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EWU football spring preview: running backs

Thu., April 10, 2014, midnight

This is the first of an eight-part series on spring football at Eastern Washington. Today: the running backs

The evolution of Eastern Washington’s running game can be summed up by one stat from last year: 5.2 yards per rush.

That put the Eagles – two years earlier the pass-happiest team in the Football Championship Subdivision – 14th in the nation and third in the Big Sky Conference in rushing.

By comparison, the Eastern national championship team of 2010 averaged only 4.8 yards a carry.

Want more numbers? Last year, the Eagles had 25 rushing TDs (two more than in 2010) and fumbled just 11 times – eight fewer than in 2010.

“Obviously, we’re doing something right,” said Quincy Forte, the Eagles’ top returning rusher last year from a group that’s as deep as coach Beau Baldwin has seen in six-plus years as head coach.

“As a group, I think they’re among the best we’ve had here,” Baldwin said.

The Eagles enter camp with their four top four backs from last year, including veterans Forte and Mario Brown and redshirt freshmen Jalen Moore and Jabari Wilson. Waiting in the wings is former Cal recruit D.J. Martin, a Prop 48 this year who has the potential to be among the best Eastern backs in recent history.

Last year, it was Forte who fully realized his potential, rushing for 1,208 yards on 179 carries and 11 touchdowns for an average of 6.7 yards a carry. In three FCS playoff games, Forte – a senior next year – had 469 yards on 7.9 yards per rush.

Running backs coach Kiel McDonald said Forte’s improvement was a case of “just becoming more patient and slowing the game down and getting more patient – and then the light bulb went on for Quincy.”

Forte will likely have to earn the starting role again, what with the return of senior-to-be Brown (77 rushes, 482 yards and four TDs last year). Brown, as Eagle fans remember, is the biggest remaining link to the championship team, taking over the rushing chores when Taiwan Jones was injured late in the season.

“I just want to continue to be more consistent,” Brown said. “This is the time to get better.”

For Wilson and Moore, spring is the time to stay healthy. Wilson (31 rushes, 170 yards) started the season opener at Oregon State but suffered a shoulder injury the following week that cost him most of the season. Moore (43 rushes, 192 yards) also missed most of the year to injury.

“This spring I’m focusing on getting my body right, competing but also focusing on staying healthy,” Wilson said.

All the backs have prospered since the emergence last year of All-American quarterback Vernon Adams, who ran or scrambled for 605 yards and in the process opened lanes for his backs.

That was the product of many hours of work last spring, when Baldwin installed the pistol formation and other looks.

“You probably saw more change last year than you’ll see this year,” Baldwin said. “There are certain things we want to expand upon and take to new levels, but that balance is the key to chasing championships.”

Until then, McDonald will put his players through their paces this month.

“I think that this group of guys has come a long way, and they’re hungry to play,” McDonald said.

Coming Friday: part two, the wide receivers

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