April 4, 2008
It was delayed a few days, but the Beau Baldwin era officially got underway Friday (April 4) with the start of spring practices for the Eastern Washington University football team.
The Eagles practiced for two hours at the Sports and Recreation Center practice fields, but a strong, cold wind made it feel more like winter than spring. But it was much better than the snow that hit exactly a week earlier that helped postpone the start of practices by three days.
The delay only added to the anticipation of Baldwin, who became Eastern's new head coach on Jan. 4, 2008, after Paul Wulff left EWU for the head coaching position at Washington State University.
Four new assistant coaches -- John Graham, Ryan Sawyer, Torey Hunter and Nat Conley -- took part in their first practice as Eagles, but it wasn't the maiden voyage for Baldwin. He spent four seasons as EWU's offensive coordinator before spending the 2007 season as head coach at Central Washington University.
"It's special and it's exciting, but it does make us nervous because everything is a little bit new," admitted Baldwin. "I was here for four years, but it's still different when you come into a new position. Then mother nature pushed us back another three days. We're just excited to be out here playing ball."
Baldwin welcomes back 47 returning letter winners, including 15 starters, from last year's 9-4 team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. But five of them will sit-out spring practices as they nurse injuries, including starting center Charlie Wulff (collarbone) and starting wide receiver Tony Davis (shoulder).
In addition, five other returning players will be limited in spring practices with ailments -- running back Dale Morris, wide receiver Aaron Boyce, linebacker Makai Borden, defensive lineman Lorenzo Lomack and cornerback Ryan Kelley.
Kelley is out indefinitely after overcoming a recent bout of bacterial meningitis that kept him hospitalized for a week. He watched Friday's practice from the sidelines 12 pounds lighter after overcoming the sometimes-deadly disease that put him in critical condition in an intensive care unit as well as induced coma.
Baldwin knows that having players sit out helps give younger, inexperienced players more repetitions in their places. However, he also knows that spring is an important time to see who is ready to play as a starter or important backup in the fall.
"You don't want to waste a day -- you want to make sure you take advantage of all 15 practices and scrimmages," he explained. "It's important for these players, and not just the young guys who haven't played. The veterans have to stay sharp and make sure they are continuously competing.
"That's what I love about the spring. When you get into the season, a lot of the rotations are set and there is only so much live action you can get in practices once you start the season. But in spring ball it's about as competitive as it gets in terms of setting the depth chart."
Baldwin looks forward to the battles along the offensive line where Wulff is the only returning starter. Last year's squad featured four senior starters but with a lot of young talent waiting in the wings.
"I want to see the progress of our offensive line between practice one and practice 15," Baldwin said. "That is the position that lost the most veteran players. I feel very confident about the young players we have, but they'll be the first to tell you that a lot of them are unproven. It will be a good test and fun to see the progress they make."
Below are more comments from Baldwin, as well as the schedule of remaining spring practices for the Eagles, who open the season Aug. 30 at Texas Tech.
Baldwin on Goals of Spring: "We want to be fundamentally sound. You'll hear that from probably almost every coach around the nation this spring. It's true, though. If you start getting into all your schemes and that kind of stuff, you'll lose track of the fundamentals. During the season, you may not have time to hit upon all the fundamentals and build the base. The goals this spring involve being a lot more fundamentally sound in everything we do and not get so worried about scheming against our defense or the defense scheming against our offense."
Baldwin on Making Changes to an Experienced and Successful Team: "When you make changes, unless that team has not had success, I don't think it's necessary to make wholesale changes. We have some leaders and some veterans coming back. There will be some changes, but I think the smarter way to go about it is to make subtle changes. Every coach -- whether it's a position coach or a head coach -- is going to have their own philosophy and different ways of doing things. My belief coming into a system where guys understand how to work, how to do things and how to win, is that you want to be subtle about the changes and do it over time instead of all at once for no reason."
Baldwin on Changes: "We will have a different philosophy on defense just with our base defense and where we line-up certain players. On offense, it's going to be similar to what people saw last year, but along the way there are going to be little changes and things that myself and the other coaches may tweak or change. Anything we do is going to be for the betterment of the team and not just to change because we're new."
Baldwin on His Familiarity With EWU: "Being familiar with the program, the school, the administration and the ins and outs of the university really helps. And knowing the players definitely helps. I was involved in the recruiting of a lot of these players and involved with coaching them. Even if they didn't play the position I coached, I was around them. Coming into something new but being familiar with the players that are involved has made the transition that much smoother."
Remaining 2008 Spring Practice Schedule:
(begin at 3:20 p.m.; Media Interviews at 3 p.m.)
Saturday, April 5 (10 a.m.)
Tuesday, April 8
Wednesday, April 9
Friday, April 11
Tuesday, April 15
Wednesday, April 16
Thursday, April 17
Monday, April 21
Tuesday, April 22
Wednesday, April 23
Thursday, April 24
2008 Spring Scrimmages:
(times/location tentative and subject to change)
Saturday, April 12 - 10:30 a.m. (Site TBA)
Saturday, April 19 - 10:30 a.m. (Woodward Field)
Saturday, April 26 - Red-White Game - 2 p.m. (Woodward Field)