Continuing progress from now until fall camp is the key for early success for Eastern, which opens the season Aug. 30 at Idaho
The Eagles needed a starting point. And 11 practices and four scrimmages later, they have one.
The Eastern Washington University football team wrapped up spring practices last Saturday (April 28), and now set their sights on the start of fall practices in mid-August.
Eastern opens the 2012 season with road games at Idaho (Aug. 30) and Washington State (Sept. 8). Eastern’s home opener at Roos Field is Sept. 29 versus Montana. The Eagles concluded an injury-plagued 2011 season with six wins in their last seven games to finish with a 6-5 record overall after winning the 2010 NCAA Division I title with a 13-2 mark.
“We need to come together and find ourselves in terms of a good rhythm,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “And we will get a lot of that done in fall camp. We will go back and break down all the spring drills, and it’s at that time after spring that you decide schematically what you will be as a team.”
Four spring scrimmages showed the potential of not only another potent offensive attack, but a stingy defense as well. In two of the weeks the Eagles averaged Baldwin was impressed with the physical nature of play his players showed over the course of the entire four weeks of practices.
“I think this spring we got a lot of production from a physical standpoint,” he explained. “Most people may have not seen that from two or three scrimmages, but in 15 practices we did a lot of live work, including our inside run game. We worked on some things like pad level, staying sticky on blocks and getting off blocks. Those were things that we really said were an emphasis, and there are some other areas we still have to fix as well.”
Baldwin said the players now must take the next step in maintaining a conditioning level and sharpness that only comes through hard work – most of it voluntarily – through the rest of the spring and summer.
“They need to keep building off what they’ve been doing the whole year,” he said. “Summer workouts are all volunteering and it’s all on them. But they have to understand the importance. They have to understand that if they aren’t doing it then they’re going to get passed up -- whether it’s guys on their own team or in terms of other teams working harder than them.”
“Honestly, I don’t want to sound over-confident, but I don’t worry about our players because the standard has been set by players before them,” he added. “Our juniors and seniors are such great leaders that I feel confident that they’re going to take care of business the next couple months. And I know our strength coaches are awesome.”
The Eagles used just two quarterbacks in the spring, and both had nearly identical statistics throwing the ball in EWU’s four scrimmages. Junior-to-be Anthony Vitto completed 40-of-70 passes (57 percent) for 506 yards, three interceptions and six touchdowns, and had a passing efficiency rating of 137.6. Vernon Adams, a true freshman last fall, was 47-of-69 (68 percent) for 500 yards, no interceptions and three scores, and had a rating of 143.3. Adams, however, scrambled his way for 73 rushing yards to finish the spring as the team’s leading rusher.
“Vernon and Anthony got a ton of reps this spring -- more than any two quarterbacks have ever gotten in a spring,” Baldwin said. “Even when we have had a No. 1 quarterback, we’ve usually had three other quarterbacks with them. There were times when coach (Zak) Hill and I had to throw drills just because we needed more arms in practice. They never stopped getting reps so they developed a lot. So we saw a lot of growth from them from practice 1 to 15. I’m excited about the direction they’re headed.”
The Red-White Game last week featured the defense versus the offense and a special scoring system that spotted the defense a 19-point lead. The result – a 33-27 win by the Red (defense) – was competitive but not exactly an indication of what Baldwin hopes to see next fall.
The White (offense) scored three touchdowns on four possessions in the second half to make the score close. But the offense managed only 312 total yards of offense on 66 plays – only 4.7 yards per play.
“You want to see some rhythm on both sides,” he explained. “I would have liked to play with a little bit better tempo on both sides of the ball early, even if it was both sides making plays. I just felt like were a little bit sluggish. We have to hit those things hard in camp. We need to continue taking those things we’re working on in practice and carry them over to the game. There were times in the Red-White Game where certain things we were doing in practice we just were not carrying over enough. It is going to be a big step for us next fall.”
Baldwin Impressed by EWU’s Future Professionals . . .
