Quincy Forte isn’t about to slow down – somebody might be gaining on him.
Eastern Washington’s first football practice on Thursday was already in the books when Forte, the Eagles’ leading rusher last season, decided to put in a few extra wind sprints in plain view of the media folks interviewing coach Beau Baldwin.
Forte said he wasn’t showing off. “I’m just trying to get better,” Forte said.
But so are his teammates, including senior Mario Brown and sophomores Jabari Wilson and Jalen Moore, all of whom started at running back in one game or another last year.
“We’re at the point where we know the hay is in the barn, but we always can get a little bit better,” running backs coach Kiel McDonald said.
While position battles at cornerback and kicker are grabbing most of the attention in Cheney this month, the competition at running back may be more eye-catching. Nothing is guaranteed, McDonald said, even for Forte, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2013 with 1,208 yards, 11 touchdowns and a stunning 6.7 yards per carry.
Here are the top four candidates for playing time:
• Forte, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior from Vacaville, Calif., who seemed to get better when it mattered most last year, gaining 469 yards on 59 carries in the playoffs. He also gained 10 pounds of muscle during the offseason, but was sidelined for much of spring ball with a hamstring injury. Last year, Forte thrived in the Eagles’ wide-open offense, catching 23 balls for 279 yards which helped spread the field. “Hopefully he can set himself up to do that again,” McDonald said.
• Brown, a 5-9, 190-pounder, is the last major link to the FCS championship season in 2010, when he replaced injured Taiwan Jones in the playoffs. Last year, Brown had 77 rushes for 482 yards and four TDs, and showed strength on inside runs after redshirting in 2012. Brown, too, missed most of spring ball because of injury.
• Wilson, a 5-11, 200-pound redshirt sophomore from Carson, Calif., earned the starting role in last year’s season opener at Oregon State, but missed most of the season with a shoulder injury that happened the following week. “I’m just hoping to continue where I left off,” said Wilson, who finished with 31 carries for 170 yards.
• Moore, a 5-10, 195-pound redshirt sophomore from La Puente, Calif., took over for Wilson only to get injured a week later. “My focus this year is more on the concept of the plays, slowing the game down and reading my keys,” said Moore, who last year had 192 yards on 42 carries.
Also in camp is senior Cody Hecker, a senior from Sandpoint who saw action in four games last year.
D.J. Martin, a high-school blue-chip recruit who was a Prop 48 last year, failed to make grades and no longer is with the program.
No matter who gets the carries, Baldwin is committed to establishing the run, which got a boost from the emergence of All-American quarterback Vernon Adams (132 carries, 774 yards and four TDs). Last year, Adams spread the field with his speed and elusiveness, helping the Eagles average 5.2 yards per carry.
“You can get caught up sometimes in the pass-happy, no-huddle offense,” Baldwin said. “But we’ll continue to grind out those inside runs and do things that allow us to be 50-50.”
So much for the first segment of fall camp, Baldwin said this week. Now that the pads are on, “You’re definitely making some decisions on who is going to be in your top two or three at each position.” And by this time next week, Baldwin said, the Eagles will be running “scout stuff” on Sam Houston State. …After their first day off, the Eagles are back in two-a-days today, at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. … A single 9 a.m. session Thursday will be followed by another double dip on Friday, with the first scrimmage set for Saturday at about 9:50 a.m. at Roos Field.