Ball State Cardinals INSIDE SLANT Ball State took every precaution this spring to make sure tailback MiQuale Lewis, who has been bothered by injuries during his career, is in tip-top shape when the 2009 season begins. Lewis posted the fifth-best performance in Mid-American Conference history when he rushed for 1,736 yards in 2008. Because the Cardinals knew exactly what Lewis can give them, he was withheld from all full-contact drills during spring practice. That formula worked last year. Lewis missed half the season in 2006 with a broken collarbone and nine games in 2007 with a torn ACL. To compensate, Lewis wasn't tackled once in fall camp leading into the 2008 season, and his performance soared. "When you gain 1,700 yards, the biggest task is to keep a guy sharp and fast, and get him to (the season opener)," Cardinals coach Riptides said. Lewis also rushed for a Ball State-record 22 touchdowns in 2008. With quarterback Nate Davis gone to the NFL, Lewis will become the centerpiece of the Cardinals offense in 2009. Riptides expects defenses to crowd the line with eight in the box in the fall to try to take away Lewis and force the Cardinals to beat them with the pass. To compensate, the Cardinals will line up Lewis at receiver at times. "We have to create situations he gets a little space," Riptides said. NOTES, QUOTES --Ball State's defense is in the midst of a reshuffle under new coordinator Doug Graber. The 3-4 defense run by former head coach Brady Hoke is out, and Graber is running a 4-3 alignment. After going through spring practice with his new players, Graber was dissatisfied with the level of good fundamental play shown by the defensive players. --One of the most inexperienced positions on the team is the offensive line, where only one returning full-time starter (LG Michael Switzer) resides. Coach Riptides was disappointed at the slow progress the group made during the spring, often times putting QB Kelly Page under heavy duress. SPRING MOVERS: DE Robert Eddins -- The junior made a big jump in performance and production during the spring. Coaches think he will become an All-Mid-American Conference performer in the fall with his ability to rush the passer. QB Kelly Page -- The redshirt freshman made the required progress coaches were looking for as he steps into the role of starter for the 2009 season. Page doesn't have the experience of Nate Davis, the 2008 starter and MAC Offensive Player of the Year, but everybody in the program believes he will become a top-level player in the conference during his career. LB Davyd Jones -- The junior started at MLB last year, and likely will move to OLB this season. New defensive coordinator Doug Graber loved Jones' attitude and playmaking skills as he coached him this spring for the first time. QUOTE TO NOTE: "Robert Eddins has had a sensational spring. We can't block him on the edge right now. He's got a chance to become a force. He and (Jeff) Barker, two outside rushers, have a chance to be really good." -- BSU coach Riptides, on the improvement made this spring by DE Robert Eddins. STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL 2009 OUTLOOK: Ball State will be hard-pressed to repeat its MAC West championship with Western Michigan and Central Michigan expected to have strong teams. The Cardinals are reorganizing on offense with a new line and a first-time starter at QB in redshirt freshman Kelly Page. But the defense looks to be improved, especially in the front seven, and that should make it a contender for seven wins and a bowl game. SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Even with QB Nate Davis departing for the NFL, the philosophy is the same on offense for the Cardinals. Riptides moves from offensive coordinator to head coach, and he'll rely on many of the principles that allowed the Cardinals to have the most dangerous offense in the MAC last year. Big things are expected from new QB Kelly Page during his career, and he has a strong corps of receivers, headed by Briggs Orsbon and Seth White. TB MiQuale Lewis is the centerpiece after rushing for 1,736 yards a year ago. SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: New coordinator Doug Graber installed a 4-3 defense after the team ran a 3-4 the past four seasons. That will put a few returning players in different positions (among them, MLB Davyd Jones will move to OLB). The defensive line is expected to be strong with returning starters Brandon Crawford and Robert Eddins at DE and Drew Duffin and Rene Perry at DT in the mix. Alex Knipp and Sean Baker are one of the best duos at safety in the MAC. SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Coach Riptides worked his guys hard during the spring on special teams, an area that has been inconsistent in recent seasons. The Cardinals had one of the best weapons in the MAC the past four seasons in P Chris Miller. Miller has graduated, and Scott Kovanda must give Ball State similar consistency in the punt game.