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Austin Lewis
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Injuries force WMU LB Austin Lewis to retire

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An injury ended Austin Lewis‘ 2014 season prematurely.  Now, an accumulation of injuries, specifically head injuries, has put a premature end to Lewis’ playing career.

Tuesday, WMU head coach P.J. Fleck indicated that Lewis will be forced to retire from the sport because of concussions.  Mlive.com writes that “injuries appear to have cut [Lewis’] career short.”

“One thing we don’t mess around with is whether it’s concussions or an issue with the head,” the coach said according to the website. “They have to live the rest of their life, and I understand that.”

Last season, Lewis’ 66 tackles were good for fourth on the team.  His 5.5 tackles for loss were also fourth, while the three quarterback hits with which he was credited tied for second on the Broncos.

Lewis had been in line for a more increased role in WMU’s defense were it not for the injury issues.

Lovie Smith retains third Bill Cubit assistant on first Illini staff

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Earlier this month, we reported that Lovie Smith would retain Paul Williams as defensive backs coach as part of his first Illinois coaching staff and confirmed that Mike Phair, promoted to defensive coordinator not long ago by Bill Cubit, would remain as defensive line coach.

Tuesday night, not only did the Illini confirm those developments but also announced another retention by Smith as well.

In a press release, the Illini revealed that Tim McGarigle will continue on as linebackers coach.  McGarigle was hired by Cubit in early January after spending the past four seasons at Western Michigan.

In addition to McGarigle, Phair and Williams, former Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will remain in the program. The running backs coach in 2015, Scheelhaase will have a non-specified non-coaching role in 2016.

“After meeting with both Coach McGarigle and Coach Williams, I was very impressed with the energy they bring to our staff, as well as their coaching background and experience,” Smith said in a portion of a statement. “Even though they were on the Illini staff only for a few weeks, they will be very helpful in the transition.

“I’m also excited that Nathan will continue working with the program. He is an outstanding young man who loves the Fighting Illini.”

With the various moves Smith has made in the last few days, he has just two holes on his nine-man on-field staff left to fill — running backs coach and what the school described as tight ends coach/special teams coordinator.

It has previously been confirmed that Smith has added Hardy Nickerson as defensive coordinator and swiped offensive coordinator Garrick McGee from Louisville for the same job with the Illini.  Indianapolis assistant Andrew Hayes-Stoker was announced as wide receivers coach Monday, while Luke Butkus was officially confirmed as offensive line coach last week..

W. Michigan the landing spot for ex-S. Miss assistant David Duggan

KALAMAZOO, MI - SEPTEMBER 4: Head coach P.J. Fleck of the Western Michigan Broncos looks on in the first half against the Michigan State Spartans at Waldo Stadium on September 4, 2015 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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After a couple of stints down south, David Duggan is headed north to continue his coaching career as the long-time assistant was announced as Western Michigan’s new linebackers coach.

The past three seasons, Duggan was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Southern Miss.  His first go ’round at Southern Miss, from 2008-11, the 52-year-old Duggan was linebackers coach while also adding the co-coordinator title in 2011.

In between, Duggan was the special teams coordinator at North Carolina in 2012.  He also handled the Tar Heels’ outside linebackers in his lone season with the ACC school.

“Coach David Duggan was an absolute no-brainer hire,” head coach P.J. Fleck, who’ll open his fourth spring practice in Kalamazoo later Tuesday, said. “To be honest I think it was a little bit of a surprise he was available. A former NFL head coach in NFL Europe, defensive coordinator at multiple stops, he has an incredible resume and incredible energy and a passion to teach and coach along with a willingness to come take our program to a completely different level. I hope our players truly understand the resource they now have at the linebacker position. We want to welcome him, his wife Lynn and his two daughters Olivia and Grace.”

Prior to his first stint at Southern Miss, Duggan was the head coach of the Cologne Centurions of NFL Europe (2006-07). He spent the first 15 or so years of his coaching career at the collegiate level in the Northeast, including stops at New Hampshire, Holy Cross, Colgate and Brown.

WMU losing newly-hired assistant to Chip Kelly’s 49ers

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In January, P.J. Fleck added Tem Lukabu as an assistant on his Western Michigan coaching staff. Less than two months later, Lukabu has gone bye-bye.

While nothing is yet official, SI.com‘s Thayer Evans is reporting that Lukabu is leaving WMU to take a job with Chip Kelly and the San Francisco 49ers. Lukabu was hired to be the Broncos’ linebackers coach; there’s no word on what job he’ll hold down with the NFL club.

Prior to what turned out to be a very brief tenure in Kalamazoo, Lukabu had served as the linebackers coach at FIU.

The good news for Fleck is that the unexpected vacancy may not stay open for long.

2016 early NFL draft entries fall just shy of ’14 record

2014 NFL Draft
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So close, yet so far.  Well, technically speaking it is.

