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Baldwin makes special teams changes at EWU

When it comes to special teams, Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin is taking the divide-and-conquer approach.

After last month’s promotion of special teams coach Jeff Schmedding to defensive coordinator, Baldwin weighed the options. He said this week that individual coaches will be responsible for the four main special teams units.

“I think it gives a lot of different guys a chance to grow and take something over,” Baldwin said.

In the new arrangement, linebackers coach Josh Fetter will coach the kickoff coverage unit; running backs coach Kiel McDonald will supervise kickoff returns; Baldwin will handle punt coverage; and cornerbacks coach Cherokee Valeria will coach the punt return unit.

The placekicking and kick defense units will still be handled by offensive line coach Aaron Best and defensive front coordinator Ryan Sawyer, Baldwin said.

Regarding the changes, Baldwin allowed that “Maybe a year from now I may morph to one guy, but we will all have a role anyway – we’re all involved in special teams.”

In other news, Baldwin said he is finalizing the schedule for spring ball, which will conclude with the Red-White Spring game on April 25; and waiting on the NCAA to rule on defensive end Evan Day’s petition for a sixth year of eligibility. Day didn’t play last season after suffering an ACL injury last spring.

Keeping up with Vernon Adams

The media frenzy has slackened only a little following Vernon Adams Jr's announcement to leave EWU and play at Oregon. For example, Adams tells CBS that his former Eagle teammates were "butt-hurt" (whatever that means) by his decision…. From NBC, a report that Adams - and not Braxon Miller of Ohio State - was Oregon's first choice to replace Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. … Fox sent a crew for this feature story,  which includes this 33-minute audio of Adams discussing a variety of topics. …. Of course, Adams isn't guaranteed anything at Oregon, which returns a few other QBs who hope to succeed Mariota.

Vernon Adams and EWU, the morning after

Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams - make that former EWU quarterback Vernon Adams - is off to Oregon. The drama was set for Monday  morning, I noted in this SportsLink item. It was Adams himself who broke the story via Instagram.  Shortly after that, I wrote this story, and posted the full text of Adams' message to Eastern Nation. Later, I wrote this front-page story on Adams' departure, plus a look at who's likely to fill the void. John Blanchette weighs in with this column on the reaction from Cheney.

A week of drama awaits Eastern fans

Will he or won't he? I'm talking about Eastern point guard Tyler Harvey, who may or may not play in Thursday's Big sky Conference showdown game against Sacramento State, a game that will go far in deciding who will host the Sky's postseason tournament.

What, did you think I was talking about someone else? This is basketball season, after all.

Harvey, the national scoring leader, missed the Eagles' road trip to Montana with a bruised right quadricep, and Eastern still came away with two wins, including their first win in Missoula in 11 years. Imagine that: one of the biggest wins in recent history, fashioned without one of the most dynamic players to wear an Eastern uniform. Two days later, the Eagles gutted out another win, at Montana State, for their first conference road sweep since 2004.

Which reminds me of the Eastern football team, which managed to win three out of four games last fall without the services of Vernon Adams Jr., the same guy who's expected to announce today whether he'll finish his collegiate career in Cheney or someplace else (and not necessarily at Oregon).

Don't get me wrong: Adams is a special player, a two-time All-America who's helped the Eagles to three straight Big Sky titles while playing some of the most exciting football I've ever seen. But Adams doesn't define Eastern football, which won a national title before Adams arrived and should remain an elite FCS program after he leaves - whenever that is.

In the meantime, there's a pretty big basketball game to be played Thursday at Reese Court. See you there. 

 

EWU has 17 verbals as National Signing Day looms

Time will tell, but Eastern Washington appears to be assembling one of its best football recruiting classes.

The biggest highlight so far include is defensive end Keenan Williams, a three-star recruit from Cheney according to scout.com. At 6-foot-3, 262 pounds, Williams has the physical tools to play as a true freshman. In fact, he's already bigger than some of the true freshmen defensive linemen who saw action last year for the Eagles.

The Eagles also have sewn up tight end Ketner Kupp, a two-star prospect out  of Yakima and the younger brother of EWU All-American wide receiver Cooper Kupp. Ketner is 6-1, 195.

In the fold since last spring is offensive lineman Codi McGuire (6-3, 280) of Kelseyville, Calif., a two-star recruit who will play guard.

Another top o-line commit is Chris Schlichting, a 6-5, 275-pounder from Snoqualmie, Wash., who was being heavily recruited by Montana.

