upgrade.
"Matt is the strongest player on this team with a 430-pound bench press along with 4.6 40 speed," Genyk said. "He is a real leader and a great fit for this new spread offense."
Tailback Anthony Sherrell, a first-team All-MAC pick last fall, returns after serving as the workhorse for the Eagles' offense. Sherrell rushed for 1,531 yards on a league-high 338 carries.
The coaching staff feels the strength of the team is the receiving corps, and Genyk has plenty of options for three- and four-wide sets.
"Players must adapt to the quick pace of this new offense, and we have great depth here with six or seven guys who can get it done," he said.
There is enough depth at receiver that Chris R. Roberson, who led the Eagles with 338 yards on 34 catches, has moved to cornerback.
EMU welcomes back four starters on the offensive line: Tom Kaleita, Jason Robert, Mike Romelli and Scott Golem, though Romelli has been moved from guard to center. The development of this line is going to be critical to the success of the new offensive scheme. The Eagles gave up a league-high 40 sacks in '03.
DefenseThe defensive line returns three starters and six other lettermen, but those nine returnees average just 6-foot-2, 264 pounds per man.
"We've got to get bigger and stronger in this area and that is why we recruited it so hard this year," Genyk said.
The coaching staff expects as many as four true freshmen to compete for playing time up front.
EMU must replace its best defensive player, David Lusky, a first-team All-MAC pick who led the conference in total tackles last year. The Eagles do return two very productive linebackers in Keyvon Barbee, who finished second on the team with 109 tackles last season, and Kevin Harrison, the third-leading tackler.
Roberson, the former receiver, will add some much-needed speed to the defensive backfield, along with an ability to make the big play.
"We want our defense to be able to score points and we want our defensive backs to be more physical and become headhunters," Genyk said.
SpecialistsAndrew Wellock returns after a sensational freshman season in which he connected on 14-of-17 field goals and all 23 extra points. Wellock will likely handle the punting this year as well since three-year starter David Rysko graduated.
Final AnalysisGenyk, hired in the offseason to replace Jeff Woodruff, has a daunting task at Eastern Michigan. The Eagles have suffered through eight straight losing seasons and have won a total of six MAC games over the past four years. But Genyk, who spent 12 years at Northwestern, is no stranger to turnarounds. And he believes he can orchestrate one in Ypsilanti.
Genyk does have some talent to work with: Sherrell is an All-MAC tailback, Wellock is a Lou Groza Award candidate at kicker, and Bohnet should be a significant upgrade at quarterback. The new coach (and his new spread offense), combined with the Eagles' strong finish to last season -- two wins in their final three games -- has given the EMU faithful a reason for optimism for the first time in many years.