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Saturday, January 18, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eastern builds chemistry on offensive line

EWU offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Best hops on the blocking sled to better observe a drill. (Colin Mulvany)
EWU offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Best hops on the blocking sled to better observe a drill. (Colin Mulvany)

This is the fourth in an eight-part series on Eastern Washington football. Today: the offensive line

After last season, Aaron Best is taking nothing for granted.

Not even the silver lining on the cloud that hung over Eastern Washington’s offensive line last fall.

“It’s what you do with that silver lining that’s the most important thing,” said Best, also the Eagles’ offensive coordinator, who last fall had to “get creative” when injuries affected four of the five positions on the line.

Last year, the offensive linemen at Eastern Washington jokingly called themselves the “ragtags,” even when it hurt too much to laugh.

That meant playing some players out of their natural positions – “ambush circumstances” that Best hopes to avoid.

In April, that means “playing different people in different schemes up front, and developing not only a seven- or eight-man rotation, but being better prepared if injuries hit.

“There is nothing you can do about it,” Best said. “The question is, where do you go from here?”

It all starts with trust, Best said. “I think you play the guys you trust most,” which isn’t necessarily the five best players.

“Chemistry? That’s for August,” Best said. “In the spring, it’s how guys perform with different people next to them.”

It’s also about tempo and technique.

“Our whole motto,” senior right tackle Will Post said, “is to start fast and finish strong. So all the drills are sped up, because in our offense, we play with that kind of pace with a no-huddle offense.”

Besides that, said Drew Reynolds, “pad level is definitely the big thing. Of course, the bigger we are, the harder it is to get low. Plus playing fast and knowing your assignments.”

Here is how the Eagles are shaping up across the line during spring drills:

Left tackle: “After three years of good service” from graduated Gabriel Jackson, the crucial pass-blocking position will be filled by either junior Caleb Worthington (6-foot-7, 295 pounds) or redshirt freshman Cassidy Curtis (6-7, 260) “It will drag into camp,” Best said. “Both are trusted and both will play.”

Left guard: Junior Steven Forgette (6-4, 280) is not participating in spring drills while recovering from a broken fibula. Forgette is “my yard worker,” explains Best. “He can play all five positions, which is a nice thing for a coach.”

Sophomore Derek Weston (6-3, 265) has had plenty of reps, but also could play at guard if needed. Others in the mix at either guard spot include junior Ashton Miller (6-2, 285) and possibly Worthington.

Center: Chris Powers’ eligibility is done and Patrick Mealey decided in the offseason to retire from football and concentrate on academics, which means that the Eagles have no returnees who have played this position at the collegiate level. Reynolds (6-1 275), a junior, is seeing action with the first-team offense in spring drills, and redshirt freshman Jay Deines (6-4, 270), along with Miller and sophomore Jase Butorac (6-3, 285). The position is crucial, Best says, because the center is called upon to “do four or five different things,” including snapping out of the shotgun formation, which has been a concern in practices and especially in Friday’s scrimmage.

Right guard: Bandon Murphy, a 6-4, 295-pound junior, “is much improved” in his Eastern career, Best said. “He’s the consummate teammate, a very smart individual and the mother of our den.” Best says he expects to keep Murphy at guard for the rest of his career, but hasn’t ruled out moving him to the other side of the line, depending on the competition there. Miller is the top backup at this position.

Right tackle: Best said the one certainty on the line is that Post (6-6, 295) will line up here when the Eagles open the season Aug. 30 at Idaho. “He takes no reps for granted, and he’s a great leader.

“I couldn’t take 10 of him, but I’d sure take five, because he cares about the game,” Best said.

“He’s a great leader,” Best added.

Practice notes

Tuesday’s practice was the most physical of the spring, with inside run drills and Oklahoma 3-on-3 blocking added to the routine. … Safety Jeff Minnerly was back in full pads for the first time in almost two weeks, while running back Mario Brown is still being held out of drills with a concussion … The Eagles will hold practices today and Friday, both at 4 p.m., with a scrimmage Saturday at 10:30 a.m. … The Red-White Game will be played April 28 at 2 p.m.

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