With the deadline for early entry into the NFL draft in the rearview, the NFL announced Friday that 96 players “have been granted special eligibility for the 2016 NFL Draft” and will be eligible to be selected during the April 28-30 event in Chicago. While that’s significantly more than 74 draft-eligible sophomores and juniors who declared last year, it falls two shy of the record 98 who declared early for the 2014 draft.

For some perspective, the number of players combined who declared early for the 2007 (40) and 2008 (53) falls short of the number for this year alone.

Another 11 players with eligibility remaining “have in timely fashion under NFL rules officially notified the league office that they have fulfilled their degree requirements” and are thus eligible for the draft as well. Those 11 are…

2016 NFL Draft I

Of the 96 deemed by the NFL as having special draft eligibility granted, 48 played defense and 46 were from the offensive side of the ball. There were also two kickers in this category — Southern Oregon’s Aldrick Ross and British Columbia’s Quinn van Gylswyk.

A total of 18 defensive ends and tackles are included, while the secondary, combining both cornerbacks and safeties, has 17. On the offensive side, 16 running backs are in the group, joined by 12 offensive linemen and 10 running backs. Just four draft-eligible quarterbacks cannonballed into the pool: Cal’s Jared Goff, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, Ohio State’s Cardale Jones and Memphis’ Paxton Lynch.

The SEC, naturally, leads all conferences in NFL-designated special draft eligibility — The Shield differentiates this year between them and those who have eligibility remaining but earned degrees — with 25 players leaving early.  12 of the 14 teams in that conference have at least one player in the group, the lone exceptions being Kentucky and Missouri. Next up is the 15 of the Big Ten and Pac-12; the only other conference in double digits is the ACC (11).  The lone remaining Power Five conference, the Big 12, just missed with nine.

The most of any Group of Five league is the Mountain West’s four.  Two conferences, Conference USA and the Sun Belt, had no players granted special eligibility.

Individually, Ohio State saw seven players deemed to have met the NFL’s criteria for special eligibility, followed by UCLA with six and Clemson with five.  Below are the other individual schools with more than one player in this category:

4 — Notre Dame
3 — Arkansas, Baylor, Mississippi State, Ole Miss
2 — Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Cal, Indiana, LSU, Oklahoma, West Virginia

And, below this, are all of the 96 players with special eligibility for the NFL draft:

Bralon Addison, WR, Oregon
Dominique Alexander, LB, Oklahoma
Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
Demarcus Ayers, WR, Houston
Peyton Barber, RB, Auburn
Vonn Bell, DB, Ohio State
Caleb Benenoch, OL, UCLA
Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
Dariusz Bladek, OG, Bethune-Cookman
Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
Daniel Braverman, WR, Western Michigan
Beniquez Brown, LB, Mississippi State
Artie Burns, CB, Miami
Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA
Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
Trenton Coles, DB, Duquesne
Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska
Jack Conklin, OL, Michigan State
Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina
Kamalei Correa, DL, Boise State
Su’a Cravens, LB, USC
Elijah Daniel, DT, Murray State
Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson
Thomas Duarte, WR, UCLA
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia
Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame
Jared Goff, QB, Cal
T.J. Green, S, Clemson
David Grinnage, TE, North Carolina State
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida
Jerald Hawkins, OL, LSU
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
Willie Henry, DT, Michigan
Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State
Austin Hooper, TE, Stanford
Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana
Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor
Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Quinton Jefferson, DL, Maryland
Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State
Cayleb Jones, WR, Arizona
Chris Jones, DL, Mississippi State
Jayron Kearse, DB, Clemson
Denver Kirkland, OT, Arkansas
Darius Latham, DL, Indiana
Kenny Lawler, WR, Cal
Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
Roger Lewis, WR, Bowling Green
Steve Longa, LB, Rutgers
Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
Jalin Marshall, WR, Ohio State
Alex McCalister, DE, Florida
Brett McMakin, LB, Northern Iowa
Keanu Neal, S, Florida
Yannick Ngakoue, DL, Maryland
Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss
Marquez North, WR, Tennessee
Emmanuel Ogbah, DL, Oklahoma State
Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA
C.J. Prosise, RB, Notre Dame
Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
Alex Redmond, OL, UCLA
Hassan Ridgeway, DT, Texas
A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida
Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU
Aldrick Rosas, K, Southern Oregon
Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma
Isaac Seumalo, OL, Oregon State
Wendell Smallwood, RB, West Virginia
Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Ron Thompson, DE, Syracuse
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
Quinn van Gylswyk, K, British Columbia
Nick Vigil, LB, Utah State
Cleveland Wallace III, CB, San Jose State
Dwayne Washington, RB, Washington
Stephen Weatherly, LB, Vanderbilt
De’Runnya Wilson, WR, Mississippi State
Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia
Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona
Avery Young, OL, Auburn