This is the seventh in an eight-part series on spring football at Eastern Washington. Today: Defensive backs.
As the torch is passed to a new generation of Eastern Washingon cornerbacks, expect them to get burned a few times.
Better now than later. In today’s scrimmage at Roos Field, they’ll again face the best offense in the Football Championship Subdivision, a pop quiz that figures to be tougher than most of the tests they’ll face next season.
“He (Eagle quarterback Vernon Adams) is throwing lasers out there, as opposed to other quarterbacks in our league,” said Frank Cange, one of several cornerbacks who hope to take over from multi-year starters T.J. Lee and Ronald Baines.
There also is a transition at safety; two key players are still on the mend and the Eagles must replace veteran Allen Brown.
Here’s how the Eastern secondary is shaping up during spring ball:
Cornerback: On the first day of spring drills, coach Beau Baldwin said this position “jumps out the most” in terms of competition.
The contenders are eager and talented, but inexperienced, leading cornerbacks coach Cherokee Valeria to focus this spring on improving their basic understanding of the position.
“In high school, they don’t have a lot of individual teaching of technique,” Valeria said. “Often, they just take their best and fastest guys and tell them ‘go do what you do.’”
Fortunately, the Eagles return some experience in Cange and D’londo Tucker, both of whom saw the field last year. Cange, a speedy, 5-foot-9, 170-pound junior from Renton, Wash., played in five games and broke up two passes; Tucker, a 6-0, 170-pound true sophomore from Federal Way, Wash., appeared in six contests and had five tackles.
The other leading contender for a starting spot is Jake Hoffman, a 6-0, 170-pound redshirt freshman from North Central High School.
Tucker said he doesn’t mind being under the gun, especially when it’s Adams who’s pulling the trigger.
“I feel like every day they’re working with us, we’re getting better than every other team,” Tucker said.
Valeria also sees promise in converted safety Victor Gamboa and walk-on Moe Roberts, who had a pick-6 in last week’s scrimmage.
“They’re doing an excellent job of picking things up,” Valeria said.
Waiting in the wings is two-star recruit Keonte White, a Prop 48 (the NCAA rule that sets high school academic requirements) this year.
Safety: The Eagles still aren’t fully recovered from the injuries that ravaged the safeties last year, as Tevin McDonald recovers from a leg injury and Jordan Tonani assesses himself as “almost” recovered from hip surgery last summer.
At least Tonani, is on the field this spring, while McDonald is working out sans pads and expects to be 100 percent by August. Todd Raynes, who also missed several games last year with a hamstring injury, is another top contender.
“I want to continue getting beter at man coverage and hopefully earn a starting role,” said Raynes, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound junior from Kenmore, Wash.
“I want us being the most ruthless safeties in the Big Sky and always being dependable,” Raynes said.
Regarding Tonani, a 6-0, 200-pound redshirt junior from Ferris High School, safeties coach Jeff Schmedding said the Eagles are “just being smart with a guy who hasn’t played football in almost a full year.”
McDonald, a 5-11, 190-pound transfer from UCLA, is heading into his senior year getting back in shape “and doing a good job of talking to the younger safeties,” Schmedding said.
Those players include Isaiah Jenkins, a redshirt senior from Seattle; Miles Weatheroy, a redshirt junior from Portland; and Zach Bruce, a redshirt sophomore from University High who played extensively last year.
“Everybody is pushing everybody else to compete, so it’s good,” Jenkins said.
Coming Tuesday: Part eight, special teams.