If the Eastern Washington football coaches had one goal going into spring drills, it was to get more physical.
Which sounds a bit trite – this is football, after all. But in trying to achieve a better balance between the run and pass, the Eagles did their best to emphasize the game in the box with more live-tackling drills, including the inside running game, head coach Beau Baldwin said.
“We worked on some things like pad level, staying sticky on blocks and getting off blocks,” Baldwin said. “Those were things that we really said were an emphasis, and there are some other areas we still have to fix as well.”
Those would have been better fixed if it weren’t for injuries across the board, some still lingering from last year, especially on the offensive line. Moreover, of the top four running backs from last year, only Quincy Forte went the distance in April.
The Eagles, 6-5 last year, were the most pass-heavy team in the Football Championship Subdivision in 2011, but balance is hard to achieve when some of your key players are still balancing on crutches.
“First of all, you’ve got to get all your parts together,” Baldwin said. “The run game, even more than the pass protection, suffers when you don’t have all your O-linemen and two tight ends.
“Some of the parts were not able to be out there.”
That also hampered offensive rhythm, Baldwin added.
The corollary was the defensive line, which often dominated the offensive line in scrimmages and consistently freed the linebackers to shut down the running game.
For Baldwin, it’s a reminder that his better teams, especially the national champions in 2010, had a consistently strong defense, “and it started with our guys up front.”
One difference: It may be deeper than that unit or even the standout group of 2008.
From an offensive lineman’s perspective, that can be tough, Baldwin said, “but it can develop your guys and strengthen your line.”
A better defensive line may also go far to correct the Eagles’ biggest deficiency last year on defense: lack of takeaways, which fell from 47 to 16.
In 2010, Baldwin said, many interceptions resulted when the pass rush “got in the QB’s face, or flushed them out of the pocket and made them throw off-balance.
“When someone gets, let’s say, six interceptions, it’s sometimes unappreciated that the D-line helped contribute to that.”
The Eagles open camp in early August, mostly likely Aug. 6. Until then, Baldwin said players need to maintain conditioning during voluntary workouts through the rest of spring and summer.
“They have to understand that if they aren’t doing it then they’re going to get passed up – whether it’s guys on their own team or in terms of other teams working harder than them.”
Eastern opens the 2012 season with road games at Idaho (Aug. 30) and Washington State (Sept. 8). Eastern’s home opener at Roos Field is Sept. 29 against Montana.