Eagles ready to get going
The new faces on the Eastern Washington football team may mean some new looks this season.
That’s up to head coach Beau Baldwin, whose Eagles will begin fall camp on Wednesday with a blend of veteran talent along with some question marks at several positions.
That happens every year, of course, but the turnover this year at wide receiver and linebacker offers opportunity along with challenge. The Eagles embraced both last spring; the offense worked out of several different sets, including the pistol and option, while the defense utilized a “buck” linebacker and other looks.
The next three weeks will decide what makes it into the playbook for the season opener on Aug. 31 at Oregon State. On both sides of the ball, the playbook depends on the players, and Baldwin said he’s excited about the possibilities for the “next man up.”
“We need another group of young receivers to step up,” Baldwin said. “You can call them inexperienced, but we have some players who are in the program already. Including the players coming in this fall, we’re excited about our next wide receiver group.”
That includes senior returnees Ashton Clark – the Eagles’ third-leading receiver last year – plus Cory Mitchell and Daniel Johnson, along with Cooper Kupp and Shaquille Hill. “Now we five, six or seven guys with an opportunity to step up,” Baldwin said.
None are as tall as the departed Brandon Kaufman, Greg Herd or Nicholas Edwards, but it’s a speedy group that promises to stretch defenses. Baldwin said the offense may include a “bit more underneath stuff, but I’ve always believed that you’ve got to attack people vertically.”
On defense, the Eagles may be even more physical than last year’s group, thanks to the return of end Anthnony Larry, who was academically ineligible in 2012. He and fellow end Evan Day look to fill the “buck” linebacker position – if that’s the scheme the Eagles decide to employ. Andru Pulu is back after missing spring drills with a foot injury, while Will Katoa and Dylan Zylstra look poised for big years.
The secondary looks stellar despite the loss of sophomore safety Jordan Tonani following hip surgery last month. Senior Allen Brown and Tevin McDonald should start at safety, while preseason All-American T.J. Lee III mans one corner spot.
That leaves the linebacking corps, which lost six players from last year’s roster but returns All-Big Sky selection Ronnie Hamlin and veterans Cody McCarthy and J.C. Agen, the latter missing most of last season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Baldwin and his staff took precautions last spring by moving running back Jordan Talley and safety Miquiyah Zamora to linebacker. “We’re definitely going to need some more linebackers,” said Baldwin, who said the situation is ripe for a true freshman or two to make an immediate impact.
“It’s exciting,” Baldwin said. “And I think those guys will step up.”
Wednesday – First practice, 3 p.m.
Saturday – First practice in full pads, 4 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 12 – First two-a-day sessions, 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 17 – Scrimmage, 9:45 a.m.
Saturday, Aug. 24 – Scrimmage, 9:45 a.m.
Saturday, Aug. 31 – Season opener
at Oregon State, 3 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 7 – Home opener
vs. Western Oregon, 4 p.m.
For the second straight year, the Eagles are picked to finish second in the Big Sky Conference behind Montana State. That’s not surprising, since Eastern returns 13 starters from a team that tied for the conference title with MSU and Cal Poly and finished in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs with an 11-3 record.
Shaping up nicely
Call it a conditioned response, but head coach Beau Baldwin said he appreciates the fact that most of his players stayed on campus during the summer for voluntary conditioning. “It’s huge that we don’t have to spend time getting guys back into shape,” said Baldwin, who said he hopes that their offseason conditioning will be tougher than what the players face in August. “You hope that’s the norm and the standard,” Baldwin said.
It’s Adams’ team now
A year ago, quarterback Vernon Adams said he felt like “a chicken with his head cut off.” And that was during spring practice. But since his surprise start in the Big Sky Conference opener at Weber State last season, Adams has grown up – especially mentally. “I’ve seen a lot of growth in him, even from spring ball until now,” said Baldwin, noting that during his spring exit meeting, Adams was very critical of himself and seeking to improve. That comes after a redshirt freshman season which saw Adams finish fourth in the nation in pass efficiency. “He’s really stepped up,” Baldwin said.
Veteran offensive line
There will be no changing of the guard this year. Or at tackle, for that matter. In contrast with last year, the starting offensive lineup is all but set. Redshirt sophomore Clay DeBord, who had a strong freshman year, is back at left tackle, while Cassidy Curtis is the heir apparent to All-American Will Post at right tackle. The interior line is manned by three senior starters: left guard Steven Forgette, center Ashton Miller and right guard Drew Reynolds.
The kicking game
Baldwin’s biggest concern entering fall camp isn’t about the wide receivers or linebackers; it’s the kicking game, “I would say the number one thing is solidifying the battery,” Baldwin said, explaining that while returning backup Kevin Miller has experience, he also must replace starters at holder, long snapper and kicker. “That’s one area I’m really interested in,” Baldwin said.