This is the second of an eight-part series on spring football at Eastern Washington. Today: Wide receivers.
Talk about finding the seam: Nick Edwards’ transition from playing to coaching is about as seamless as it gets.
The former Eastern Washington All-American wide receiver shed his Eagle uniform for the last time in December 2012, took a shot at the next level and now finds himself coaching some of his former teammates.
“It’s still going to be the same relationship: brother to brother,” said Edwards, who beat out several other candidates after former mentor Junior Adams moved on to Boise State.
Edwards is only 24, but Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin noted that as a player, he showed a maturity beyond his years.
Along the way, Edwards said he gained an appreciation from Adams for organization, the technical demands of the position and the importance of film work.
“I was here until 1 a.m. the other night, said Edwards, who says Adams taught him the importance of organization, the technical aspects of the position and the need to always be a student of the game.
“He’s one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever been around,” said Eagles receiver Cory Mitchell, a teammate of Edwards’ in 2011 and 2012.
“We know what he did, and we’re going to learn from him,” Mitchell said during practice on Tuesday.
Fans and rivals already have learned to respect the Eastern receiving corps, which returns most of its top weapons, including All-American Cooper Kupp and veterans Mitchell, Shaquille Hill, Kendrick Bourne and Blair Bomber. The biggest loss is the graduation of Ashton Clark, who had 83 receptions last year for 1,233 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“We have a lot of firepower and a lot of depth – it’s exciting,” said Mitchell, who is sitting out spring drills after knee surgery following an offseason staph infection.
Kupp is coming off a sensational season – 93 receptions, 1,691 yards and 21 touchdowns – but said there’s always room for improvement. “It’s all about trying some little things, some little tricks that work here and there,” said Kupp, who during Tuesday’s practice was focusing on the minutiae of positioning in one-on-one coverage.
Given the frequency of single coverage the Eagles face in their four-receiver threats, that always is a big priority in practice, said Edwards, who said that he could tell back in the fall of 2012 that Kupp would be a success.
“The guys who work the hardest are always going find success,” Edwards said.
Kupp isn’t the only one.
Last year, Mitchell accounted for 47 catches, 699 yards and three scores, but the Eagles also got production out of big-play man Shaquille Hill (790 yards on just 38 receptions, and nine TDs), true freshman Kendrick Bourne (seven catches, 117 yards and two scores) and Washington State transfer Blair Bomber (five catches for 79 yards and a big TD reception in the season-opening win at Oregon State).
Better yet, the hardest work is over. Last spring and summer, the receivers adjusted to new formations and routes, and prospered under new quarterback Vernon Adams.
Adams’ ability to extend plays led to many scramble drills, most of them successful as opposing defensive backs struggled to hold coverage. The result: 5,247 receiving yards, all but 556 of them going to the wideouts.
“I think it’s getting easier every year,” Mitchell said.
Coming Saturday: Part three, the quarterbacks