Friday, April 19, 2024

Eagles hope to contain Spartans

Eagles secondary aware of Rogers, rest of Spartans

August 29, 2002
Eastern Michigan cornerback Erick Middleton participates in warm-up drills before practice Monday in Ypsilanti. —

Ypsilanti - The Eastern Michigan Eagles know what they must do in to win it’s season opener Saturday at Spartan Stadium - slow down junior wide receiver Charles Rogers.

The problem is they don’t know how. Eastern gave up more than 198 passing-yards per game last year and allowed 32.4 points per game as well.

Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Harris said it doesn’t matter how many defensive backs cover Rogers, adding you just have to know he’ll get his. Harris went on to joke about the possibility of hiring snipers, asking, “Is that legal?”

Such responses will become the norm this season, as Rogers set single-season MSU records last season in receptions (67), receiving yards (1,470) and touchdowns (14). And with such production, Rogers strikes fear into opponents and commands the utmost respect.

“What better way to start off then with perhaps one of the best receivers in the nation,” the Eagles sophomore strong safety Jerry Gaines said. “It’ll be a real good challenge for us.”

It’s no secret that without tailback T.J. Duckett in the backfield the offense lacks proven balance.

Besides Rogers, only junior quarterback Jeff Smoker and junior fullback Mark Goebel have significant starting experience at the skill positions.

Eastern is well aware of that fact, and plan to make the younger Spartans prove themselves.

“We’re not ever going to have one person covering Rogers,” Harris said. “So if you look out there and see one person covering Rogers, then we made a mistake.”

Harris said the Eagles can’t afford to completely change their defensive scheme just to stop Rogers.

He said Eastern will need to apply pressure on Smoker and limit the Spartans ground attack.

But with all five starters returning on the Spartans‘ offensive line, he knows that will also be a challenge.

“The long runs may not be as prevalent, but the holes are going to be there,” Harris said.

“They can choose to go three yards in a cloud of dust, and then throw it to Rogers. It’s like choose your poison.

“The best way to keep Rogers from scoring is to have an offense that stays on the field.”

Possibly the only positive note for the Eagles is that three of their starting defensive backs return from last season - sophomore left cornerback Michael Woods, senior right cornerback Erick Middleton and Gaines. Junior free safety Jamie Manor rounds out the secondary.

Of the three, Middleton is the most accomplished. His 56 tackles are the most among Eastern’s returnees and his three interceptions are half of the team’s last season total.

But Middleton knows he can’t cover Rogers alone, and that the Eagles must keep tabs on the Spartans other weapons.

“They’ve got 10 other guys on the field. The minute we’re focused on just one, the other guys will beat us,” he said. “We’re going to have to play them all and give them all attention.”

Junior Ziehl Kavanaght will start opposite Rogers, but Eastern can expect to see senior BJ Lovett and freshmen Agim Shabaj and Matt Trannon get plenty of action as well.

And as all five of the receivers have good speed and three stand more than 6-feet tall, the Eagles know they’ve got their work cut out for them.

“It’ll be tough,” Gaines said. “A lot of it is positioning. You’ve just got to try to keep everything in front of you.”

Woods agrees positioning is the key, especially considering Rogers has four inches on both Eastern cornerbacks. But he points out good positioning could help the Eagles snag a few turnovers.

“Turnovers are huge in every game,” Woods said. “Sometimes they can determine the game.

“We could use some.”

Middleton said everyone in the Eagles secondary has been watching plenty of film on Rogers, but declined to say if they saw anything that plays to their advantage.

“We really can’t give away all our secrets,” he said.

“But it’s going to be a long day.”


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