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Eastern Washington football team blessed with numbers in secondary

Eastern Washington defensive back Zach Bruce grabbed this interception against Portland State last season. (Associated Press)
Eastern Washington defensive back Zach Bruce grabbed this interception against Portland State last season. (Associated Press)

This is the seventh in an eight-part series on spring football at Eastern Washington. Today: secondary.

If there’s strength in numbers, Eastern Washington should feel bulletproof in the defensive secondary.

The Eagles’ spring roster includes 19 defensive backs. It’s a small army, almost enough for a four-deep in their new nickel scheme.

Numbers alone won’t make up for the departure of safeties Tevin McDonald and Jordan Tonani, but the entire secondary is embracing both the new formation and the wide-open competition.

“We’re having a lot of fun, and the nickel gives us as DBs a little more time in coverage,” said redshirt junior Zach Bruce, who’s been a fixture at free safety since late in the 2013 season.

The biggest goal this spring for the entire secondary is to get on the same page – and there are a lot of pages; books on the shelf, new defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding calls them.

“But there are a lot of books on that shelf,” Bruce said. “The only adjustment is the terminology, the new verbiage.”

The new defense is predicated on pressure – according to Bruce, 70 percent of the calls in the first scrimmage on April 11 were pressures. The result: the Eastern offense was held to 132 yards on 40 plays.

Last weekend, the offense adjusted, racking up 550 yards on 85 plays, as the quarterbacks picked up the blitzes for big yardage.

“On certain plays, we were getting beat deep, but the learning curve with the younger guys is getting better,” Bruce said.

Here is how the Eastern secondary is shaping up in spring ball:

Cornerback

Assistant coach Cherokee Valeria returns a blend of youth and experience at the position – and no shortage of choices. Arizona State transfer Rashad Wadood, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior from Long Beach, California, figures to hold down one spot, but nothing is guaranteed.

That was certainly the case last year for Frank Cange, who won a starting spot opposite Wadood last fall, but was lost for the second with an ACL injury in the second game.

“I wasn’t really sure the first day (of spring) how it would go, but I feel 100 percent,” said the 5-9, 170-pounder from Renton, Washington.

That’s a good thing for Cange, who added that “The competition level this spring is really high.”

Also back is redshirt sophomore Victor Gamboa, a 6-foot, 180-pounder from Tacoma who saw extensive playing time and got several starts late last season.

D’londo Tucker, who played in 2013 but was lost for the season last summer with a knee injury, also figures to contend for playing time. The 6-foot, 170-pound redshirt sophomore is from Federal Way, Washington.

Two other contenders are redshirt sophomore Keonte White, a 6-4, 195-pounder from Sylmar, California; and Nzuzi Webster, a 5-10, 170-pound redshirt freshman from Antioch, California.

Safety

The change to a nickel will have a great impact at safety, which head coach Beau Baldwin calls one of the more intriguing position battles this year.

Senior Todd Raynes, a 6-2, 210-pounder from Kenmore, Washington, has moved from free safety into the middle of the field, closer to the line of scrimmage in a rover position.

“It’s been a long winter,” said Raynes on the first day of spring ball, reference not only to the off-season homework but the time away from the field. “We’re eager to get back at it.”

Also in the mix are two local products: Bruce, a 5-10, 190-pounder from University High School; and Jake Hoffman, a redshirt sophomore from North Central High who’s moving from cornerback.

Senior Miles Weatheroy, a 6-1, 190-pounder from Portland, should see playing time. Moe Roberts, a 5-10, 180-pound redshirt sophomore from Cashmere, Washington, is another ex-cornerback who could contend for a spot.

Coming Thursday: Part eight, special teams
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