Baldwin was pleased to see that former Eagles Matt Johnson and Bo Levi Mitchell were afforded opportunities to play professionally. On the day of the Red-White Game, Johnson was taken in the fourth round of the National Football League Draft by the Dallas Cowboys.
“It’s awesome -- it just caught us by surprise,” admitted Baldwin. “(Jeff Schmedding) came in and told me that morning that Matt hadn’t heard from anybody, so we were thinking it probably wouldn’t happen for another couple rounds. He literally said that a minute before Matt’s name popped up.
“Honestly, it couldn’t have gone to a better guy,” Baldwin added. “But he’s earned it and that’s what it comes down to. You want to watch Matt 365 days a year since he was probably five years old in terms of how he approaches work. Work in the classroom. Work on and off the field. He’s someone who you want as the face of your program to show other players how you do it. He’s absolutely earned it and I expect nothing but good things from him there. I know that Matt can play at any level.”
Just two days later on May 1, Mitchell signed with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. Baldwin points with pride the fact that EWU has now had 64 former players drafted or have signed free agent contracts with NFL or CFL teams since 1989.
“We’ve had guys who have been good free agents,” Baldwin said. “You look at Matt Nichols or Erik Meyer, even Greg Peach and J.C. Sherritt. But when you look at it, Matt Johnson, Taiwan Jones and Michael Roos are the only ones who have been drafted most recently. That puts them in an elite crowd.
“There are some very good football players in the last eight to 10 years who have gone undrafted,” he added. “It has been exciting to see those different guys getting opportunities.”
Rushing: Vernon Adams 15-73-1TD, Jordan Talley 16-61, Quincy Forte 30-53-2TD, Mario Brown 9-25, Greg Herd 1-25-1TD, Cory Mitchell 1-6, Tyler Hart 3-0, Jacob Christensen 1-minus-2, Anthony Vitto 6-minus-9, Team 2-minus-26, Totals 83-206-4TD
Passing: Anthony Vitto 40-of-70 (57 percent)-506 yards-3 interceptions-6TD (137.6 rating), Vernon Adams 47-of-69 (68 percent)-500 yards-0 interceptions-3TD (143.3 efficiency rating), Totals 87-of-139 (63 percent)-1006 yards-3 interceptions-9TD (140.4 rating).
Receiving: Ashton Clark 15-215-2TD, Cory Mitchell 12-146-2TD, Nicholas Edwards 12-119-3TD, Tyler Hart 8-44, Quincy Forte 8-34, Greg Herd 7-171-1TD, Daniel Johnson 6-51, Jordan Talley 5-43, Terry Jackson 5-43, Mario Brown 3-33-1TD, Matt Friese 2-45-1TD, Jake Withnell 2-14, Cody Humphrey 1-28, Larren Wright 1-20, Totals 87-1006-9TD.
Tackles Leaders: Grant Williams 26, Ronald Baines 14, Cody McCarthy 14, T.J. Lee 13, Ronnie Hamlin 13, Jordan Tonani 13, McKenzie Murphy 12, Andru Pulu 9, George Williams 8, Evan Day 7, Allen Brown 6, Chandler Gayton 6, Jeff Minnerly 6, John Goldwire 6, Anthony Larry 6.
Interceptions: T.J. Lee 1, Tyler Washburn 1, Chandler Gayton 1.
Passes Broken Up: Shane Stagg 2, T.J. Lee 2, Ronald Baines 2, Zach Chapman 1, Rusty Haehl 1, Evan Cook 1, Dylan Zylstra 1, Allen Brown 1, John Goldwire 1, Jordan Tonani 1, Tyler Washburn 1, Andru Pulu 1, George Williams 1, Cody Hecker 1, Ronnie Hamlin/Paul Ena 1.
Sacks: Anthony Larry 3 1/2, Zach Chapman 1, Evan Cook 1, Chandler Gayton 1, Ronnie Hamlin 1/2, Cody McCarthy 1/2, Grant Williams 1/2.
Fumble Recovery: T.J. Lee 1, Zach Chapman 1.
Forced Fumble: Evan Cook 1.