Beau Baldwin, Eastern Washington University’s third-year head football coach, continues to stress the fact that the unwieldy number of quarterbacks competing this spring for next fall’s starting job will shrink from six to two or three by next week.
When it does, look for Bo Levi Mitchell – a junior-to-be and first-year transfer from Southern Methodist University – to be the favorite to step into the spot vacated last fall by Matt Nichols.
Mitchell, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder from Katy, Texas, established himself as Nichols’ heir apparent Saturday afternoon during a 55-play scrimmage, the first of the spring, that played out in front of a handful of interested spectators.
Mitchell, who started 19 straight games at SMU – including 12 as a true freshman – was used exclusively with the No. 1 offensive unit and responded by completing 6 of 8 passes for 75 yards and one touchdown.
He also directed the Eagles to a pair of scores during red-zone situations in which the offense started at the defense’s 20-yard line.
“He played really well, considering this was only practice (No.) 5,” Baldwin said of Mitchell, who threw for 4,590 yards and 36 TDs at SMU before injuring a shoulder and losing his starting job midway through the 2009 season. “I’m sure he’ll be the first to tell you we’ll go back to watch video and find something on every play to improve on.
“But he’s operating really well, and he’s taken it upon himself, away from practice, to understand our terminology and our system.”
Among Mitchell’s many impressive throws during the scrimmage was a 29-yard touchdown toss to Nicholas Edwards, a rangy 6-3 sophomore-to-be, on a deep crossing pattern that required a deft touch.
“It was real pretty,” Edwards said. “He just laid it out there with a perfect touch, and I was able to go get it. He seems to know what kind of balls our receivers want thrown to them in certain situations, and he’s really made a nice connection with us since he got here.
“We feel comfortable with him and Nick Gauthier. They both have really strong arms, but still put a nice spin on the ball that makes it really catchable.”
Gauthier, a 6-1, 205-pound junior to be, who redshirted last fall after transferring from Bakersfield (Calif.) College, directed the No. 2 offense and completed 3 of 9 passes for 30 yards, but was victimized by a couple of dropped throws that were right on target.
Three of the other quarterback candidates – Jeff Minerly (Ferris High), Anthony Vitto and first-year junior college transfer Greg Panelli – also got a limited number of reps.
That left Scott Burgett, who saw just mop-up duty in two games as a redshirt freshman last fall, as the only one of the six to not take snaps during the scrimmage.
“I don’t think any of the five guys who played today – including Bo – got enough work,” Baldwin said. “And that’s why, going into next week, it’s going to be down to three guys getting work. And the week after that, it’s probably going to be down to two guys.
“That’s just the way it has to be.”
Mitchell seemed pleased with his performance, but said he still has plenty of issues to address as spring practice continues.
Among those is his footwork, as he attempts to relearn what it’s like to take occasional snaps from under center after spending two seasons in coach June Jones’ shotgun spread passing game at SMU.
“I feel good out there, and I thought I threw the ball really well today,” he said. “But there are still a couple of drops I need to make better. In high school, this was our offense – taking five-step drops, taking three-step drops and sprinting out.
“But at SMU, we just took the snap and got ready to throw the football, so I’m just starting to get my muscle memory back to where it was in high school.”
The Eagles will continue spring drills with practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday (without pads), before scrimmaging again Saturday. That scrimmage has been tentatively set for 12:30 p.m. at Woodward Field.