As the first week of practices nears a close, Eastern will scrimmage next Wednesday
Eastern Washington University’s red synthetic turf project is an exciting addition for the Eagle football program, but as head coach Beau Baldwin points out, hard work is an even bigger factor toward victories.
The Eagles are nearing the conclusion of their first week of fall practices, and that has taking second billing to the turf being installed on the other side of the EWU Sports and Recreation Center at soon-to-be-renamed Woodward Field. Eastern will practice through the weekend and into the first part of next week before its first scrimmage on Wednesday (Aug. 18) at about 3:30 p.m. on the team’s practice fields.
“It’s an incredible situation with the turf going in -- it’s a great surface for us to play on and it fits the skills of our team,” said Baldwin, whose team opens its season Sept. 2 at Nevada. “But our players need to focus on the fact it’s still just a different surface to play on.
“I’m not trying to take away from what a great thing it is for our university and program, but the bigger factor is the hard work it’s going to take to actually win on the Sprinturf,” he continued. “That’s what we keep reiterating to our team -- it’s going to take a great training camp to be able to go out there do the things we want to do and win. We have to prepare that way the rest of camp.”
Baldwin’s team returns 43 letter winners from last year’s team that finished 8-4 and advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs for the fourth time in the last six seasons. But to repeat that success, the Eagles need to fill a few holes, most notably with a young secondary and wide receiver corp.
Baldwin has been impressed thus far with the progress the team has made since the start of practices on Monday (Aug. 9).
“We’ve seen some serious progress with things becoming more natural, especially for some of the players in new spots,” he explained. “They aren’t having to think as much and I was happy to see that. The first couple of days you could see that mentally they were thinking too much and that didn’t enable them to play as fast as they needed.”
The free safety and cornerback positions will be manned by new starters, and one of the projected starters -- Erich Armstrong -- decided on the eve of the first practice not to return. As a result, freshman redshirt Chandler Gayton has moved from cornerback to safety, and the starting position is very much up for grabs. The same can be said of starting and backup positions along the defensive line where there is young talent galore, including a trio of returning starters (Renard Williams, Tyler Jolley and Evan Cook).
“We’re still watching that safety position -- we’ve been watching that from the first day,” said Baldwin. “And there’s a lot of competition on the defensive line -- there are a lot of players who are all going to play, but there is a lot of competition for the starting positions.”
With Southern Methodist transfer Bo Levi Mitchell winning the quarterback job in spring practices, the focus on offense heading into the team’s opener will be developing young talent at the right tackle position and at wide receiver.
“On the offensive side we have to keep developing and competing at the right tackle position where we lost (senior) Chris Thomas,” Baldwin explained. “At the receiver positions there is good competition and we want to continue to build a great corp. We’re not worried about who are our starting three necessarily, but we want to know there are as many as seven guys who can rotate in and be ready for our no-huddle, tempo offense.”