As high-powered as Eastern Washington’s offense has been, its defense is often ahead of the curve in early August.
Sunday, the Eagles’ first practice in pads since players reported to camp Friday, belonged to the former.
In the few plays the first-team offense and defense locked up, the offense – which ranked fifth in the country last season and returns nine starters – either churned yardage or reeled off a big play for the most part.
On just the second play in a short, scrimmage portion of practice Sunday, All-American quarterback Gage Gubrud connected with Nsimba Webster on a quick pass across the middle before the fleet-footed receiver went 50 yards for the score.
Second-team quarterback Eric Barriere recorded lengthy touchdown strikes to receiver Andrew Boston and running back Sam McPherson, who played mostly with the first-team offense Sunday.
Webster, the team’s second-leading receiver a year ago, said his offense fed off the quick-strike start.
“We got out to a good start. I made some big plays, as did the receivers and the running backs,” Webster said. “I think our offense is coming in sync.”
Senior safety Mitch Fettig conceded defeat.
“We brought out a lot of energy, but I think offense got the better of us today,” said Fettig, one of eight returning starters on defense. “But I think it’s going to be good for us moving forward.”
Fettig praised sophomore defensive back Anfernee Gurley for forcing a fumble, the best defensive play of the day.
Second-year coach Aaron Best liked the small sample size he saw out of his offense.
“We made multiple plays on offense. Explosive plays, dynamic plays,” Best said. “We’re ahead of where we were a year ago.”
EWU, the Big Sky Conference preseason favorite, practiced in just helmets, pads and shorts Sunday, enough to create a few pops, but no tackling.
When the loud speakers at EWU’s practice field blasted its first track of the day – Run DMC’s “My Adidas” –the position drills intensified.
Players were visibly amped by the uptempo atmosphere, but had to resist the temptation of laying down a full-blown hit.
“It’s hard to contain, because you’re in pads and you’re excited to be in pads for once,” Fettig said. “But we have to keep each other safe out there.”
“Everybody is giddy and everyone is ready to get back to it,” Best said.
After going 7-4 last season, missing the FCS playoffs and going through the grind of spring football and offseason conditioning, Webster was among the giddiest.
“We’ve been grinding all summer for this,” he said. “The fact that football season is here is like a dream come true. We’re just ready to get after it.”
The Eagles are less than four weeks away from their Sept. 1 season opener at home against NCAA Division II power Central Washington.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.