Finally, there's cornerback Savion Simms, a two-star cornerback out of Fresno, California, who committed last year.

As of Monday morning, the Eagles have verbal commits from four offensive linemen, two running backs, one wide receiver, two defensive linemen, four linebackers, two corners and two safeties.

Obviously, that will change by Wednesday. Stay tuned…

 

EWU’s Jois expected to play against Idaho

Eastern Washington forward Venky Jois, sidelined for almost two weeks with an ankle injury, was practicing at full speed Tuesday and should see action Saturday against Idaho, coach Jim Hayford said Wednesday.

Jois, the Eagles' top rebounder (7.5 rpg) and second-leading scorer (18.0 ppg), hasn't played since he suffered a right ankle injury early in a game Jan. 15 at Portland State. In his absence, the Eagles are 3-1 going into Saturday's game against the Vandals at Reese Court.

Hayford said that Jois' biggest challenge is "working on his own fears of getting hurt and building on the trust that he's healed."

 

Cheney football star commits to EWU

It’s as official as it can get two weeks before national letter-of-intent day: Cheney High School football star Keenan Williams will enroll at Eastern Washington this fall.

“He’s been recruited pretty heavily by a lot of mid-major schools, but he just decided to stay home,” said his father, Cheney coach Bryan Williams.

The 6-foot-3, 262-pound defensive end and tight end had soft-verballed to the Eagles some time ago, but wanted to leave no doubt.

Here are highlights of Williams on offense and on defense

Williams,a three-star prospect according to rivals.com, had offers from Eastern, Idaho and Wyoming, and was approved for admission to Harvard. He has a 3.45 grade-point average.

Other schools showing interest were Washington, Montana State, Montana, Portland State, Colorado, Boise State, BYU, Armyu, Yale, Cornell, Air Force, Puget Sound, Whitworth, Arizona and North Texas.
In his last two years as a Blackhawk, Williams was first-team all-Great Northern League on both offense and defense.

EWU quarterback Adams rebuts Oregon rumors

Rumors that Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. could transfer to Oregon next year are just that, Adams said Wednesday afternoon.

“I haven’t talked to anybody over there," Adams said in reaction to reports a pair of websites, including fishduck.com and bleacherreport.com , that he is could be candidate to replace departed Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

The rumors were repeated Wednesday in this column from the Oregonian.

“I keep hearing that too,” Adams said Wednesday. “I don’t know, maybe they just need a quarterback.”

Adams, a redshirt junior at Eastern, is scheduled to earn his degree this spring. Theoretically, he could transfer to another school for his final year of eligibility.

Adams has led the Eagles to three straight Big Sky Conference titles. He is a two-time runner-up for the Walter Payton Award, the Football Championship Subdivision equivalent of the Heisman.

Adams threw for 35 touchdowns in 10 games last season after throwing 55 in 15 games in 2013. He’s also rushed for 10 touchdowns over the past two years and has completed 66 percent of his passes along the way.

Ironically, EWU and Oregon will face each other in the season opener on Sept. 4 in Eugene, Oregon.

 

 

A way-too-early look at 2015: EWU and the FCS

The college football season is finally over, which gives us a chance to look ahead to next year.

And we’re not talking about the big boys.

On Tuesday, The Sports Network announced its early-early favorites in the Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern Washington (11-3 last year) is picked third, surrounded by some familiar company: No.1 North Dakota State, No.2 Illinois State and No. 4 Sam Houston State.

Even more interesting, here’s what they say about the Eagles:

“What quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. can accomplish as a senior is a scary thought. But the two-time runner-up for the Walter Payton Award and All-American wide receiver Cooper Kupp (pictured above) are going to have to keep scoring in bunches until the Eagles defense proves it is much improved. Allowing 59 points to Illinois State in the national quarterfinals left some doubt. The schedule is as difficult as ever for the three-time defending Big Sky champions, including Oregon, Northern Iowa, Idaho State and Montana on the road, and Montana State (as a non-conference matchup again) and Cal Poly at home.”

That’s hardly surprising, but the defense may still be an issue next year unless Eastern effectively replace five starters, including two of its best in linebacker Ronnie Hamlin and safety Tevin McDonald. On the other hand, I expect to see all those young defensive linemen emerge bigger and badder come spring.

TSN is right about the offense, which shouldn’t miss a beat despite the departure of running backs Quincy Forte and Mario Brown along with All-American right tackle Jake Rodgers.

