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Baldwin looks for right mix to keep Eastern at the top

With openings at WR and LB, Eagles experiment with different personnel sets

The new faces on the Eastern Washington football team may mean some new looks this season.

Or not.

That’s up to head coach Beau Baldwin, whose Eagles will begin fall camp on Wednesday with a blend of veteran talent along with some question marks at several positions.

That happens every year, of course, but the turnover this year at wide receiver and linebacker offers opportunity along with challenge. The Eagles embraced both last spring; the offense worked out of several different sets, including the pistol and option, while the defense utilized a “buck” linebacker and other looks.

See also: A look at five storylines to keep an eye on as Eastern opens fall camp.

The next three weeks will decide what makes it into the playbook for the season opener on Aug. 31 at Oregon State. On both sides of the ball, the playbook depends on the players, and Baldwin said he’s excited about the possibilities for the “next man up.”

“We need another group of young receivers to step up,” Baldwin said. “You can call them inexperienced, but we have some players who are in the program already. Including the players coming in this fall, we’re excited about our next wide receiver group.”

That includes senior returnees Ashton Clark – the Eagles’ third-leading receiver last year – plus Cory Mitchell and Daniel Johnson, along with Cooper Kupp and Shaquille Hill. “Now we five, six or seven guys with an opportunity to step up,” Baldwin said.

None are as tall as the departed Brandon Kaufman, Greg Herd or Nicholas Edwards, but it’s a speedy group that promises to stretch defenses. Baldwin said the offense may include a “bit more underneath stuff, but I’ve always believed that you’ve got to attack people vertically.”

On defense, the Eagles may be even more physical than last year’s group, thanks to the return of end Anthnony Larry, who was academically ineligible in 2012. He and fellow end Evan Day look to fill the “buck” linebacker position – if that’s the scheme the Eagles decide to employ. Andru Pulu is back after missing spring drills with a foot injury, while Will Katoa and Dylan Zylstra look poised for big years.

The secondary looks stellar despite the loss of sophmore safety Jordan Tonani following hip surgery last month. Senior Allen Brown and Tevin McDonald should start at safety, while preseason All-American T.J. Lee III mans one corner spot.

That leaves the linebacking corps, which lost six players from last year’s roster but returns All-Big Sky selection Ronnie Hamlin and veterans Cody McCarthy and J.C. Agen, the latter missing most of last season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Baldwin and his staff took precautions last spring by moving running back Jordan Talley and safety Miquiyah Zamora to linebacker. “We’re definitely going to need some more linebackers,” said Baldwin, who said the situation is ripe for a true freshman or two to make an immediate impact.

“It’s exciting,” Baldwin said. “And I think those guys will step up.”

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