NORMAL — The promise of Jonathon Miller appeared in a fleeting glimpse last season as the Illinois State tailback sprinted 58 yards for a touchdown against Eastern Michigan.
Miller was unable to provide any encores through a siege of injuries capped by season-ending knee surgery.
ISU coach Brock Spack feared that injury might also be career-ending for the Oklahoma transfer. Or, Spack surmised several months ago, a move to defense might be wise to lessen the impact on Miller’s knees.
As of the start of the Redbirds’ spring practice sessions, Miller remains a tailback and the outlook has brightened considerably.
“We expect him back in August,” Spack said. “He’s way ahead of schedule.”
Miller has participated in ISU’s offseason conditioning program, including the recent “County Fair” where the Redbird players gather before sunrise for a week of grueling workouts.
“He went through everything,” said Spack. “He went through County Fair and never looked like he’s been hurt.”
Miller will be held out of spring practice, but Spack believes he can contribute in the fall.
“If he’s available to carry 7-8 times a game and play 15, 20, 30 snaps, that would be huge and more than we thought,” said the Redbird coach.
Spack believes a switch to defense would be too difficult for a player with only one season of eligibility remaining.
Tug of war over Spelman: Redshirt freshman lineman Mark Spelman has been impressive enough that both offensive coordinator George Barnett and defensive coordinator Spack want him on their side of the ball.
“The one I really like is Spelman. George and I have an issue with that,” Spack said. “He thinks he might be his starting center. I don’t want to screw that up.”
Spelman will compete with Charles Cowley for the center spot vacated by Pete Cary. Jake Wienhoff also could be part of the battle when he returns from a knee injury in the fall.
Campbell switches sides: Sam Campbell, a 320-pounder who spent last season as a second-string offensive lineman, has been moved to defense to shore up depth on the line.
“Sam is a pretty explosive guy,” said Spack. “He’s got a great attitude, he’s tough and he moves pretty well.”
Replacing Ericksen: Safety Ben Ericksen intercepted seven passes in a breakout senior season of 2012 and is drawing considerable attention from professional scouts.
The top candidates to take over Ericksen’s free safety position are junior Dontae McCoy, sophomore Soniel Estime and true freshman Dion Starnes.
“I don’t know if he will redshirt. I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Spack said of Starnes. “He’s very, very fast and has good length. Can he hit somebody and tackle? We don’t know that.”
App State moving up: ISU not only ended Appalachian State’s 2012 season with a 38-37 playoff victory, but the Redbirds also ended the Mountaineers’ stint as an FCS program.
Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, another long-time FCS powerhouse, have announced they are moving to the Sun Belt Conference and FBS.
Neither school will be eligible in the coming season for the FCS playoffs, which will expand from 20 to 24 teams.