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Young Eastern Washington cornerbacks aided by veteran position groups

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 23, 2019

Eastern Washington running back Antoine Custer Jr.  is tackled by  Eagles defensive backs Darrien Sampson, left, and Darreon Moore on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019, in Cheney. (For The Spokesman-Review / James Snook)
Eastern Washington running back Antoine Custer Jr. is tackled by Eagles defensive backs Darrien Sampson, left, and Darreon Moore on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019, in Cheney. (For The Spokesman-Review / James Snook)

Of the four cornerbacks who shared reps in Eastern Washington’s ball-hawking 2018 secondary, the youngest were fifth-year seniors.

Their 21 years of combined experience showed, helping the Eagles lead the country in defensive touchdowns (six) and rank second in turnovers (34).

They’re gone now, leaving a glaring hole in the third-ranked Eagles’ defense as it prepares for its Aug. 31 opener at Washington, a Pac-12 power expected to sling it around Husky Stadium.

First-year EWU cornerbacks coach Allen Brown – an All-Big Sky corner at EWU in 2012 – has no intention of seeing new Huskies quarterback Jacob Eason – formerly a starter at Georgia – pick his group of young, inexperienced athletes apart in front of 70,000 fans on in Montlake.

But they’ll have plenty of help until they get acclimated.

The Eagles have proven talent and depth at linebacker, the defensive front and on the back side of its secondary, with a half-dozen safeties and rovers who’ve at least started one game in their college careers.

Pressure up front should makes their lives easier.

All-Big Sky defensive end Mitchell Johnson, fellow returning pass rusher Jim Townsend and graduate transfer DE/LB Jusstis Warren from Washington don’t want to give quarterbacks time to find a potentially exposed corner.

“Having Jusstis here is a big, big help to our position group,” Townsend said.

There’s so much depth at safety the position group could afford to recently give up talented redshirt freshman Tre Weed, who is now emerging as a capable candidate at cornerback.

“He’s a great player, we just have to get him down schematically,” Brown said. “Once we do, he’ll be an All-Big Sky guy.”

Weed, one of the top recruits in EWU’s 2018 class, saw time in four games last season without burning his redshirt.

“It’s been a smooth transition (to corner),” Weed said. “I’ll play whatever position they need me. We have a lot of safeties and good mentors at that position, and we’re looking up to the older guys around us.”

Dehonta Hayes, Tysen Prunty, Anfernee Gurley, Calin Criner and Anthany Smith have all seen substantial time at safety. Kedrick Johnson has also logged three starts at rover last season.

With a cornerback group dotted with freshmen and sophomores, they’ll be looked to help prevent the youngsters from getting burned deep.

Ira Branch and Darreon Moore appeared to be the two up-and-coming corners heading into camp, but Branch has recently been out with an apparent foot injury. Darrien Sampson, Brad Alexander, Keshaun King and Demetrius Crosby are also competing for first-team reps.

True freshmen Jordan White and Marlon Jones have also impressed in fall camp.

“There’s a lot of them who are long and athletic, even true freshmen who’ve shown some ability that I wasn’t quite expecting. We have probably a top-five crew right now,” Brown said.

EWU scrimmages today at 1 p.m. at Roos Field.

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