New faces, new looks
They don’t have the stature of the departed “Trio” of Brandon Kaufman, Nick Edwards and Greg Herd, but this year’s wide receivers have the quickness, which could make the Eagles even more dangerous on shorter passing routes. That includes seniors Ashton Clark, Cory Mitchell and Daniel Johnson as well as underclassmen Shaquille Hill and Cooper Kupp. In turn, the offense will try to maximize that quickness with some new formations, including the zone read, which will spread the field horizontally as well as vertically.
On defense, the Eagles will try to mix their looks, including utilizing ends Evan Day and Anthony Larry in a “buck end” role designed to stiffen their run defense, particularly on the edge. “It may be simple for us, but sometimes it can be different and an illusion for the offense,” Baldwin said. “It’s the same 11 on the field with our traditional looks, but just giving (the opposing offense) different looks.”
Tough up front
There will be no changing of the guard this year. Or at tackle, for that matter. In contrast with last year, the starting offensive lineup is all but set. Redshirt sophomore Clay DeBord, who had a strong freshman year, is back at left tackle, while Cassidy Curtis is the heir apparent to All-American Will Post at right tackle. The interior line is manned by three senior starters: left guard Steven Forgette, center Ashton Miller and right guard Drew Reynolds.
In fall camp, according to O-line coach Aaron Best, that leaves more time for building chemistry and communication among the players. “You can’t go 11-3 without an O-line performing that way,” Baldwin said, adding that the unit’s experience and depth allows “you to expand on what you want to do from a game-plan standpoint.”
Of the 19 departures, six were from the linebacking corps, leaving the Eagles with just three players – Ronnie Hamlin, Cody McCarthy and J.C. Agen – who’ve played the position in college.
And while those three bring talent and experience, the Eagles are sorely lacking in depth; they’ve moved players from other positions, including former running back Jordan Talley and former safety Miquiyah Zamora.
An injury to one of the starters could be a big setback; but even if they’re healthy, Hamlin, McCarthy and Agen will need a breather now and then.
“We’re definitely going to need some more linebackers,” said Baldwin, who added 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.”
In some ways, they have already. True freshmen Albert Havili of Federal Way and Jake Gall of Cle Elum have impressed the coaches and put themselves in position to burn their redshirts.
This year’s team will be among the most experienced in the Big Sky, with at least 12 seniors atop the depth chart.
That could be a problem in 2014, but for now it’s a blessing.
On offense, the Eagles will probably start five seniors, including linemen Forgette, Miller, Brandon Murphy, tight end Zack Gehring and wide receiver Ashton Clark.
At least seven seniors will start on defense. They are linemen Andru Pulu, Will Katoa and Anthony Larry; linebacker J.C. Agen; and defensive backs T.J. Lee III, Ronald Baines and Allen Brown.
Two more projected starters also could depart; Hamlin is expected to seek a sixth year of eligibility because of a knee injury in 2010 that sidelined him for that season.
Tevin McDonald, a junior transfer from UCLA, could leave early as he is already projected to be a high pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
• After splitting last year with Idaho and Washington State, the Eagles are 8-21 vs. Football Bowl Subdivision schools since moving to the FCS level in 1984. Eastern gets two more shots at the big boys this season, against Oregon State on Saturday and Toledo on Sept. 14.
• In four of the past five seasons, the Eagles have ranked in the top 10 in FCS in passing offense. Twice in that span, they’ve also been ranked in the top 10 in total offense.