2012 Football Season Outlook: OFFENSE
Kyle Padron following in Bo Levi Mitchell’s footsteps again
Welcome to the Eastern Washington University football program Kyle Padron.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound quarterback passed for 5,902 yards and 41 touchdowns in his 24-game career at SMU, and led the Mustangs to a 12-9 record in his 21 games as a starter. He was 5-1 as a freshman, as SMU’s late-season surge helped it beat Nevada 45-10 in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Padron passed for a school-record 460 yards and two touchdowns to earn Hawaii Bowl MVP honors, then started all 14 games as a record-breaking sophomore (7-7 record).
Eventual Walter Payton Award winner Bo Levi Mitchell was injured in the 2009 season at SMU and transferred to EWU after Padron secured the starting job mid-way through his freshman season. The same thing happened in 2011 to Padron, who suffered ankle and back injuries and was replaced in the lineup by J.J. McDermott for the final 11 games of the year.
Padron wasn’t able to transfer to EWU until the summer, so that left all the spring practice snaps to junior-to-be Anthony Vitto and multi-dimensional Vernon Adams, who was a true freshman last fall. They had nearly identical statistics throwing the ball in EWU’s four scrimmages, with Vitto completing 40-of-70 passes (57 percent) for 506 yards, three interceptions, six touchdowns and a passing efficiency rating of 137.6. Adams 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.
“It just adds to the overall competition at the position,” explained Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin of the addition of Padron. “Vernon and Anthony received more snaps than any two quarterbacks ever had in the spring. That includes Bo, Matt Nichols (2006-2009), Erik Meyer (2002-05) – all of those players had three or four players with them to share playing time. Both Vernon and Anthony got better as the spring went along. That will only add to the competiveness this summer and when we begin in the fall.”
Mitchell himself knows that Eastern’s 2012 quarterback will be blessed with one of the top receiving corps in all of college football.
Six players return with experience, including senior Nicholas Edwards, senior Greg Herd and junior Brandon Kaufman. That trio has combined for 99 games worth of experience (69 starts), and have collective totals of 405 catches for 5,475 yards and 56 touchdowns.
Other players who lettered in the 2011 season at wide receiver were Ashton Clark (33 catches for 436 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore), Cory Mitchell (19 catches for 310 yards and two TD as a freshman) and Daniel Johnson (two catches for 13 yards as a sophomore).
“I would give anything I could to come back and play with these guys again,” Mitchell said in January after he won the Payton Award. “You have three 1,000-yard receivers, who are All-Americans and have set records. Plus you have my brother, Ashton Clark and Daniel Johnson all coming back. It’s a group of receivers I can put the ball anywhere and they will go make plays. The quarterback next year has to really be drooling knowing they have such a talented receiving corp to throw to.”
“It’s exciting to have that much experience and talent at that position,” added Baldwin. “But at the same time, they have to continue to do a great job, be team players and understand that the goal of the group is much bigger than any goals individually. Our receivers are not only talented, but they are hard-working and have great character. They are most concerned about the success of the team.
Kaufman, an All-America receiver during EWU’s national championship season in 2010, redshirted the 2011 season after suffering hand and knee injuries early in the year. That opened the door for Edwards to earn unanimous All-America honors, and for Herd to become EWU’s third 1,000-yard receiver and All-American in two seasons.
“It makes us want to have three footballs on the field,” said Baldwin of EWU’s receiver contingent. “It makes it tough for opponents to identify who is going to get the ball – you can’t do it. As a group we’re that much stronger. It forces a defense to cover the entire field and not really be able to decide to try to shut one person down or cloud somebody in coverage. If teams start doing that, a couple of our other receivers will do really well.”
Herd had 1,022 yards (67 catches, seven touchdowns) in 2011, and Kaufman had 1,214 yards (76 catches, 15 touchdowns) in 2010.
“Our receivers are getting a lot of attention, and deservingly so,” Baldwin added. “We have three players who have put up incredible numbers, and beyond that we have four other players who have all contributed. That position is not only loaded with a few All-Americans, but it’s also very deep with veteran players.
“We expect a lot of leadership out of that position,” he continued. “Our expectations are extremely high, but they’ve set the bar high at that position. Other players before them have also set the bar very high, so we don’t expect anything but greatness. That’s the way they want it, but they work at it and that’s what they expect.”
Eastern’s offensive line also has an embarrassment of riches from an experience standpoint. Of the 10 players who started at that position in 2011, six of them return, led by a pair of Big Sky Conference honorable mention selections in senior tackle Will Post (6-6, 295) and junior guard Steven Forgette (6-4, 300). The others are junior guard Drew Reynolds (6-1, 290), junior center/guard Ashton Miller (6-2, 300), sophomore guard Jase Butorac (6-3, 285) and junior guard Brandon Murphy (6-4, 295).
Miller (Achilles), Butorac (knee) and Forgette (knee) were all injured early in the year and missed most of the season. As a result, Eastern converted a tight end to play as a center, and Murphy moved over from defense in the middle of a game to help fortify the dwindling numbers of offensive linemen.
“It was a unique year for the offensive line because of all the young players that played,” said Baldwin. “We had players who we didn’t expect to start at all end up starting six, seven or eight games. Coming off of that, I think it’s only going to make us stronger.
“We have an incredible leader at right tackle in Will Post,” he continued. “After that we have a lot of solid players in terms of leadership. We have a lot of talent at that position and haven’t had a chance to show it completely because of the injuries and those players not getting to play every game. But now we have a lot of players with a lot of great experience. Even though it made things tough at times in 2011, hopefully it strengthens us in the future.”
Eastern also has lots of experience at tight end, with junior Zack Gehring (6-4, 245) returning as a starter, sophomore Ryan Seto (6-5, 230) back after a redshirt season and junior Cody Humphrey (6-5, 260) getting lots of action after moving from the offensive line. Gehring led the tight ends by catching six passes for 63 yards in 2011, and had 12 catches for 173 yards and two scores in 2010.
But because those three players were injured in the spring, freshmen Jake Withnell (6-5, 225) and Terry Jackson II (6-4, 250) received the majority of action.
“Tight end is going to absolutely be a battle,” Baldwin predicted. “We have three players returning, plus Jake and Terry received all the snaps in the spring. So we have a lot of competition for the position. That’s the way I look at it, and they need to take the approach that it’s going to be a battle. We can throw a lot of things up on the depth chart, so it’s going to come down to who works hard in the summer, who stays healthy, and who has a great camp. We’ll go into week one and see where we are, but I’m excited.”
Eastern has four veteran running backs who have all seen starting action for the Eagles. That group includes no seniors, and each of the four players – junior Demitrius Bronson, junior Mario Brown, sophomore Quincy Forte and sophomore Jordan Talley – started at least one game. Talley, who started six games and rushed for a team-high 413 yards and five touchdowns, is listed as the returning starter.
Forte rushed for 270 yards and a touchdown in 2011, and also caught 20 passes for 215 yards and a score. Brown added 141 yards and a score on the ground, a year after rushing for 341 yards and a TD during EWU’s run to the national title. Bronson, a transfer from the University of Washington, finished the 2011 season with 26 yards on 14 carries, and also played fullback for the Eagles.
“There are a lot of players there that played a lot of football,” said Baldwin. “They all have performed well and have been our featured back. They are battling and we’ll let that play out. We have a four-player battle, but at the same time it’s a unit. They are making each other better and we’ll need all four of those players this season at the running back position.”
Aug 8 - 2012 Football Season Outlook: DEFENSE . . .With 24 letterwinners back, defense even more experienced than the offense
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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