With first-year Southern Methodist transfer Bo Levi Mitchell having won the starting quarterback job over six other candidates last spring, Eastern Washington University opened fall football practice on Monday without any major questions to answer – except for the health of Taiwan Jones.
Jones, the Eagles junior running back, had a sensational sophomore season last fall, rushing for 1,212 yards and 15 touchdowns and being named to the All-Big Sky Conference first team. He also landed a spot on the third team of both the Associated Press and The Sports Network NCAA Football Championship Subdivision All-America teams.
But the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder from Antioch, Calif., was held out of all contact drills in the spring, while recovering from a host of physical problems that plagued him during the latter stages of the 2009 season.
Shortly following the Eagles’ 44-33 loss to Stephen F. Austin in the first round of the FCS playoffs, its was learned that Jones, who was playing with severe stingers in both shoulders, two fractured toes and a broken hand, also needed surgery to repair a sports hernia.
“I was pretty beat up,” Jones recalled, prior to the start of Monday’s practice, “but I stayed here all summer and rehabbed, and I’m feeling really good.
“Right now, I’m not feeling any pain anywhere. But I won’t really know for sure – especially about my shoulders – until I start contact.”
That test will come on Thursday, when the Eagles don pads for the first time. Until then, however, opposing Big Sky coaches can only wonder what kind of problems Jones, who also caught 40 passes for 561 yards and four more touchdowns last fall, might present when he’s completely healthy.
Feelin’ like an Eag
It can sometimes take a while for a transfer to feel at home at his new school, but Eastern’s projected starting quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is feeling like a true Eagle these days.
“And it’s because of these guys,” the 6-2, 210-pound Mitchell said while nodding toward his teammates. “I can’t say enough about how accepting they’ve been. It’s not like when a new guys comes in and all of the quarterbacks are saying, ‘Oh, yeah. Who’s this guy?’
“All of the quarterbacks have accepted me, and we’re all really close, which is cool. It’s like everybody on the team is saying, ‘Hey, come help us,’ and I hope I can.”
Mitchell added he feels a lot more confident this fall than he did during his battle with six other candidates for quarterback last spring.
“Knowing the plays, knowing the guys and feeling more comfortable with everybody and everything – the receivers, the o-line and even the exchanges with Taiwan – really boosts the confidence level.
“And it’s nice coming into fall camp knowing what I’m doing, instead of trying to learn.”
Summer was hot
Eastern’s third-year coach Beau Baldwin was both excited and pleased with the overall state of his team heading into the start of fall practice.
“I feel really good about where our guys are as a team, both mentally and physically,” he said Monday, the day after the 91 players, including 10 returning starters and 34 other letterwinners, on this year’s roster went through physical tests on Sunday. “You can tell by the way they came in yesterday that they really attacked the summer, and that’s a good sign.
“You want them to attack the summer; you want them to go through some rigorous stuff on their own so that when they start fall camp, they feel like the stuff you put them through is almost less than what they went through in the summer, and I get that feeling that’s how most of them are going to feel.”
Gibbs changes sports
Among the most intriguing newcomers at Monday’s opening day of practice was Alden Gibbs, who averaged 2.6 points per game as a sophomore guard on EWU’s basketball team last winter after transferring from College of Siskiyous.
Gibbs, a 6-3, 185-pounder from Brooklyn, N.Y., reportedly gave up on basketball after seeing minimal playing time last winter, and was fielding punts during special teams drills with the football team on Monday.