Putting his team in more game-like situations is the focus for Eagles Saturday
The uncertainty an actual game brings will be emulated this Saturday (April 23) when the Eastern Washington University football team concludes its third week of spring practices with a scrimmage at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
The scrimmage is free and open to the public, and will begin at approximately 10:40 a.m. (Eastern will begin warm-up at about 10 a.m.). The scrimmage will consist of between 60-70 plays, but where the ball is spotted for the start of each possession will be mysterious to the offensive and defensive units.
“We just want to sit the ball down and let them play,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “We don’t want to have the same, exact situations every time. We want to force them into drive-type situations, but we will also put the ball in different spots on the field. We’ll have sudden-change situations where they are backed up at the 2-yard line on offense, or the offense starts in the red zone so the defense gets used to needing a stop.”
In last week’s 68-play scrimmage, Eastern’s offensive units ended drives with five touchdowns and a field goal, but they never had them on back-to-back possessions. The Eastern defense rose to the occasion with stops after each score, including interceptions by cornerbacks Ronald Baines and Alden Gibbs. Two sacks by Paul Ena and one by David Gaylord also helped the cause.
Featuring an up-tempo offense and enthusiasm throughout his roster, Baldwin has seen a great competitive spirit in the spring thus far.
“We’ve done a good job to create a lot of good, competitive drills, so we’ve stayed competitive the entire spring,” he explained. “The coaches are doing a great job of keeping everything up-tempo, so we have a lot of energy out there. It helps and adds to the competiveness.”
Baldwin doesn’t expect the spring to emulate the intensity of last year’s run to the NCAA Division I title, but he’s trying.
“We’re trying to create a real game-day environment every day out at practice,” he said. “That will continue -- there is a lot of great competition going on and it will continue right until the end of spring. There are going to be twice as many practices in fall camp. Spring gives you a chance to kind of set your roster, but come August, you find out a lot -- both good and bad -- of what players have done in May, June and July.”
Although visibly absent during scrimmages, special teams is also a priority area priority for the Eagles this spring. The Eagles lose a punter (Cameron Zuber) and two kickoff returners (Jesse Hoffman and Taiwan Jones), and always know they can be better in all areas.
“We are doing a lot with special teams during the week,” said Baldwin. “We have done a lot of live special teams work throughout the week so once we get into the scrimmage we don’t have to break it up a lot.”
After Saturday’s scrimmage, the Eagles will have three
practices next week before ending spring drills with the annual
Red-White game at 2 p.m. on April 30 that will be televised live
regionally by SWX. SWX (SWX Digital 6.2 in Spokane, 25.3 in the
Tri-Cities & 23.3 in the Yakima area; Comcast 115; Time Warner
306; Charter 287), will also re-broadcast five of EWU’s 2010
games next week at 2 p.m. Pacific time. Here is the schedule of
Monday (April 25) - EWU versus Northern Arizona (21-14 win on 10/9/10)
Tuesday (April 26) - EWU versus Southern Utah (31-24 win on 11/13/10)
Wednesday (April 27) - EWU versus Idaho State (34-7 win on 11/20/10)
Thursday (April 28) - EWU versus Montana (36-27 win on 9/18/10)
Friday (April 29) - EWU versus Southeast Missouri State (37-17 win on 12/4/10)
Quarterbacks are Live Targets
Another way Baldwin is making spring more game-like is allowing the defense to tackle and sack his quarterbacks. However, the exception is senior starter Bo Levi Mitchell, as the Eagles seek to keep him injury-free.
“You wouldn’t expect it from a former quarterback coach, but I’m probably going live on quarterbacks more than any coach in America at this time of year,” Baldwin laughed. “But I do like that. You truly find out what those guys can do when the lights are totally on and they are live back there.”
“It also gives your defense a chance to truly defend a quarterback,” he continued. “A lot of times they go all spring and fall camp without having to make a sack or tackling a scrambling quarterback, and then it’s hard the first game. We want our players to get used to having to truly get to the quarterback.”
Cornerbacks Battling to Replace Departed Seniors
Cornerback is one position where the Eagles have competition for two starting positions left vacant by departed seniors Jesse Hoffman and Dante Calcote. Among the replacement candidates are Ronald Baines, Alden Gibbs, T.J. Lee, Artise Gauldin and Jeremy Chaten.
“Four guys are probably going to play, and that’s a good thing,” Baldwin said after last week’s scrimmage. “We have good competition there right now and different guys are running with the starting unit. We’re seeing some good plays made by them. They are competing hard and it’s one of those situations where it isn’t going to be the same two guys all year long.”
Like Minnerly, Burgett Moves from Quarterback to Safety
One newcomer in the secondary is junior safety Scott Burgett, a quarterback his first three years in the program. His only game action came as a freshman in 2009 when he played in two games, completing both of the passes he attempted for seven yards. He follows in the footsteps of Jeff Minnerly, who moved to safety a year ago and ended up starting nine games and earning honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference honors.
“Scott is doing well and competing hard,” said Baldwin. “I just love Scott Burgett so much as a person and respect how hard he’s worked since the day he got here. We’re going to give it a whirl over there and see what happens. When we’ve put him in special teams drills this spring, he’s competed hard and done a good job.”