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EWU Defensive backfield talented, but inexperienced

No man is an island, but try telling that to the young Eastern Washington cornerbacks.

“It’s tough because we got these practices and we’re going against the best offense that I’ve ever seen,” redshirt freshman Jake Hoffman said before practice Thursday morning against quarterback Vernon Adams and the Eagles offense.

“But I want some playing time, and hopefully make an impact on the field,” Hoffman said.

With that, Hoffman donned his helmet and got back under the microscope that’s watching his every move – in cover-3, cover-4 and just plain covering for each other when there’s a mistake.

More will be watching this morning, as the Eagles hold their second and final scrimmage before heading into game week and the season opener next Saturday against Sam Houston State.

For Eagles fans, cornerback is the most angst-ridden position on the team, as the Eagles must replace their three top players from a year ago, including All-American T.J. Lee, Ronald Baines and Bo Schuetzle. In their place is a group deep in talent but shallow in experience.

Junior safety Todd Raynes has their back.

“When they make a mistake we try to give them positive reinforcement – ‘Hey, you’ll make the next play,’ we tell them,” Raynes said.

Which helps. Says true freshman Nzuzi Webster, “I’m starting to get on with the team and the playbook – it’s good experience for me and the other corners.”

There are plenty to choose from. Here are the top candidates:

• Hoffman, a 6-foot, 170-pound redshirt freshman from North Central High School who entered fall camp atop a very fluid depth chart.

• Frank Cange, a 5-9, 170-pound junior from Renton, Washington, who saw limited action last year.

• Moe Roberts, a 5-10, 180-pound redshirt freshman from Cashmere, Washington.

• Victor Gamboa, a 6-0, 180-pound redshirt freshman from Tacoma.

• Rashad Wadood, a 5-11, 185-pound junior from Long Beach, California, who transferred this summer from Arizona State. He played in 10 games last year for the Sun Devils.

Coach Beau Baldwin said this week that up to half a dozen candidates are in the mix to start in the opener, but that’s not the major concern. “Four or five of them could see action,” Baldwin said.

In the meantime, defensive coordinator John Graham said the staff is doing everything to develop good habits, “in drill work, seven-on-seven and one-on-one, and make sure that those habits will carry over into games.”

Then there’s the mental side, a “fine line,” Graham calls it, of putting corners in man coverage, then offering some respite with a cover-3 zone.

“You don’t want to baby them, but every once in awhile you have to give them some mental relief,” Graham said.

Also, the Eagles might blitz more often this year. That would have a triple benefit of sharpening the corners’ man-coverage skills, putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and getting more defenders in the opposition backfield against the run.

Speaking of which, corners also are expected to offer run support, something that Lee and his classmates excelled at.

“Our eyes will be ready,” Hoffman said.