A year ago, Western Illinois debuted a new defensive scheme in its spring practices. This time around the Leathernecks debuted a new head coach.
Jared Elliott, who took over for Charlie Fisher in January, closed his first spring camp as head coach with the Bruce Craddock Memorial Spring Game. Last season, Elliott served as Fisher's co-offensive coordinator.
Fisher, who led WIU to the playoffs last fall, is now the wide receivers coach at Arizona State.
In addition, Western lost defensive coordinator when Tony Grantham left for his third stint on the Navy coaching staff. Grantham's replacement has not yet been named. Whoever is hired for the spot faces the task of following a season in which the Leatherneck 3-4 defense held the opposition to 24 points or less in eight of the 12 games. Additionally, Grantham's defense was ranked 22nd in the country against the run, sixth in interceptions, 13th in takeaways, 23rd in sacks and 13th in tackles for a loss.
Moreover, linebacker and Buck Buchanan finalist Brett Taylor has graduated. Taylor, a Macomb native, made numerous All-American teams as he led the FCS with 162 tackles, 13.5 stops per game and 96 assisted tackles.
Offensively, Ty Howle and David Rocco take over as Western's co-coordinators. Howle coaches the offensive line, which has been hit hard by graduation. Rocco can take solace in the return of senior quarterback Sean McGuire. Gone, however, is standout receiver Jaelon Acklin.
Despite the losses, Elliott remains optimistic about his team's outlook.
"I was very pleased all throughout the spring," Elliott said on GoLeathernecks.com "I thought there was consistent improvement and that's what you want to see with your football team."
The annual scrimmage pitted the defense against the offense with a complex point system determining the outcome. The offense prevailed in what was described on the WIU athletic website as a "chaotic" finish as "the Leatherneck defense attempted to craft a few late points with a tackle for a loss or a three-and-out, but the offense held steady for the 35-34 victory."
The point system credited the offense with first downs, big plays and scores while the defense earned points on tackles-for-loss, three-and-outs, pass break-ups, touchdowns and takeaways.
"We saw a lot of individuals make some major strides," Elliott said. "We wanted to identify guys we felt could help us, going into the year, and we had a lot of young players get a lot of valuable reps for the first time. I'm very pleased with how we continued to progress. You always want to see a really good competitive [spring] game, back-and-forth, good productions on both sides of the ball, and I think we saw that tonight."
Redshirt freshman Cameron Clemons scored the lone touchdown with a two-yard, first-quarter rush. Backup Connor Sampson hit on passes for 17 and 29 yards en route to leading the quarterbacks with 124 yards on 14 completions. McGuire connected on pass plays of 20 and 26 yards; he finished the night with six completions for 68 yards.
Other offensive highlights included a pair of 29-yard receptions by sophomore Spencer Beatty and Laquay Brown, a graduate transfer tight end from Coastal Carolina. On defense, redshirt freshman Kyle Williams bagged a team-high four sacks. Junior Riggs Baxter and sophomore Eric Carrera each forced a fumble; Lavar McNulty, Jr. blocked an extra-point attempt.
Western will open its 2018 season at Montana State on Thursday, Aug. 30.