Eastern Washington University linebacker J.C. Sherritt remembers having to deal with Taiwan Jones out of the running back position two years ago, and it wasn’t always fun.
“He’s about the fastest player I’ve ever seen,” Sherritt, a junior-to-be, said of his 6-foot-1, 185-pound teammate, who played cornerback for the Eagles as a redshirt freshman last fall. “When he was a freshman, he was the scout team running back, and any time we went into a game after facing Taiwan all week, it actually seemed easier, because we didn’t have to try to stop anybody as fast as him.”
On Saturday, during Eastern’s second spring football scrimmage, Sherritt and his defensive teammate were back trying to corral Jones again – and with limited success.
Jones, who was moved to running back this spring, touched the ball only six times, but accounted for 103 yards and a long touchdown run during the 54-play scrimmage. He rushed for 80 yards on three carries and – in addition to catching three passes for 23 yards – wowed the small crowd that had gathered on the sidelines by breaking loose on a 39-yard scoring run that included a couple of ankle-spraining cutback moves and a nifty 360-spin to elude a final defender.
“You could see right there why we switched Taiwan,” said Matt Nichols, the Eagles’ three-year starting quarterback, who will be a senior next fall. “The past few years, we haven’t really had that guy where if you give him the ball and it’s a broken play, he can turn it into a touchdown – which is something he can do, and the reason he’s playing running back right now.”
Second-year head coach Beau Baldwin as also impressed with Jones’ scrimmage effort.
“This, in a sense, was his coming out, where he was finally able to get loose a little bit,” he said. “The other scrimmage opportunities he’s had, as limited as they were, he just hadn’t gotten loose.”
Jones, who was a two-way standout at Deer Valley High School in Antioch, Calif., is waging battle for the starting running back position with classmates Darriell Beaumon and Tyler Hart, who played in Eastern’s first four games as a redshirt freshman last fall and rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries before being injured.
“It’s great to have Taiwan and Tyler Hart back there again,” said Sherritt, who finished the scrimmage with six tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass deflection. “Because if you mess up on your technique for a second – like we did a couple of times today – they’re going to make you look foolish and fall on your face.
“You couldn’t ask for better competition to play against right now.”’
Defense thins out
Eastern’s defense dominated the scrimmage early, coming up with a fumble recovery, an interception and five sacks. But it struggled later on to contain Jones and Nichols, who completed 11 of 14 passes for 109 yards.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Scott Burgett torched the Eagles’ secondary for 142 yards and two touchdowns through the air, completing all six passes he attempted, included scoring tosses of 20 yards to Ashton Gant and 61 yards to J.T. Leggin.
Baldwin was quick to note that his defense has been hit hard by minor injuries this spring and was short on bodies.
“I thought we had great effort, especially considering we were a little short-handed at certain positions and had some guys who had to play back-to-back (series),” he said of his defense. “That can be a real challenge, especially when the offense is switching out.”
Eagles search for punter
With Fritz Brayton, who handled the punting chores for the past two seasons, having graduated, the Eagles are looking for a replacement.
Baldwin has a high school recruit, Cameron Homan, coming in next fall, along with another expected walk-on. But on Saturday, the punting was handled by Nichols, who has punted in a couple of games after rolling out with the option to run the ball.
“We’ve got a couple of new guys coming in, but if they end up not quite being ready, I’d be happy to do it,” Nichols said. “I’ve punted my whole life and I can do it pretty well … but that’s going to be a decision for the fall.”
Baldwin didn’t sound like he expected Nichols to win the job but left the possibility open.
“We’ve got both a freshman and walk-on coming in, so we’re going to have those two guys competing and Matt as our security blanket. Those two will compete, but if it’s Matt, it’s Matt.”
Eastern will stage it annual Red-White Game at Woodward Field at 2 p.m. Saturday. … Senior-to-be Aaron Boyce was the top receiver in the scrimmage, hauling in five passes for 66 yards. Boyce also caught a 19-yard touchdown toss from Tyler Hart on a running back option pass. … Defensive lineman Jacob Kragt left the scrimmage with what appeared to be a minor leg injury that further depleted a young D-line that is also missing Renard Williams (hamstring) and Codee Allen (ribs) among others. … Tyler Jolley, a junior-to-be on EWU’s defensive front, has put on 10 pounds and improved his speed since last fall, according to Sherritt. “Tyler might have the best improvement and best spring of anyone I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Sherritt said. “I’m really looking forward to playing behind him next fall.”