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Ball State shows good, bad, ugly in Red-White game

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For more on college athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Cardinals finish productive football spring

Sunday, April 21, 2013 - 12:01 am

MUNCIE, Indiana -- Pete Lembo offered spring football game truth with a smile. He saw what he wanted and what he didn't want to see from his Ball Sate Cardinals.

Given there are 131 days before the Aug. 29 season opener against Illinois State, that was fine.

“I'm never one to say the hay is in the barn,” Lembo said. “The summer will be important. The preseason will be important. There are still some position battles.

“It was a productive day -- there was some good, some bad, some ugly. It was a typical spring game.”

A biting wind swirled through Scheumann Stadium Saturday afternoon as the Red Team beat the White 55-28 in a game that featured a specialized scoring system that awarded points for drive stops, takeaways, first downs, scoring plays, and more.

Highlights included quarterback Keith Wenning touchdown passes to receivers Willie Snead and Jordan Williams, and an interception by linebacker Zachary Ryan. Ryan is a preferred walk-on and the younger brother of veteran receiver Connor Ryan.

“One thing you did see was some young guys progress,” Lembo said. “One who jumps out is Jordan Williams. We had a lot of injuries at receiver. Willie is a guy we can trust. We can move him to different spots. We kept Jordan at the boundary receiver position. He really made a lot of plays this spring.”

The chance to make full-contact plays had been limited this spring to avoid injuries. The spring game allowed players to let it loose. One consequence -- safety Brian Jones' big hit on Connor Ryan that left the receiver staggering off the field.

“We were careful not to do too much live work because of depth,” Lembo said. “They were looking forward to letting it fly around a little bit.”

Ball State has talent to fly around with. It returns 13 starters (seven on offense, six on defense) from a 9-4 bowl team.

The Cardinals return one of the Mid-American Conference's best quarterbacks (Wenning threw for 3,094 yards and 24 touchdowns last season), one of the MAC's best running backs (Jahwan Edwards rushed for 1,410 yards last year) and plenty of receiving depth.

The defense figures to be better with returning starters such as defensive ends Nick Miles and Jonathan Newsome, defensive tackle Nathan Ollie, cornerbacks Jeffery Garrett and Eric Patterson, and safety J.C. Wade.

“I was happy with our defensive front four,” Lembo said. “Those guys generated a better pass rush. They were pretty stout against the run. We're starting to build depth there.

“Certainly, they were going up against a younger offensive line compared to last year's group, which was about as veteran as anybody in the country.

“We'll be young at linebacker, but (sophomore) Benn Ingle had a solid spring, and Zach Ryan showed up a little bit in the spring game.”

Lembo played every healthy player on the roster. He even went an extra series with the reserves to ensure everyone got enough plays to evaluate.

“We have a good idea of what we have coming back,” he said. “The big X factor is what we have coming in (with the incoming recruiting class) and what they might bring to the table.”

The Cardinals will prepare for summer workouts. Coaches can't work with players, but strength coaches can. Players also will organize and run their own position drills.

“In the next week we'll do our year-end evaluations,” Lembo said. “Players will meet with me, with the strength coaches, with their position coach. It will be a year-end performance appraisal. It's good for everybody to know where they stand coming out of the spring. We'll set short and long-term goals heading into the summer.”