At the end of Saturday’s scrimmage, Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams was still shaking his head at the thought.
Moments earlier, Adams was streaking toward the end zone, but was ruled to be “sacked” by coaches who were only looking after his health.
“I just knew I was going to score,” said Adams as he walked out of Roos Field, trying to understand that this was just the first week of spring camp and not a must-win game in November.
Indeed, games usually aren’t usually followed by Easter eggs shared between the head coach and his daughters, or by the offensive line coach toting his kid’s bike back to the locker room on the first nice day of spring.
Still, this was as good as it gets in early April, with a few dozen fans soaking in sunshine while the Eagles turned up the heat, physically and emotionally.
The Eagles’ first scrimmage was high on intensity, with several scuffles, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“We got to be careful of that,” head coach Beau Baldwin cautioned. “You’re going to have scuffles in practice, but when you’re in scrimmage mode, you’ve got to think in terms that this is a game.
“But the fact that they’re edgy and competitive and on the edge of scuffling isn’t a bad thing.”
Saturday’s session was more practice than scrimmage, but players reveled in the chance to play in full pads and in game situations for the first time since November.
“It’s just great to get in some live situations,” said wide receiver Cory Mitchell, who caught four balls for 89 yards and a touchdown, both team highs. “And to make some catches, break some tackles, play in some real situations and see what it’s like going against the tacklers.”
During the scrimmage, offense and defense played to a standstill.
Quarterbacks Anthony Vitto (8 for 11, 120 yards and two touchdowns to Nick Edwards) and Adams (5 for 9 , 116 yards and a 27-yard TD pass to Mitchell) connected on long balls as well as short, but the offensive line struggled to shed blocks against a front seven that could be among the best in the Big Sky Conference this fall.
“I’m a little sore,” running back Mario Brown said.
“The first week is always the toughest, just getting back into pads.”
That soreness resulted from a few collisions with cornerback T.J. Lee III, who said he felt the “anticipation building up” before the scrimmage.
That, and a chance to cover receiver Greg Herd as the defensive coaches tried out some new players.
“I don’t get to go against Greg much in drills, so it’s good to see something new,” Lee said.
And while defensive coordinator John Graham said he liked the intensity, he admitted that his unit “didn’t tackle well, was overanxious and overpursued.
“But we’ll get the rust off.”
Next week, Baldwin said he wants to emphasize goal-line and third-and-short situations “where we are forced to make tackles on defense, and on offense not giving up that penetration, increasing our pad level getting more physical and knocking people back on both sides of the ball.”
Notes: Grant Williams led all tacklers with five, followed by Lee with four. … Two key players were in street clothes. Wide receiver Brandon Kaufman, just six months removed from ACL surgery, was being cautious, and expects to miss “about one practice a week, just to be safe.” Safety Jeff Minnerly suffered what defensive coordinator Graham called a “sore groin” and should be back soon. “I’m Just playing it smart,” said Minnerly, an academic all-star who will undoubtedly do just that. … Next week’s schedule includes two practices – Tuesday and Wednesday at 4 p.m., plus a scrimmage that begins at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
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