At the start of spring practice, Beau Baldwin claimed every position on his Eastern Washington University football team was competitive and wide open.
Hey, people, it’s called coach-speak.
But a couple of days later, even Baldwin couldn’t live with the generous, and misleading, nature of his comment, and confessed that, yes, “Matt Nichols is our quarterback.”
It was hardly a stop-the-presses type of revelation. Nichols, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior-to-be, has been the Eagles’ starting quarterback for the better part of the last three seasons and was named the Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP two years ago.
But just in case any Eastern fans had lingering doubts about where he might fit in on the depth chart, Nichols turned Saturday’s annual Red-White Game at Woodward Field into another of his personal showcases, completing 19 of 22 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles’ offense beat up on a beat-up defensive unit that figures to be much less porous come fall.
Nichols spread the ball around nicely, but leaned on his 6-5, 270-pound tight end and classmate Nathan Overbay throughout much of the controlled scrimmage – especially during the two-minute-drill session near the end of the workout.
Overbay ended up catching six passes for 91 yard and hauled in a 15-yard scoring pass from Nichols.
But afterward, he warned Eastern fans against reading too much into the favoritism Nichols seemed to show.
“We’ve got too many great athletes at receiver to say that’s not going to change,” Overbay said, when asked if he might be emerging as Nichols’ favorite target, despite the presence of such talented wideout of seniors-to-be Aaron Boyce and Tony Davis, who combined for 88 yards on nine catches on Saturday. “But, hopefully, that’s the case, because I really enjoyed it today.”
Nichols claimed Overbay has been one of his favorite targets all along.
“The guy is just a lot bigger than anyone else,” he explained. “And even when he’s covered, he can come over the top of a lot of guys and make the catch. He gives us something extra, and takes a lot of pressure off our outside receivers.”
Baldwin, too, had praise for Overbay.
“He’s just such a big target,” he said. “Maybe, he and (Aaron) Boyce have the best hands on the team; some of the better hands I’ve seen. And for a tight end to be that big with such soft hands … I mean, he’s just tough to guard.
“He can be covered, and he’s still open, so to speak, especially as accurate as Matt can sometimes throw it. I like to use him, even in our spread-outs. I just don’t like taking him off the field.”
The Eagles put several other offensive weapons on display during the scrimmage, including converted running back Taiwan Jones, a sophomore-to-be, who rushed for 33 yards on five carries, and caught a couple of touchdown passes – one from Nichols, and another from one of his backups, Scott Burgett, who redshirted as a freshman last fall.
“We played at a pace I like on offense,” Baldwin said. “We needed to step that up, and we were able to play a little faster. But we’re just really thin, right now, on defense.”
The Eagles started the scrimmage with only two of their projected secondary starters – Matt Johnson and Kevin Hatch – and lost Johnson midway through the session with a knee injury that Baldwin admitted was a concern.
“Yeah, we’ve got some injuries,” said Hatch, a senior-to-be and two-year starter at safety, “but we still came out, as a defense as a whole, and kind of got hit in the mouth a few times before we go into our groove.
“But, definitely, when we get all our guys back, we’ll come out a lot stronger.”
The Eagles, who normally conclude spring practice with their Red-White Game, still have three days of workout – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – remaining.