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‘Gunner’s the 1’: With starting QB Talkington solidified, Eastern Washington’s reserves stand out at final scrimmage

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

The second scrimmage of Eastern Washington’s preseason football camp was designed more to showcase the team’s depth players than its starters, many of whom stood on the sidelines of Roos Field on Friday afternoon.

So it was significant that senior quarterback Gunner Talkington didn’t take a snap, and instead of a helmet wore a neon hat and a headset.

“Gunner’s the 1,” Eagles head coach Aaron Best said after the scrimmage. “We want to evaluate a couple of those other guys just to see where we are going into Tennessee State (on Sept. 3).

“The depth chart is ever-changing, but Gunner’s played very consistent in spring and even more consistent this fall. (He) just manages the offense, understands what we’re asking him to do, what his capabilities are. So we’re excited about rolling him out next Saturday.”

The team will release its full depth chart early next week, but nearly two dozen players didn’t play in the scrimmage, many of them starters on last year’s 10-3 team that lost in the second round of the FCS playoffs to Big Sky rival Montana.

“The energy was good, and the nice thing about the energy was it wasn’t all the starters that were out there providing the energy,” Best said.

“So you had guys who normally aren’t or might not be in those positions energetic and making plays.”

Best said there were a few too many penalties, but “all in all, with a bunch of guys held out, I thought it was really, really productive, and now we’re eight days away (from the season opener).”

Three quarterbacks took snaps in the scrimmage, starting with redshirt freshman Kekoa Visperas. He led three drives and completed 5 of 9 passes for 36 yards.

Junior Simon Burkett completed 8 of 16 passes for 113 yards and an interception but also capped an early drive with a 3-yard rushing touchdown around the right end of the defense.

Sophomore Trey Turner led four drives, all with the second- or third-team offense, and finished with 189 yards on 11 of 19 attempts.

Junior tight end Aiden Nellor had the biggest offensive play of the scrimmage, a 61-yard catch and run down the left side of the field.

“They just had a one-high safety (coverage) and I kept it wide and knew Trey (Turner) would find the right guy,” Nellor said. “Luckily it was me, and I just got it and ran as fast as I could.”

With top receiving targets like Efton Chism III, Freddie Roberson and Dylan Ingram not playing, 11 others caught passes, led by senior Robert Mason III (three for 61 yards), redshirt freshman Josh Johnson (three for 53) and sophomore Malaki Roberson (three for 46).

“Malaki caught a couple balls in traffic really well,” Best said. “That’s what you have to do, and those windows are even tighter come Saturdays against opponents.”

A number of presumed defensive starters didn’t participate, including safety Anthany Smith, cornerback Demetrius Crosby Jr., defensive lineman Joshua Jerome and linebacker Ahmani Williams.

Amani Pressley, a true freshman cornerback, led the defense with seven tackles, followed by transfer linebacker Jaren Banks – who has taken his scrimmage snaps with the No. 1 defense – with six.

Sophomore cornerback Cage Schenck had five tackles and also capped the scrimmage with an interception on the final play of the scrimmage.

“(I) felt like the ball was coming, took a peek and just went up (and tried) to make a play,” Schenck said. “That’s a great way to end fall camp and get ready for the season.”

Even without many starters playing, the scrimmage may help the team’s development, not just for the overall season but potentially in the short term.

“We’ve got a lot of depth, so you’ve got to be able to show that you can play, and when you go in you have to be able to make a play and just earn that trust of the coaches and the other players,” Schenck said.

“It’s important to get locked in. Even if the starters aren’t out there, you’ve got to take every rep seriously and try to stay consistent as long as you can.”