As a bystander during scrimmages like the one Eastern Washington held on Friday at Roos Field, Aaron Best said he looks more for effort and consistency when assessing the team’s performance.
In both aspects, Eastern’s head coach found his team lacking in the first of two preseason scrimmages as it prepares to open the season against Tennessee State on Sept. 3.
Yes, there were individuals who made plays, Best said, but “there was just no flow.”
“Even when we got a play, it seemed like we backed up with a bad snap, with a sack, with a dropped ball,” Best said.
“We will be better than that. We will continue to work on that, but that wasn’t our best day of camp thus far.”
Nor is it the end product, Best said.
Still, the Eagles’ offense was able to demonstrate an ability to run the ball well.
On the other side, EWU showed an ability to swarm the quarterback and take advantage of his mistakes.
But the play from the four quarterbacks who took snaps was just like the rest of the team, Best said. They played well in spots, but they also fell under the umbrella of his general assessment: “consistently inconsistent.”
During the scrimmage, the Eagles opened 13 drives and did so from various places on the field for simulation purposes.
Senior Gunner Talkington led three of the first five drives, each with the first-team offense, and finished the scrimmage completing 4 of 7 passes for 33 yards. He also entered on fourth down of another drive and, from a deep shotgun, dropped a punt that was downed inside the 1-yard line.
But otherwise, redshirt freshman Kekoa Visperas led the most drives – four – including all three that resulted in touchdowns. Some came while running at least a partial first-team offense against some of the first-team defense.
The other Visperas-led drive ended with a missed 38-yard field-goal attempt by Seth Harrison, who later made kicks from 51 and 35 yards.
Visperas finished 12 for 19 for 140 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. He also scrambled six times for 46 yards.
“With the quarterbacks, Gunner’s definitely making a lot of plays right now. He’s hard to catch,” redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Brock Harrison said. “You got Kekoa in there who’s running around. That kid’s almost impossible to catch sometimes.
“Losing (Eric Barriere is) a big one, but we’ve got guys who are going to step up and make plays for us.”
Junior Simon Burkett led three drives, including the second of the scrimmage, and completed 5 of 7 attempts for 54 yards.
Sophomore Trey Turner finished 1 of 8 for 23 yards and also threw the lone interception, a pass across the middle of the end zone picked off by Washington State transfer Zane Thornton. Senior Ryan Kelley, the other quarterback on the roster, did not play.
Overall, the running game shined the brightest.
The Eagles ran 33 times for 207 yards, led by junior Micah Smith’s 74 yards on eight carries. He scored once, as did redshirt freshman Davante Smith and sophomore Silas Perreiah.
“I think the highlight of the offense were those running backs,” Best said. “A lot of them had carries, and they did a lot with their carries. They ran hard.”
On defense, the Eagles used more three-linebacker sets than they did in most games last season, when Ty Graham and Jack Sendelbach took nearly all the snaps at the position and usually played in a nickel set. Jaren Banks and Derek Tommasini, both transfers, took snaps with the first-team defense alongside returner Ahmani Williams.
Tommasini, a transfer from Idaho, led the team with nine tackles. Banks and Williams each had six.
The Eagles’ defensive line also demonstrated depth and cycled in a number of players who took minimal snaps last season. Redshirt freshman Sean Skladany, who appeared in two games last year, recorded two hurries and a sack and also forced two fumbles.
At offensive line, where the Eagles are replacing three starters from last season, sophomore Wyatt Hansen started at left tackle, a spot anchored the last handful of seasons by All-Big Sky selection Tristen Taylor. Next to him was returning starter Wyatt Musser, now in his sixth season with the program.
Sophomores Luke Dahlgren and Brenden Rivera played center, and right guard, respectively, with Idaho junior transfer Seth Carnahan playing right tackle to fill out the first-team unit.
“There’s probably nine guys right now we feel really good about, and 10 and 11 are in the battle for the last spot,” Best said of the offensive line. “We’ll still evaluate the next (few) days into Friday’s scrimmage, but we feel pretty good about nine.”
Those not participating included defensive backs Anthany Smith and Keshaun King, plus defensive end Debore’ae McClain. Junior wide receiver Freddie Roberson also did not participate, but none appears to be in danger of missing the opening game.
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