Sports

EWU running backs compete for top spot

This is the third in an eight-part spring series on Eastern Washington football. Today: running backs

Running back by committee at Eastern Washington? That was so last year, Quincy Forte said.

“We’re all competing to be that one back on the field,” Forte said.

Fellow back Mario Brown predicts “the best back will win, and the best back will start.”

Jordan Talley, the Eagles’ leading ballcarrier last year, was slightly more circumspect, but feels the same way: “It’s good that we’re sharing the reps (in spring) but you definitely don’t want to share (the starting spot). But it’s a team effort and you want your teammates to succeed.”

Nevertheless, the backs at Eastern are a tight-knit group, and they agree that competition – and a new position coach – is making them better.

Kiel McDonald, 28, a player and graduate assistant for Dennis Erickson at Idaho and Arizona State, was hired just before spring drills began last week. He hit the ground running on the first day with new drills and an approach that has helped Talley, for one, “learn so much more since he’s been here.

“Like how to read defenses,” Talley said. “That’s one thing coming out of high school I didn’t know what to do. Even last year, I struggled with it, getting my pre-snap read and understanding.”

For his part, McDonald understands the backs’ role in Eastern’s pass-heavy offense – last year the Eagles threw 509 passes and ran the ball just 292 times; and while the returning trio combined for 824 rush yards, they also caught 58 balls for 478 yards.

Indeed, the running back position accounted for more receiving yards last year than any of the wideouts apart from Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd.

So far this spring, the backs have been just as active in the passing game.

“While we want that group competing with each other,” head coach Beau Baldwin said, “the goal is to be better as a unit. The passing and running games go hand in hand. One will complement the other.”

To that end, agility drills have been a big focus in spring drills, with one cone drill following another – “drills we never knew about,” Talley said.

That’s only part of the battle, said McDonald, who credits Erickson with setting his foundation as a coach.

“It all starts from the neck up. We need to know what we’re doing, put ourselves in positions they hadn’t thought of before – just having a plan. You need to know the concept before you know the position.”

In addition to the Brown, Talley and Forte, the Eagles will be counting on the return of Demetrius Bronson, who is sitting out spring drills with an injury but is learning plenty from McDonald. “He’s established that he’s here for us, and he’s been very effective with his teaching,” said the 5-foot-10, 225-pound Bronson, who had 14 carries last year, primarily on third down.

This fall, the Eagles will add freshmen Jalen Moore, a 5-11, 200-pounder from La Puente, Calif., and Jabari Wilson, 5-11 and 200 pounds, from Carson, Calif.

Until then, Brown, Forte and Talley are soaking up every word from McDonald, who in Brown’s opinion is reinforcing what we need to do and giving us all an equal opportunity to show what we can do.”

Notes

Today’s scrimmage will total about 70 plays, said head coach Beau Baldwin, nearly double that of the team’s first scrimmage on April 7. Practice will begin at 3 p.m., and the actual scrimmage will start at about 3:40. Among the situations the Eagles expect to run are long drive (starting at their own 5-yard line or less), red zone (opponent’s 20-yard line or closer), 2-minute drill and overtime (with the defense starting with an eight-point lead).



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