Spring football underway at Western

Published 8:16 am Tuesday, March 22, 2016

KALAMAZOO — The one constant in life is change. Following Western Michigan’s Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl win over Middle Tennessee, the program has undergone perhaps the most change since head coach P.J. Fleck and staff came to Kalamazoo.

With spring practice having begun Tuesday, the Broncos will begin to put all the new pieces together to see how they fit.

“One of the things about change is that when change first happens there’s uncomfortableness,” Fleck said. “The uncomfortableness breeds changing again and changing for the better. What we’ve done is taken a huge step that can take this program to a place it’s never been. With the coaching additions, with the players moving on, it’s given incredible opportunity for coaches and also players to really step into a role that they’ve been waiting for.”

In the last three months since the bowl game, Western Michigan has added four new members to its staff with running backs coach Kenni Burns, defensive line coach Jimmy Williams, linebackers coach David Duggan and director of personnel Gerrit Chernoff. The quartet has experience ranging all over from national championships at the FBS and FCS level, along with bowl games in both power five and the group of five leagues.

Perhaps the biggest change that Bronco fans are still getting used to is the decision by the second leading receiver in the country last year, Daniel Braverman, to forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. Braverman finished last year with 108 catches for 1,436 yards and 13 TDs. Tuesday morning hopes to provide the first glimpse at who will step up and find a way to replace that production.

“If Braverman stayed, Braverman would have played,” Fleck said. “There’s people that feel that job was definitely in stone and now it’s not and there’s three people fighting for that job. With competition you breed the best you can possibly be. It’s going to be a fun spring. I think we’ve taken all the change and made the program better with the changes. You’re always going to miss players like Braverman, but what we have to be able to do is just reload.”

Aside from Braverman there are even more pressing questions on the defense after losing seniors such as starters Cleveland Smith, Rontavious Atkins, Ronald Zamort, Grant DePalma and Jarrell McKinney. The uncertainty seems to have created more of an excitement than an unease about who will fill those spots.

“Spring ball in 2016 is as competitive a spring as we’ve had here,” Fleck said. “Two years ago we had 42 guys go through spring ball. Last year we had some competition, but a lot of spots were already won. This year we have a lot of competition at the defensive line position, the linebacker position and in the secondary. A lot of our questions will be answered. There’s a lot of questions this year and a lot of players in the mix. There’s a lot of players that came here early that are in the mix and a lot of players who will join us in May and June that are in the mix. One thing we’ve proven is that we’re going to play the best people. I’ve never been more excited for a spring since I’ve been here.

The Broncos will mostly practice from 9:15 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The two exceptions are at 9 a.m. Friday, April 1, with Nekton Neon Night and at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 16 with the spring game.