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"The offense around the QB. Yes, EIU still has a quarterback battle going, but there's plenty of experience around whoever gets the role. EIU had two offensive players land on the All-OVC preseason team. Starting running back Isaiah Johnson was one of the All-OVC picks and rushed for 683 yards and five touchdowns. Back-up Darshon McCullough added 368 yards and a touchdown. At wide receiver, Alexander Hollins was an All-OVC preseason pick after catching 47 receptions for 694 yards and seven touchdowns. Aaron Gooch added 43 receptions. Add in tight end James Sheehan to the group, who caught 13 passes last year, and an offensive line that returns three of the five starters and there's plenty of experience and talent back.

Joe Caputo>

Joe Caputo

"EIU's linebackers. Losing someone like Nick Horne could be a big loss, but EIU has some good depth at linebacker even though Horne led the team with 71 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss. Part if is because sophomore Dytarious Johnson is back and in a reserve role, he was fifth on the team in tackles with 53 and had 8 tackles for loss. He's in a starting role now and has sideline-to-sideline speed and awareness. Plus he packs quite the punch. He could emerge as one of the best linebackers in the OVC and has the potential to be one of the best linebackers in the country. Joe Caputo returns after 63 tackles last season and Sean Williams looked good in a limited role last year. Former EIU linebacker Adam Gristick returns as the linebackers coach and I am guessing he has plenty to teach the linebackers. EIU should continue its tradition of having a strong linebacker unit this year."

What are two weaknesses or concerns EIU has entering this season?

"Quarterback. Until EIU gets consistent play out of the position, it will be a weakness. Since Jimmy Garoppolo was drafted, EIU has been searching for some consistency at the position.  Jalen Whitlow had a good junior season, but suffered an injury and wasn't the same as a senior. Mitch Kimble won the job in 2017 and looked good, but had a few injuries that sidelined him and the backups were inconsistent. Kimble also dealt with an injury early in the season last year and the backups once again struggled. Scotty Gilkey Jr. showed some flashes and has the potential, but has to find a way to complete more passes after completing only 44.9 percent last season. Navarro JC quarterback Harry Woodbery had an impressive spring game and Tulane transfer Johnathan Brantley also looked good in the spring game. Whoever wins the job needs to be consistent throughout the season and needs to run the Air Raid offense effectively.

Terrell Greer>

Terrell Greer

"The pass rush. EIU's team leader in sacks last year was David Johnson with 3.5 on the season and he had seven quarterback hits. Mack Weaver was second with five quarterback hits. Both graduated. EIU has some talent back on the defensive line, but there has to be a more consistent pass rush this season. Josh Price had 45 tackles last season and is the main defensive end back. Terrell Greer is a quality defensive tackle and had 29 tackles and 5 tackles for loss. EIU rotates about nine to 10 linemen in the game to keep them fresh, but it didn't result in more sacks. EIU needs some players to step up around Price and Greer because even though EIU's linebackers are strong, they still need a good push and pass rush from the line."

Name two breakout players that you believe will emerge this fall.

"Safety Iziah Gulley. I don't know how much you can call it a breakout because he played in all 11 games and had 45 tackles and three pass breakups, but the focus was always on Bradley Dewberry and Tray Mitchell, who were second and third on the team in tackles. Gulley will fill one of their roles and based on his play last year, he will be very good back there. He has a nose for the football and is a good tackler. Look for the redshirt sophomore from Arkansas to be one of the team leaders in tackles.

"Defensive back DySaun Smith. Maybe this is cheating a bit because he looked so good as a freshman, but injuries have limited him the last two years. He played in 10 games and made six starts last year. When healthy, Smith is fast and can keep up with most wide receivers. He provides good coverage. If Smith can stay healthy, he can be a force back there with All-OVC preseason selection Mark Williams."

What is the biggest game on the schedule fall? Why?

"Oh there's so many that you could choose. Illinois State is a big game, but EIU beat them two years ago in a major upset and didn't make the playoffs. Three years ago was the classic OT game. EIU lost it but it was part of a playoff season and EIU picked it up from there. But to me it's the Ohio Valley Conference opener this year, which is at home against Tennessee State. TSU is always loaded with talent but can never really seem to get over the hump. EIU and TSU have played some classics in the past few years, including last year's double overtime game. If EIU is going to make a play for a playoff spot and for a run at the OVC title, it starts with TSU because they need that game as bad as EIU. The OVC gets off to an exciting start with EIU facing TSU on Sept. 22 at 2 p.m. at O'Brien Field."

Source : http://www.chicagonow.com/prairie-state-pigskin/2018/08/eastern-illinois-panthers-football-notebook-2/

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