Aug. 2, 2006
Even head coach Paul Wulff must be getting tired of hearing the same question over and over . . . how are you going to replace two of the greatest playmakers in the history of the school, league and even the nation in quarterback Erik Meyer and wide receiver Eric Kimble?
The answer isn't simple for the two-time defending Big Sky Conference champions and NCAA Division I-AA Playoff participant. But it will at least begin to be answered Aug. 10 when the Eagles begin three weeks of preparations for their season-opener on Aug. 31 at Oregon State. Following that game, Eastern plays another NCAA Division I-A opponent when the Eagles play at West Virginia on Sept. 7.
"You have to find players that understand what it takes to win ballgames, and maybe we have to find different ways to get that done," said Wulff. "That's college football -- players change every year and your playmakers aren't always the same year-in and year-out. I wish I could sign guys to 10-year contracts like the NFL, but that's not like it is in college."
New players report for practices on Monday, Aug. 7, and are joined one day later by veterans. The first official practice for all players together is Thursday, Aug. 10, in the morning, with the first practice in pads taking place the next morning.
Morning practices will start at 9 a.m. and afternoon practices will start at 2:30 p.m. (interviews should take place about a half-hour prior to the scheduled start time).
Eastern will scrimmage twice before taking on the Beavers. The first scrimmage is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 17, at 2:30 p.m., and the second scrimmage will take place at about 10 a.m. on Aug. 23. Both scrimmages are free and open to the public.
Wulff already has a plan for replacing Meyer, who now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals of the National Football League after winning the 2005 Walter Payton Award as the top player in I-AA. The plan is for junior Chris Peerboom and freshman redshirt Matt Nichols to split playing time early in the season to see which quarterback leads the offense the best.
"It's still open because nobody has proven they can do it in a game," said Wulff. "So we are going into the season with the candidates we have, and as long as they stay healthy, they are going to get an opportunity to prove it in the game."
Eastern is also looking for capable replacements for a quartet of senior wide receivers. One of them was Kimble, a two-time All-America selection.
"They are two of the best players to ever play in this conference," said Wulff. "But in the game of football there are 11 players on the field, and we feel like we have a program that can be extremely successful with whatever 11 players we put out there. That's not going to change."
Eastern returns 41 letter winners, including 19 on offense, 20 on defense, its kicker and its punter. In all, 14 starters are back, with experience heaviest at safety and along the offensive and defensive lines.
"Our goals are to win the conference championship, get to the playoffs and make a run for the national championship," added Wulff. "Our seniors sure as heck want to push it as long and far as we can take it. We expect that and our players know what it takes to get there. Anything other than that is contrary to what our goals are."
"Is it going to happen? . . . you never know. But it is a realistic goal for us."