Impressive group of true freshmen will get strong looks at Saturday's intra-squad scrimmage in Spokane
The first test of their careers will come Saturday for several Eastern Washington University true freshmen. And for a large group of experienced defensive backs, a pair of freshman redshirt quarterbacks and an inexperienced kicking crew, Saturday is also an important day for them as well.
With several positions in EWU's two-deep lineup up for grabs, the Eagles will have an important intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday (Aug. 22) at approximately 11:30 a.m. at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, Wash. The scrimmage is free and open to the public as EWU continues preparations for its opener at home against Western Oregon on Sept. 5 at 12:05 p.m. Pacific time at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
"Obviously, there are things we have to clean-up and positions that are up in the air right now," said second-year head coach Beau Baldwin earlier this week. "We are excited about that competition so it will be fun to watch the rest of camp."
Baldwin has been impressed thus far with the true freshmen from last February's recruiting class. About 6-10 of them are showing signs they could play immediately for the Eagles, but at this point, only one or two defensive linemen are for sure not going to redshirt in 2009.
"The secondary and the defensive line are a couple of spots where we have an idea about certain players who are going to play," Baldwin said. "But at the same time, between now and the first game, and between the first game and the third game, that could be ever-changing. There are four or five different battles going on within the secondary and defensive line."
Eastern lost four senior starters from its 2008 defensive line, including Buck Buchanan award winner Greg Peach. Several veterans have the inside track for starting positions, as well as redshirt freshman Evan Cook, who has yet to play a college down.
Five true freshmen are in the mix at that position, including Will Katoa, Jerry Ceja, Paul Ena, Ashton Miller and Jakob Scott. Katoa (6-0, 285), Ceja (6-3, 220) and Ena (6-2, 210) are the frontrunners to not redshirt.
"There is a definite possibility that one or two of those players could play this year," said Baldwin. "There is great competition there with the new players mixing in with the veterans."
The same could also be said of the secondary, but for now Baldwin is content with the improvement and depth provided by Eastern's veterans. In particular, former wide receivers Brett Igbinoba (pictured) and J.T. Leggin, as well as junior Dante Calcote, are competing with Jesse Hoffman and Lonnie Hosley for time at cornerback.
"There has been some improvement in some of the veterans, and we have definitely seen the changes in players over the summer," praised Baldwin. "Our cornerbacks have made strides since May, and we definitely feel good about that."
Baldwin's biggest difficulty at the safety positions is having enough playing time to go around. Sophomore Matt Johnson and senior Kevin Hatch are solid as starters, but there is an abundance of competition for backup positions.
The same could be said at quarterback, where freshmen redshirts Jeff Minnerly and Scott Burgett are battling for the backup position behind four-year senior starter Matt Nichols. Both have yet to throw a pass in a collegiate game, but are expected to get plenty of opportunity on Saturday to show their abilities. Recent Washington State University transfer J.T. Levenseller will also compete for the backup job once he gets some practices under his belt.
Eastern also has a talented new group of freshmen at wide receiver who are turning heads and will be on display Saturday. But they will wait in the wings this season while Eastern enjoys the benefits of a deep and talented pool of veterans.
Eastern is unproven at kicker and punter, and Saturday's scrimmage and ensuing practices will help determine those battles. Newcomers Cameron Homan and Cameron Zuber are battling to see if they can wrestle the position away from Nichols, who has punted seven times in his EWU career for a 37.6 average.
"It's hard to say right now," said Baldwin. "If I had to punt tomorrow, it would probably be Matt Nichols. But I'm hoping by practice 21 that it's not Matt Nichols. It's a good battle and we'll see where it goes."
Similarly, sophomore squad member Mike Jarrett is battling to keep the kicking job he won in the spring. However, newcomer Austin Wallis, who spent time in the spring competing for the kicking job at Syracuse, is also trying to win the job.
"Austin has a good, solid leg and he's been competing for the job," said Baldwin. "But I'm extremely pleased with what Mike has done to get better. Where he was in May and where he is now is night and day. If our first game was tomorrow, I would probably have both of those players kick."
The Eagles are coming off a 6-5 finish in 2008 that included a 5-3 record in the Big Sky Conference, but EWU ended the season with a three-game winning streak under first-year head coach Beau Baldwin. Eastern returns 38 letter winners from that team, including 17 back on offense and 21 returning on defense. A total of 15 starters are returning, featuring eight on offense and seven on defense.
Tentative Schedule of EWU Practices
(practices usually last for two hours. Media interviews take place after practice or 1/2 hour before the time listed)
Friday, Aug. 21 - 2:15 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 22 - Intra-squad Scrimmage, approx. 11:30 a.m at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, Wash.
Sunday, Aug. 23 - Off
Monday, Aug. 24 - 2:15 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 25 - 9 a.m. & 3 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 26 - 2:15 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 27 - 9 a.m. & 3 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 28 - 2:15 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 29 - Intra-squad Scrimmage, approx. 11:30 a.m., Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
Sunday, Aug. 30 - Off
Monday, Aug. 31 - 3 p.m. (conditioning)
Tuesday, Sept. 1 - 3 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 2 - 3 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 3 - 3 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 4 - 3 p.m. walk-through
Saturday, Sept. 5 - EWU hosts Western Oregon at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash., 12:05 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 6 - 1:30 p.m. (conditioning)
Monday, Sept. 7 - Off
Tuesday, Sept. 8 - 3 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 9 - 3 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 10 - 3 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 11 - Travel Day
Saturday, Sept. 12 - EWU at California, 2:35 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 13 - 4 p.m. (conditioning)
Monday, Sept. 14 - Off
Tuesday, Sept. 15 - 3 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 16 - 3 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 17 - 3 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 18 - 3 p.m. walk-through
Saturday, Sept. 19 - EWU hosts Northern Colorado at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash., 1:05 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 20 - 1:30 p.m. (conditioning)
Monday, Sept. 21 - Off
Tuesday, Sept. 22 - 3 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 23 - 3:45 p.m. (EWU Classes Begin)
Thursday, Sept. 24 - 3:45 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 25 - Travel Day
Saturday, Sept. 26 - EWU at Sacramento State, 6:05 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 27 - 7 p.m. (conditioning)
Monday, Sept. 28 - Off
Tuesday, Sept. 29 - 4:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 30 - 3:45 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 1 - 3:45 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 2 - Travel Day
Saturday, Oct. 3 - EWU at Idaho State, 2:35 p.m.