As defensive linemen cycled in and out in front of him, and defensive backs did the same behind him, Ahmani Williams hardly left the field Saturday during Eastern Washington’s first scrimmage of the spring.
With no starting linebackers returning from last year’s 10-3 team and many others on the roster not fully healthy, sophomore-to-be Williams and redshirt freshman-to-be Daniel Taumoepeau played nearly every snap, even as the other positions rotated in with the 1s, 2s and 3s over the course of a 60-play scrimmage.
“It was definitely tough,” said Williams, who will be a sophomore in the fall. “The linebacker room is a little bit thin, but it’s good to get those reps.”
Those reps are important because Eastern graduated its top four linebackers from a year ago in Jack Sendelbach, Ty Graham, Cale Lindsay and Jusstis Warren.
“Those guys were old, and they had lots of football in them,” Williams said. “Seeing those guys be the leaders that they were last year, they showed me that mental toughness. And learning to love the game and know the game, day in and day out, whether it’s a scrimmage or a walk-through.”
Williams made a scrimmage-high six tackles. While he played nine games last fall and made one start, Williams tore his hamstring in early November and didn’t play the rest of the season.
“I’m still trying to get my body right a little bit,” Williams said. “You kind of start full speed, and your body’s not used to that.”
Julian Williams, Ahmani’s father, played safety at Eastern from 1997 to 2000 and was a teammate of current EWU head coach Aaron Best. Julian Williams was a first-team All-Big Sky selection and an honorable mention All-America selection.
Best said the younger Williams is going to be “one heck of a ball player” and praised the linebacker’s energy and leadership as well.
“His leadership skills have come into play with those older guys gone, and we need that,” Best said, “especially on (defense), and more specifically at that position.”
A handful of incumbent starters on defense sat out Saturday, including Anthany Smith (safety), Joshua Jerome (tackle) and Tre Weed (cornerback). Cage Schenck, who made 20 tackles as a redshirt freshman last season, played the No. 1 nickelback position and broke up a team-high two passes.
Quarterback battle continues
Senior Gunner Talkington, Eric Barriere’s primary backup last season, took the first snaps at quarterback and finished the day 6 of 10 for 72 yards and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Nolan Ulm.
“It’s good,” Talkington said of running with the No. 1 offense. “(We’re) just getting the timing down. Overall, it’s been a good spring so far and I can’t wait to improve, improve, improve.”
All five quarterbacks on the roster received reps in the scrimmage, but it was Talkington, Ryan Kelley and Kekoa Visperas who had the most. They also did the most with theirs.
Kelley, a senior who transferred to Eastern about a year ago from Arizona State, completed 5 of 7 passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with freshman receiver Josh Johnson and freshman running back Brandon Montoya for the scores. He led two drives with the second-team offense.
Visperas, a redshirt freshman this fall, completed 3 of 8 passes but had the scrimmage’s longest completion – a 52-yard pass to Robert Mason III – and finished with 78 yards.
Sophomore Trey Turner led one drive and Simon Burkett led two. Neither completed a pass.
None of the five quarterbacks threw an interception.
“Reps aren’t going to be equal, but with the reps you have, (you have) to make the most of those no matter how many you get,” Best said of the quarterback play. “There were some plays made by some, (and) I think there were some plays that still could have been made by others.”
In all, the offense ran 60 plays and gained 337 yards. Half those plays were runs and went for 98 yards. Freshman Davante Smith carried seven times for a team-high 35 yards rushing.
The senior Mason led all receivers with four catches for 105 yards.
Eastern will host its Red-White Spring Game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Roos Field. Admission is free. The game will also be broadcast on SWX and streamed online on ESPN+.
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