And the schedule? It’s as tough as ever, especially when you consider the game at Northern Iowa, which seldom loses at home. On

the other hand, ISU must replace All-Big Sky quarterback Justin Arias.

And what about Montana? The Griz don’t even merit a mention in the TSN rankings.

Eagles soar to No. 13 in mid-major poll, 63rd in RPI

More than six weeks after the big win over Indiana, Eastern Washington is still getting people's attention.

The Eagles are ranked 13th in this week's Collegeinsider.com mid-major poll and 63rd in the NCAA RPI rankings. That's by far the best in the Big Sky Conference: Sacramento State is the next league team at No. 193.

Want more numbers? The  Eagles are ranked 15th in Division I scoring offense (80.4 per game), 17th in field goal percentage (49.0 percent), seventh in 3-pointers made per game (9.6) and seventh in 3-point percentage (41.2 percent). The Eagles are also 13th in blocked shots (6.0 per game) and are 20th in fewest turnovers per game (10.7).

"With each road win you gain more confidence," coach Jim Hayford said after the Eagles won 89-86 at Idaho to improve to 3-0 in the Big Sky and 12-4 overall. "I think the Idaho win was a big confidence-builder."

 

 

 

EWU QB Vernon Adams also grades out well off the field

The first time I sat down for a get-to-know-you interview with Vernon Adams Jr. back in October  of 2012, he was named the new starting quarterback at Eastern Washington. And he was stressed - about geography class.

The hard work paid off today, when Adams was named Eastern's Scholar-Athlete of the Month for January, along with basketball player Melissa Williams. It's been an unlikely road for Adams, a two-time All-American who told me this morning that he didn't even like the classroom until he came to Cheney.

"Now I love going to school every day," said Adams, who carries a 3.0 grade-point average while majoring in recreation management with a minor in coaching. That's the dream for Adams after his football career is over: working with kids on the playground and on the playing fields.

EWU football recruits show their stuff

Depending on what web site you're perusing, Eastern Washington has anywhere from two to nine verbal commitments for 2015. We won't know for sure until Feb. 4, but until then, here are highlight videos of several recruits who've given verbals:

Here's offensive lineman Codi McGuire,  a 6-foot-4, 275-pounder from Kelseyville, California, who also received offers from UC Davis, San Diego, Princeton, Princeton, Harvard, SJSU and SDSU

Here's cornerback Savion Simms, a 5-7, 160-pounder from Fresno (offers from Idaho, Montana St. and NAU)
  

Eastern football links

Good morning from chilly Flagstaff, where it's 38 degrees outside, so I just hightailed it back to my hotel room to compile these links. First, here's my feature from yesterday on offensive lineman Jake Rodgers - a former Shadle Park star - and my preview of today's game. Want more? Here's the official release from EWU sports information director Dave Cook. … Eastern's next opponent, North Dakota, is still looking for a road win this year…. Apart from EWU-NAU, the biggest game is the Big Sky today pits Montana against Cal Poly; here's a preview from the Missoulian. … Portland State football is in crisis mode, according to these stories in the Oregonian.

Eastern sports links

Eastern Washington running back Mario Brown handles more than a football. Here's my feature on Brown, plus a link to yesterday's live chat. …  There's also some interesting basketball news out of Eastern. … Back to football: Here's all you need to know about Northern Colorado. …Northern Arizona faces a big test at Portland State. … Montana's defense is getting a lot of praise.

Eastern football links

The Eagles are back home this weekend, facing an improving Northern Colorado program that leads the nation in turnovers.. Here's our weekly notebook, a report from practice, and a link to today's live chat, where we can discuss all of it. …. Want more? Here's a preview of the game. courtesy of EWU sports information director Dave Cook. .. Don't have a ticket? Better make some friends. … Elsewhere, Northern Arizona is at Portland State in a game that both sides need to win. … Montana is concerned about UC Davis' improving offense. … MSU quarterback Dakota Prukop is added to the Payton watch list (what, he wasn't already?)

Eastern sports links

That's right, this morning's blog isn't confined to football. I caught up with basketball coach Jim Hayford, whose team opened practices last weekend amid a lot of optimism. … On the football front, Eastern's  next opponent, Southern Utah, also has faced a quarterback crisis the season. Those are just two items up for discussion in today's live chat at noon, right here at sportslink. …Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson will be back this week. … The Billings Gazette has an interesting analysis of changing offensive philosophies at Montana and Montana State….North Dakota has one of the most versatile players in the Big Sky.

