Not until he was the last player left at Roos Field did reality sink in for Eastern Washington running back Mario Brown.
“Man, it is cold out here,” Brown said Saturday afternoon even as he warmed up to the reality of stepping back on the field after a midcareer redshirt season.
In Saturday’s first scrimmage of the spring, Brown and the rest of the Eagles shrugged off biting winds and even a few snowflakes while impressing head coach Beau Baldwin that “they didn’t just try to get through it.”
“They may have made a lot of mistakes at times,” Baldwin said. “But their attitude and mentality was to go out there and get something done every play.”
That applied doubly to Brown, the starting running back for Eastern’s final two games of its national championship season in 2010, but who played part time in 2011 and not at all last year after several injuries.
Brown looked sharp Saturday, making some deft cuts while gaining 44 yards on nine carries.
“I’m healthy and ready to play,” said Brown, who also scored twice in the 45-play scrimmage. “It felt good to be back on the field and let people know I’m still here. I know I’ve been M.I.A. in a sense, but I’m back.”
Eastern’s offensive units finished with 223 yards, with three touchdown drives all led by different quarterbacks. The highlight defensively was the No. 1 unit stopping the No. 1 offense on a pair of three-and-outs in the early stages of the scrimmage – perhaps thanks to what happened earlier in practice.
The defense had been outplayed in “Oklahoma drills,” in which three offensive players try to block for a running back against a trio of defenders.
“We knew we had to pick it up,” defensive lineman Dylan Zylstra said. “I wanted to make a statement for the younger guys to see.”
That came in the form of an emphatic block of a pass attempt by quarterback Vernon Adams.
“We don’t like to get beat,” Zylstra said. “I think that in the scrimmage we actually ended up coming ahead, in my opinion.”
After two-and-outs on his first two possessions, Adams led a six-play, 65-yard scoring drive. He completed two passes to Cory Mitchell for 44 yards on the drive, and 3 yards to tight end Cody Humphrey for the score.
Earlier, backup Anthony Vitto led a 10-play, 65-yard drive capped by a 1-yard scoring run by Brown. Redshirt freshman Jordan West directed a 12-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard score by Brown.
The three QBs combined to complete 12 of 22 passes for 126 yards and no interceptions.
“We were able to get (Vernon) in a rhythm with that score on the third series,” Baldwin said. “I am very pleased with his progress.
“Obviously, he is a different player, and he has a different mindset than he had last year. Anthony and Jordan are doing some good things and coming along with some stuff that is new. There are more things thrown on their plate than ever before.”
The Eagles will practice on Tuesday and Thursday, both at 4 p.m. Another scrimmage is scheduled for Saturday at 11:30 a.m.