If your glass is half empty, the Eagles had 12 seniors start in the season-ending game against Towson. But if that glass is half full – and you’ve been paying attention to the depth-building all season – you’ll see that the outlook for next year isn’t nearly that dire.
Here’s a glance at how the Eagles should look this spring:
Offense: Record-setting QB Vernon Adams will return for his redshirt junior year, with targets aplenty despite the graduation of Ashton Clark. Cooper Kupp returns after a sensational freshman year, and depth is strong with the return of Cory Mitchell, Shaquille Hill, Blair Bomber and Kendrick Bourne. A deep tight end corps will stay that way despite the loss of Zack Gehring. Running back could be the deepest and most talented group in recent school history: Quincy Forte will return for his senior year after rushing for 1,208 yards this season, and the committee is bolstered by experienced backs Mario Brown, Jalen Moore and Jabari Wilson. The biggest loss comes on the interior line: center Ashton Miller and guards Steven Forgette and Brandon Murphy won’t be back. However, G Aaron Neary and C Jase Butorac have plenty of experience. Eastern has depth and experience at tackle, with Clay DeBord and T.J. Boatright on the left side, and WSU transfer Brandon Murphy and Cassidy Curtis manning the right.
Defense: Apart from cornerback, the Eagles will be in good shape next year. Up front, they lose run-stuffing tackles Andru Pulu and Will Katoa, along with end Anthony Larry, but there’s experience aplenty on a line that rotated as many as 12 players a game. Veteran Evan Day, standout freshman Samson Ebukam and top backup Zackary Johnson will man the ends. Senior-to-be Dylan Zylstra is the top returning tackle, where Matthew Sommer and Joe Douglas also performed well as true freshmen. Linebacker was the biggest concern coming into the season but will be a strength next year despite the graduation of J.C. Agen. That’s partly because leading tackler Ronnie Hamlin is a senior in name only; he will appeal for a sixth year of eligibility because of a knee injury suffered in 2009. Cody McCarthy is back in the middle, and Albert Havili and Miquiyah Zamora lead a promising group of newcomers. At corner, the Eagles lose one of the most decorated players in school history in T.J. Lee III, along with the capable Ronald Baines and top backup Bo Schuetzle. Backups Frank Cange and D’londo Tucker, the latter a true freshman this year, are the top returnees. Safety Allen Brown moves on, but Todd Raynes is back, along with top backups Zach Bruce and Isaiah Jenkins, while Jordan Tonani and UCLA transfer Tevin McDonald are expected back from injury.
Special teams: With the graduation of Kevin Miller, the Eagles will break in their third place-kicker in as many years, likely to be freshman Christian Fanning. At long snapper, the Eagles brought in JC transfer Cory Alcantar. Jake Miller returns at punter.
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