Spring football practice at Eastern Washington University will focus primarily on getting back to the basics – again.
“It’s what we hammer on every spring,” said second-year coach Beau Baldwin, who expects to greet close to 60 hopefuls – including 38 returning letterwinners – when the Eagles open spring drills Tuesday afternoon. “And it’s important to do that, because during the season you tend to get more involved with game planning and your next opponent, and you lose track of the basics a little.
“So we want to get back out there again this spring and make sure we hit that hard.”
Fortunately for Baldwin and his staff, there aren’t a lot of gaping holes to fill prior to the start of the 2009 season. The Eagles return seasoned players at every position, except running back, on an offense that is loaded with talented skill position players such as senior quarterback Matt Nichols and his trio of senior wideouts Tony Davis, Aaron Boyce and Brynsen Brown.
The offensive line, which was a major concern last spring, returns four full-time starters, including senior tight end Nathan Overbay, and will also feature three returning letterwinners who saw considerable playing time last fall.
The running back position is a cause for concern, however.
“After losing four seniors there, running back will be our youngest position on offense,” Baldwin said. “That will be a position we’ll look closely at this spring, and I expect it to be very competitive back there.”
In an effort to strengthen his stable of ballcarriers, Baldwin will move sophomore Taiwan Jones from cornerback to running back, where he will compete for a starting job against sophomore Tyler Hart and sophomore Darriell Beaumonte, who was used primarily on special teams last fall.
Jones’ move is more than just an experiment.
“I’m not going to guarantee we’ll never move him back to defense,” Baldwin said, of the fleet-footed 6-foot-1, 185-pounder from Antioch, Calif., who rushed for 1,466 yards and scored a single-season school-record 19 touchdown as a senior at Deer Valley High School in 2006, when he was named the most valuable player of the Bay Valley Athletic League and the Contra Cost Times’ player of the year.
“But right now, that’s where we think he can really help us. He’s got a great feel for things back there, and I think he will really add to our corps of running backs. I’m excited about that group, even though they’re inexperienced.”
On defense, Baldwin’s biggest concern will be up front, where the Eagles must replace three starters, including last year’s Buck Buchanan Award winner Greg Peach.
“It’s very similar to the situation we had in our offensive line last year, where we lose a lot of veteran players,” Baldwin said. “But like last year with our offensive line, I’m excited about this year’s defensive line because of one, the young players who are going to the opportunity to play, and, two, the veteran players who might not have gotten a lot of reps on Saturdays, but who are going to get that chance this fall.”
The linebacking concerns should be minimal, thanks to the return of senior Makai Borden and junior J.C. Sherritt, and there are plenty of battled-tested veterans – including senior free safety Kevin Hatch – returning to the secondary.
Uncertainties abound in the kicking game because of the graduation of place-kicker Felipe Macias, punter Fritz Brayton and long snapper Mark Lathim. But Baldwin feels there are capable replacements either on the roster or expected in camp this fall.
Baldwin added he does not expect his team’s ban from postseason play, which has been appealed to the NCAA, will affect his team’s approach to spring drills.
“In a lot of ways, the resiliency of our players to come back strong with a little bit of a chip on their shoulders and work hard during the offseason has probably helped us coaches and our fans get over it as much as anything,” he said. “They’ve taken the attitude that they can’t control how the appeal plays out, but they can control the 11 guaranteed games we have.”
Spring practices will be held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays on the EWU Sports and Recreation Center practice fields, usually at 4 p.m. … Scrimmages are scheduled for Saturday at approximately 1 p.m. and April 18 at approximately 12:30 p.m. … The only two veteran players who will not be participating in spring drills are senior special teams standout Nick Ramos and junior defensive back Ethan Robinson, who are both rehabbing injuries.