Eastern football links

For several weeks, it will be Jordan West's football team at Eastern Washington. Here's our look at West, who will start Saturday at Southern Utah in place of the injured Vernon Adams. … We'll have a chance to discuss that and more during Thursday's live chat, but in the meantime, here's an early look at the game from EWU.

Eastern and Big Sky links

You want tough? Meet Cody McCarrthy. the starting middle linebacker at Eastern Washington and the subject of this feature story. The Eagles are at home this week against Idaho State, and here a look at the game from EWU and from ISU. We also had a live chat yesterday, and here is the replay. …How good are the Bengals? Better than in years past, according to this article in the hometown Idaho State Journal. … Southern Utah has a big game this week at Cal Poly.

Eastern football links

It's Hall of Fame weekend at Eastern Washington, but for one player, it's Homecoming - and he doesn't even play for the Eagles. Here's our story on former Ferris High star Cody Sorensen, now with the Idaho State Bengals. .. I also wrote a story on sportscasters that includes his father Paul as well as Mike Peterson, who calls Whitworth games for SWX. .. Today, look for our weekly live chat, which begins at noon. … Want more on the game? Here's a preview from Eastern and one from ISU. … The hometown Idaho State Journal offers this story on an improving Bengal defense. … Next week's EWU opponent, Southern Utah, is hoping to build some momentum this week. …Northern Colorado has a banged-up quarterback.

Eastern Game Day football links

The Eagles are here in (mostly) sunny California, playing tonight at UC Davis in a game that perhaps won't come down to the wire - and perhaps it will. Here's my preview, along with a feature in the Sacramento Bee that examines the game as well as the Eastern program.  Want more? Here's a complete pre-game package from Eastern sports information director Dave Cook. … Elsewhere, Idaho State could sure use some momentum heading into next week's game at Eastern, and a win over Sacramento State would do wonders. … Weber State and Southern Utah are both 0-4, but something's gotta give today. … In Missoula, the Montana Grizzlies are looking to bounce back from a loss at North Dakota State. … Perhaps the most intriguing Big Sky opener is Cal Poly at Northern Arizona, as both teams have postseason hopes.

Eastern football links

Eastern safety and California native Tevin McDonald is playing in California this weekend for first time since joining the Eagles a year and a half ago. Here's my feature story on McDonald, who is coming off a huge day at Montana State. .. We also had a nice live chat on Thursday, and here's the replay. … Want more on the game? Go to the EWU athletic site… and the UC Davis site. … It's been a tough year so far at Northern Colorado. …and now my computer is freezing and I have a plane to catch - adios!

McDonald fitting in just fine at Eastern

It wasn’t easy trading Westwood for the West Plains, but former UCLA safety Tevin McDonald has done just that - and he's fitting in just fine at Eastern Washington.

The native Californian still dreams of following his father and older brother into the National Football League. He’s merely taking a different path, one smoothed for many players by the stability and success of the Eagle program under coach Beau Baldwin.

Here's the full story: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2014/sep/25/ewu-transfer-tevin-mcdonald-excels-completely-diff/

Eastern football links

Another week, another road trip for the Eagles, who visit sunny California this week for a game with UC Davis and running back Gabe Manzanares, the subject of our weekly notes column.  We also will have a live chat today at noon - see you then. … As always, there's a wealth of info on this week's game, courtesy of Eastern sports information director Dave Cook. UC Davis also has plenty of details on Saturday night's contest, which is the Big Sky opener for both teams. … Individual honors are no consolation to Montana State running back Shawn Johnson after MSU's 52-51 loss to Eastern. … Idaho State could use a little more fan support. … Southern Utah and Weber State are both 0-4, so something has to give when they meet Saturday. …Montana is a bit banged up going into its conference opener against Northern Colorado.

Eastern football links

It's game day here in Bozeman, where No. 2 Eastern Washington visits No. 14 Montana State. Here's my game preview, and, in case you missed it, the replay from Thursday's live chat. … The hometown Bozeman Daily Chronicle has a big package on the game, including a reprise from last year's EWU win, a profile of EWU coach Beau Baldwin and a game preview highlighting new MSU quarterback Dakota Prukop…. In other games, Montana faces a huge challenge at top-ranked North Dakota State. Here's a preview from the Missoulian. … Interestingly, Eastern's next two opponents, UC Davis and Idaho State, have the week off. … Southern Utah is hoping to rebound, but that won't be easy at Fresno State. …

Eastern football notes

Has it really been two weeks since we chatted about Eastern Washington football? We'll do it again today at noon, right here at SportsLink. One topic of conversation should be new Montana State quarterback Dakota Prukop. who's the subject of today's Big Sky notebook. …MSU's underdog status is personified by Bobcat lineman Taylor Dees, according to this article  in the Billings Gazette, which also has a preview of Saturday's Montana game at North Dakota State. … Two weeks from now, Idaho State will bring a veteran offensive line against Eastern. …Suddenly, the Eagles' win over Sam Houston State doesn't look so impressive.

