Candidates line up to back up EWU’s Vernon Adams

Quarterback Vernon Adams topped the FCS last season with a pass-efficiency rating of 181.13. (Colin Mulvany)

This is the third of an eight-part series of stories on spring football at Eastern Washington. Today: Quarterbacks.

There’s a quarterback controversy at Eastern Washington.

Jordan West and Conner Richardson will be battling through spring and into the fall, and coach Beau Baldwin expects that “the winner had better be competing like they are going to start that first ballgame on August 23rd.”

He won’t, of course, unless a catastrophe befalls returning All-American Vernon Adams, but Baldwin has more than a passing interest in who will be the “next man up.”

Last year, the Eagles could count on capable veteran Anthony Vitto, but he’s gone and the backup reins likely will fall to either West or Richardson. Along with Adams, they will get “a ton of reps,” according to Baldwin.

Also in camp is walk-on Travis Martin from nearby Newport High, while true freshman Reilly Hennessey of Camas, Wash., will join the Eagles in the fall.

At this point the edge appears to go to West, a redshirt sophomore-to-be from Maple Valley, Wash., who despite his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame, has shown the ability to scramble as well as direct the Eagles’ sophisticated offense.

“It’s definitely been a growing experience, seeing what Vernon is doing,” West said. “The goal is to be the second string, have that spot and be ready when my number is called.”

Richardson, a 6-2, 220-pound redshirt freshman from Burien, Wash., said he likes the Eastern offense “just for the fact that it’s so versatile, and that we’ve had so much success.”

Richardson’s goals in the spring: working on his “poise, accuracy, working coverages and seeing defenses.”

Those were Adams’ goals two years ago, when he battled Vitto in the spring of 2012 for what most fans expected to be the backup spot behind Southern Methodist transfer Kyle Padron. Three weeks into that season, Adams was a starter. Apart from some growing pains that first year, Adams has been little short of phenomenal.

Last year, the 6-0, 190-pound Adams finished the season atop the Football Championship Subdivision with a pass-efficiency rating of 181.13, which set school and Big Sky Conference records while ranking fourth in all-time FCS statistics.

For the year, Adams completed 319 of 386 passes for 4,994 yards, 55 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions. He also was the Eagles’ No. 2 rusher with 605 yards.

“People want to look at the big plays and those are great, but we have a player with guts to take shots and go for it,” Baldwin said of Adams, a redshirt junior-to-be from Pasadena, Calif.

“If he gets a pick or two, so be it. But he has the guts to go win games and stand in there,” Baldwin said.

This spring, Adams is taking reps with the other three quarterbacks, “always trying to improve and get on the same page as the receivers,” Adams said.

Beyond that, quarterbacks coach Zak Hill said, Adams has become a better student of the game and learned to settle down in the pocket, even as it collapses around him.

“He’s matured a lot,” said Hill, who’s looking for the same development from his backups.

Whoever that might be.

Coming Tuesday: Part four, the offensive line.


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