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Eastern defenders do well in new scheme

The Eastern Washington defense is having fun again.

During the first spring scrimmage Saturday morning, Eagle defenders were flying around Roos Field, making big plays and perhaps setting the tone for the upcoming season.

Granted, it was just 40 plays but most of them were dominated by the defense – a surprise, considering the Eagles are changing faces as well as formations this year under new coordinator Jeff Schmedding.

The big news is the switch to a 4-2-5, or nickel, defense, which Schmedding and coach Beau Baldwin installed over the winter. Among other things, it should allow the defenders to cover the width of the field more effectively than before, when the Eagles gave up too many catches on the sideline.

Baldwin said the hard work by his staff was matched by the players’ enthusiasm in the offseason.

“They came into the office, worked hard and put themselves in the position to play fast in the spring,” Baldwin said.

The work paid off on Saturday, when they held the offense to 123 yards. Four quarterbacks were held to 7-of-16 passing for 99 yards. The offense had 24 rushing yards on 22 carries but lost 24 yards as a result of the three sacks and two center-quarterback exchanges.

The offense was scoreless on its first seven possessions until reserve quarterback Gage Gubrud directed a 12-play, 65-yard drive.

“I think one of the things we did really well – and it can cause some of the mistakes – our guys were flying around in a good position,” Baldwin said. “They are making things difficult for the offense, and they are understanding early the scheme and what needs to be done to have success on defense.”

They’re also having fun, especially in the secondary.

“For sure, I’m having a good time,” said senior safety Todd Raynes, who’s playing much close to the line of scrimmage than in the old cover-2 formation.

“It’s a lot faster, and the youngsters are stepping up,” Raynes said.

Indeed, sophomore Jake Hoffman – who in three springs has moved from safety to corner and back again – led the way with six tackles, a forced fumble and a tackle for loss.

Freshman redshirt Nzuzi Webster had an interception and sophomore linebacker John Kreifels recovered a fumble.

Recalling the bitter end to last year – when the Eagles couldn’t stop Illinois State in the FCS playoffs – Hoffman said the defense feels rejuvenated and ready to make a positive statement.

“I felt like the defense has been hungry to start hitting – it feels good,” Hoffman said.

For the offense, it was decidedly different. High winds didn’t help, but the Eagles shot themselves in the foot while in shotgun formation with several botched snaps.

“Then the whole play doesn’t have a chance from a timing standpoint,” said Baldwin, who added that “I don’t really judge things as much on a scrimmage – I try to judge it as a whole.

“Even for that 30 minutes there are times it didn’t look very good, but it was our first time really in ‘scrimmage.’ The word I would use is ‘operation’ … there were too many things that were just a little bit off from an operation standpoint.”

  

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