Eastern football links

Second-ranked Eastern Washington is rested and ready for No. 14 Montana State, but in this series, being favored isn't necessarily a good thing. Here's my story from Tuesday's practice, and here's a link to the game preview from the EWU Sports Information Office. … New MSU quarterback Dakota Prukop is off to a great start, and earned a big honor this week. Of course, that won't help the Bobcat defense, which is still looking for answers on how to stop EWU QB Vernon Adams and company. … You'd think No. 2 vs. No. 14 would be the biggest game in the Big Sky this week, but you'd be wrong: No. 4 Montana is at top-ranked North Dakota State. The Missoulian is rising to the challenge with this early look at the task confronting the Griz. … Look out: UC Davis has two weeks to get ready for a Sept. 27 home game against the Eagles. … Idaho State receiver Broc Malcolm enjoyed a career day last weekend. … Fresh off a blowout Homecoming loss to South Dakota State, Southern Utah will have a tough time bouncing back at Fresno State.

Eastern Washington, the morning after

SEATTLE – A few reflections off Lake Washington as I prepare to head back to Spokane this morning…

The entertainment value of Saturday’s 59-52 loss at Husky Stadium wasn’t lost on the Eagle coaches and players, who lingered a bit as they exited to the claps of the hundreds of Eagle fans near the visitor’s lockerroom.

It’s a team game, and the cheers were as loud for the defense as they were for Vernon Adams after his record-setting game that included 475 passing yards and a school-record seven touchdown passes.

Just like their Husky counterparts, the Eagle defenders will roll up their sleeves this week, treat the bye week like any other and work

Q-and-A with Tacoma UW beat writer Christian Caple

SEATTLE - I posed five questions about the Washington Huskies to Christian Caple, who covers the Dawgs for the Tacoma News Tribune. You can follow him on Twitter: @ChristianCaple

1) Coach Sarksian is gone, but what do you see as his major contributions in upgrading the program since these teams met in 2011?

The overall talent level is quite a bit higher. If you look at Washington's defense, you probably see four players — defensive linemen Danny Shelton and Hau'oli Kikaha, linebacker Shaq Thompson and cornerback Marcus Peters — who could reasonably expect to be drafted in 2015, with other guys around them who have played a lot and put up some numbers, too. That level of depth wasn't there in Sarkisian's first couple years (though the Huskies did have a pretty remarkable amount of NFL talent in 2009 for a team that had just gone 0-12). I think it really started to show up last season, with an offense run by a fifth-year senior quarterback (Keith Price), a proven junior

Eastern football links

One Eastern Washington player's career will be coming full-circle when the Eagles play in Husky Stadium. Here's my story on center Jase Butorac, plus the full transcript from Thursday's live chat. Want more? Here is a preview from the game produced by EWU Sports Information Director Dave Cook. … UW nose tackle Danny Shelton - all 339 pounds of him - is getting even better, according to this story in the Seattle Times., which also offers this blog. … Apparently the game will not be a sellout, according Christian Caple of the Tacoma News Tribune. … The Bozeman Daily Chronicle looks ahead to Montana State's game against Black Hills.

UW (and Eastern) football links

It's a fact of life: the big football schools get more media attention - hence my headline above. This week, Vernon Adams has settled into the role of "the other quarterback," no matter that he's an FCS All-American and that the other guy has started one game his entire college career. But that other guy plays for the Washington Huskies; even I had to write a story on Cyler Miles, and we can talk about him at today's live chat. The Seattle Times has a report on Miles' impact at UW practice, plus an interview with Eastern coach Beau Baldwin. Meanwhile, the Tacoma News Tribune has this Husky blog. … Moving on, the Eagles have a bye next week, then travel to Montana State, which was routed last week at Arkansas State but found a kicker in the process…. Montana is gearing up for a game with Central Washington. … Courtesy of the Idaho State Journal, here's a primer on the Utah State-Idaho State game.