Five months ago, Cal Poly cornerbacks coach Allen Brown’s office was a short, 10-mile jaunt from beautiful San Luis Obispo Bay, a perk he enjoyed for nearly three years.
Four months ago, Brown was living in the heart of California’s capital city at Sacramento State, working under new Hornets head coach Troy Taylor, the former EWU and Utah offensive coordinator who hired Brown away from Cal Poly.
That lasted a few weeks.
On Tuesday, an EWU-clad Brown was giving direction to a group of young cornerbacks at Eastern Washington, where he was an All-Big Sky cornerback in 2012 and 2013.
Brown couldn’t turn down the opportunity to return to Cheney – his third Big Sky job in five months – to coach at his alma mater and the conference kingpin.
One catch: He inherited the most inexperienced position group returning from last year’s FCS national runner-up team.
Brown is embracing the challenge.
“They’re all better players than I was,” said Brown, a member of the 2010 FCS national championship team. “We want to build a mentality that we’re the best cornerbacks group in the league.”
The Eagles graduated all three of their primary cornerbacks – Josh Lewis, Nzuzi Webster, D’Londo Tucker – who combined for 166 tackles, 11 interceptions and a helped EWU total a program-record 70 pass breakups.
The most experienced returner of the group is Darreon Moore, a sophomore who registered 11 tackles in limited time.
Moore is sitting out the spring to nurse an injury, so sophomore Ira Branch (three tackles in 2018), redshirt freshman Darrien Sampson (two tackles) and senior Bradley Alexander (one interception) have been getting most of the first-team reps the past three weeks.
Sampson only saw the field in EWU’s four postseason games, but he didn’t lose a season of eligibility because of the new NCAA rule that allows a player to participate in four games without burning a redshirt.
Sophomore Keshaun King (three tackles in 2018) is also fighting for a first-team spot.
“There’s probably three or four that have touched the field, but very sparingly,” Brown said. “They’re going to go the into (the season opener) at Husky Stadium on Aug. 31 and it’s going to be somewhat of a shock for them.
“But we practice against some of the best receivers and quarterbacks, and it’s going to shape them and put them in the right form going into the season.”
EWU returns about a dozen big contributors from a defense that led the Big Sky in points allowed (16.9 ppg), especially at the safety and rover positions.
Brown said the experienced backside of the Eagles’ defense has helped the young cornerbacks’ progression. EWU often employs a defensive back-heavy 4-2-5 scheme.
Branch said he likes this group of long, athletic ballhawks.
“We’re a solid group, but we definitely need the game experience.” Branch said. “I feel like we all have our unique talent about us. We can play press; we can play zone.”
Senior defensive end Jim Townsend, one of a few proven commodities along EWU’s defensive front, has plenty of faith in the corners.
“There’s a lot talent there; they’re just young,” Townsend said. “They’ll gain their experience and confidence. By the first game, I expect them to pick up where we were left off last season.”
EWU’s final spring scrimmage – the annual Red and White Game – is Saturday at noon at Roos Field.
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