Aug. 14, 2008
There will be two trains of thought when Eastern Washington University concludes its first week of preseason practices with a scrimmage Saturday (Aug. 16) in Cheney, Wash.
And first-year head coach Beau Baldwin is anxious to see who will get on before the whistle blows.
The scrimmage will start at about 10:40 a.m. Saturday on the EWU Sports and Recreation Center practice field and is free and open to the public. Baldwin said it will consist of 50-60 plays and be situational in nature, with particular emphasis on plays in the red-zone and on third down.
But most importantly, Baldwin wants to see how inexperienced backups play as the Eagles seek depth heading into a pair of games against NCAA Bowl Subdivision foes to open the season. He's also anxious to continue to watch how a new offensive line gels together after losing four starters from last year's squad.
"We want to look a lot at the players who are backups and are fighting for spots," said Baldwin, whose team opens the season Aug. 30 at Texas Tech followed by a trip to Colorado on Sept. 6. "We want to get a good idea of how some of the players who haven't played in ballgames here yet compete in a live situation."
Eastern returns 15 starters and 43 total letter winners from last year's squad, so Baldwin isn't concerned about seeing much from the veterans. But senior center Charlie Wulff is the only starting offensive lineman returning, which makes extra live repetitions that much more important for the newcomers.
"Having our offensive line continuously working together in live and stressful situations is a good thing," he said. "They need to get more reps in these scrimmages than the other first unit players because they just haven't played in games together. A lot of them have played, but not together like they need to."
Eastern is hoping its group of 2007 redshirts, including talented twins Matt and Zach Johnson on defense, make the same sort of progress the youthful Eagles did last season. Eastern followed a 3-8 season in 2006 with a 9-4 finish in 2007 that included a quarterfinal appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. Eastern enters this season ranked as high as fourth nationally in FCS.
"The key is that they have to continue to progress way past camp -- especially in certain areas where players are a little more inexperienced," Baldwin explained. "Players need to continually get better rather than reaching a plateau and maintaining their level of play. That's not what we are looking for. We need players to be better at the middle of the season than they were at the beginning of the season, and better at the end of the season than they were in the middle."
Baldwin has been impressed thus far with his defensive line, despite a season-ending knee injury suffered by senior starter Shawn Powell before practices even began. Another starter out for about a month with a broken fibula is freshman redshirt cornerback Taiwan Jones.
"The defensive line is showing great leadership and is the heart and soul of our defense," Baldwin said. "They are doing a great job of just setting the tone."
If the offensive line comes together, Baldwin is certain Eastern has the talent and depth at the skill positions to generate lots of offense and put lots of points on the scoreboard. Junior quarterback Matt Nichols headlines an experienced group of backs and receivers that can put pressure on defenses both through the air and on the ground.
"Our goal on offense, more than anything, is to have the ability to really spread the ball out on our opponents," he said. "We'll try to use a lot of different players when it comes to not allowing defenses to key-in on players and know where the ball is going. Whether it's run or pass, the idea is to keep our offense really spread out."
Following Saturday's scrimmage, Eastern will practice twice on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, as well as once on Monday and Wednesday, in preparation for the final scrimmage of the preseason. That will take place on Friday, Aug. 22 at about 10:40 a.m. at Woodward Field on the EWU campus.