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Spirited Eagles get set for competitive spring

EWU football (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
EWU football (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Eastern Washington hasn’t chosen football captains for this fall, but Will Post is weighing in.

The Eagles are holding a full-fledged competition in the weight room, holding a draft, and dividing into four teams of 20 players each.

“My team is in the lead,” said Post, an offensive lineman who knows squats and also knows how to motivate. “I’m making sure they’re competing – and having fun.”

The Eagles hope to carry that attitude into spring practice, which begins Tuesday and concludes with the annual Red-White Spring Game on April 28. The Eagles will hold 15 practices and scrimmages with an eye toward “being really good at the bare-bones things, the fundamentals,” said head coach Beau Baldwin, who expects about 80 players to participate, including 53 letterwinners.

Beyond that, Baldwin has two main goals: “We’ve got heavy competition at a lot of positions, and you truly have some spots where guys are gonna play significant minutes for us next year but didn’t take a lot of snaps last year.

“And to see how guys react.”

That’s especially true in the defensive secondary, where the Eagles return starting cornerback T.J. Lee III and safeties Jeff Minnerly and Allen Brown, but need to sort out the rest of the depth chart.

“That was an area where he had to improve the overall depth in recruiting,” Baldwin said. “Even the guys who start can’t feel entitled. We want to know who is our eighth and ninth guy, and who are those guys who are going to travel.”

Baldwin said that process will be eased by the hiring last week of a new cornerbacks coach, Cherokee Velaria, who held the same job at Idaho State. Velaria, a teammate of Baldwin’s at Central Washington, will complement secondary/special-teams coach Jeff Schmedding as well as help in recruiting.

On offense, the Eagles return perhaps one of the best receiver corps in FCS and that can only help whoever will succeed Bo Levi Mitchell at quarterback. First-team All-American Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd each had more than 1,000 yards in receptions, and they will be joined by Brandon Kaufman and Tyler Hart, both of whom were granted an extra year of eligibility because of injury hardship. Cory Mitchell also figures heavily.

“They have tools that allow (the quarterback) to not have to be perfect and you still have a chance to have a successful play,” Baldwin said. “And defenses won’t be able to take just one guy.”

The Eagles return two quarterbacks, junior Anthony Vitto and freshman Vernon Adams.

In addition, former SMU quarterback Kyle Padron has announced his intention to enroll at Eastern this summer and compete for the starting job.

Although he appeared in just one game last season, Vitto “put himself in position” to start if Mitchell had been injured, Baldwin said.

“We felt very confident that the offense was in good hands had something happened to Bo,” Baldwin said.

Adams “has a wealth of talent and has a great understanding of our offense,” added Baldwin, who emphasized that with only two quarterbacks in camp, both will get plenty of snaps with the first-team offense.

“The opportunity is out there,” Baldwin said.

That also goes for running back, but Baldwin said he “can almost guarantee” that the position will be shared again this season. “You have to show that you can be a complete back.”

Demetrius Bronson, Mario Brown, Quincy Forte and Jordan Talley each started at least one game last year, and that’s fine with Baldwin, who stressed that “our goal is to have a strong unit of backs.”

Last year, 14 starters – seven on each side of the ball – suffered injuries that kept them out of the lineup, including seven who were lost for the season.

“Injuries are always frustrating, because you know how hard players work to prepare to play in games,” Baldwin said. “It hurts, but there is always a silver lining in that you get to see some young players, and backups get an opportunity to step up and do great things.”

One example is the weight room.

“Absolutely. Our guys were just competing hard, and having fun,” Baldwin said. “(Strength) coach Nate (Brookreson) took it to another level … and everyone was accountable.”