2012 Football Season Outlook: SPECIAL TEAMS & SCHEDULE
Eastern returns punter and snapper, but accuracy of Mike Jarrett will be hard to replace
The Eastern Washington University football team is out to make its special teams unit just that: special.
The squad is headlined by punter Jake Miller, who nearly set a school record with a 44.2 average per punt in the 2011 season. He was named to the College Sports Journal Freshman All-America Team and earned honorable mention All-Big Sky accolades for his sensational debut season. He would have ranked third in FCS had he met the minimum number of punting attempts to qualify.
“I think we’ll continue to watch Jake grow and blossom,” predicted Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “He still has a very high ceiling of how good he can be. We’ve seen him boot some big ones, but when he develops his consistency it’s going to be special. He already has the big leg, the body and the frame it takes.”
At kicker, Eastern loses senior Mike Jarrett after he broke EWU’s career record for kick scoring (236) and the single season record for field goals (16). An impressive 16-of-18 (88.9 percent) kicking field goals in the 2011 season, Jarrett will be replaced by either senior Jimmy Pavel or junior Kevin Miller. Pavel handled kickoff duties for the Eagles in 2011, and Miller held the job the two previous seasons when he also made 2-of-3 field goals.
“It’s going to be tough to fill Mike Jarrett’s shoes after making nearly 90 percent of his field goals last year,” said Baldwin. “But we’ll have a nice competition between Jimmy and Kevin. They’ve both handled kickoff duties, but neither of them have had a lot of field goal experience. I’m excited about the battle at the kicker position. Even going into last year it was a battle for Mike, so it’s never set in stone.”
Eastern also returns one of the league’s premier long snappers in senior Jake Potter. Potter is inconspicuous, which means he’s good, laughs Baldwin.
“It’s kind of nice when you forget about your long snapper, because that means they are so consistently good that you don’t notice them,” he said. “When you aren’t thinking about them, that’s usually a good thing.
“He needs to keep working, he needs to keep improving his craft and we want to see his snap times get better,” Baldwin continued, “but he’s improved already with all the situations he’s been put in. You forget about him because he’s out there doing his job.”
Eagles play two schools from right down the road, otherwise, schedule feels the same
Featuring an early-season schedule with a familiar feel to it, Eastern will open the 2012 season with three road games and a bye. The Eagles begin the 2012 season at former Big Sky Conference rival Idaho, then return to the Palouse a week later to face Washington State and new head coach Mike Leach.
“Our players love playing these games – we all do,” said Baldwin. “And this year we’re playing two schools right down the road, all covered by the same newspapers, radio and television. It’s fun, it’s interesting and it’s different – most likely we won’t be in this situation again with taking two bus rides to FBS schools. I know the fans are all talking about it, and they are looking forward to it to.”
After a bye in the schedule, Eastern opens Big Sky Conference play at Weber State against former EWU assistant coach Jody Sears. Finally, on Sept. 29, the Eagles will play their home opener versus Montana at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
Two years ago, in the debut of EWU’s red Sprinturf surface in the first game at the re-named field (it was formerly Woodward Field), the Eagles knocked off the Grizzlies 36-27. A year ago, Eastern opened the season with road losses to Washington and South Dakota, then began league play with a loss at Montana and a home setback to Montana State. However, the Eagles won six of their last seven games to conclude the season with their 14th winning season in the last 16 years.
“We’re usually going to have a juggernaut or a couple of juggernauts right from the get-go,” said Baldwin. “We’ve had schedules like this all the years I’ve been here – it’s kind of par for the course. It mentally tests us and is what we’ve come to expect. When you push yourself through a difficult early-season schedule, it sets you up for success in your conference. If you earn the chance to play beyond your conference schedule in the playoffs, you’ll be battle-tested. We’re excited about the schedule, but it’s not all that different than what we’ve played in the years I’ve been here.”
For the Eagles, early success in the fall will be determined by how hard the Eagles worked independently in the summer. The first full-team practice for the Eagles took place on Wednesday, Aug. 8.
“Our players do a great job practicing all summer on their own, but they don’t have somebody talking to them about fundamentals and technique every day,” Baldwin explained. “Although you are working hard, sometimes you lose a little bit of that in the summer.
“From the start of practice we will need to clean-up some of the little things and fundamentals,” he added. “From there, we want to progressively implement what we want to do. Every year is different, because we are going to implement certain things based on where we have the most talent and where our strengths are. You make adjustments in your scheme. We were able to learn a lot in the spring, and now we’ll build upon that and tweak a few things.”
Previously . . .
Aug. 6 - 2012 Football Season Outlook: OVERVIEW . . . Rash of injuries in 2011 actually helps Eastern reload to form experienced team capable of contending for the Big Sky title and playoff berth
Aug 8 - 2012 Football Season Outlook: DEFENSE . . .With 24 letterwinners back, defense even more experienced than the offense