Baldwin impressed with how spring practices concluded, including the development of his new cornerbacks
Three months is a long time without coaching.
But that's what the defending NCAA Division I Football Champions essentially face as the Eastern Washington University football team embarks upon a three-month period in which will and self-motivation are paramount.
The Eagles concluded spring practices April 30 with the annual Red-White game, which was won by the Red team, 28-14. Eastern now heads into its off-season conditioning and weight lifting program before fall camp begins in mid-August. NCAA rules prohibit involvement from coaches, but the players can attend voluntary workouts conducted by its strength and conditioning staff.
Eastern opens the 2011 season at Washington on Sept. 3.
"It's a challenging three months," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "Players have to be very self-motivated. Coach Nate Brookreson and Coach Joe Nudo have a huge job ahead of them because it's an important part of the year. Ultimately, because everything is voluntary and the players are on their own, the success of the team depends on their self-will and their motivation of how good a team they want to be. I'm excited to see what they do, because with the best teams I've been around, I can always look back and see that a lot of guys were around in the summer working hard."
After sneaking under the radar for most of last season, Eastern expects to be picked as a national title contender again. Plus, many of its standouts from last year will surely earn numerous preseason accolades. But Baldwin vows the team's focus won't change.
"We'll try to continue what we've done over the last couple of months," he explained. "You can talk about (the title) and appreciate what you did, but you still have to move forward with short-term goals. That was something that helped us win 13 games last year, and that was our big focus for the last three months."
"We knew we wanted to have a better February and March in the weight room and winter conditioning than we did a year ago," he continued. "We didn't talk about what we had to do in the next 10 months to get back to Texas -- that wasn't our mindset. Don't get me wrong, that's where everybody wants to be at our level. But the reality is, we wanted to focus on what we were going to do in February and March."
"April was the same thing," he added. "We want to look back on April 2011 and see if we accomplished more, made improvements and had a better spring than we did in April 2010. We feel like in a lot of ways we did. It's not always 100 percent -- there are always things you did better a year ago and you have to hit them even harder in fall camp. But there are definitely a lot of things we did better this year than we did last April."
Baldwin is Pleased With Results in Red's Victory
Upon further review, a few things caught Baldwin's eye after watching video from the Red-White Game on April 30.
"Plays were made on both sides of the ball," he said. "At times we played really physical, which is good to see at the end of spring. That's a testament of the way our players stayed healthy through the spring. They gained some strength and played very physical through the entire game."
With big plays being made on both sides of the ball, it was hard to tell if the Eagle defensive units were most successful, or the offense. The defense finished with three interceptions, six sacks and 10 passes broken up.
The two offensive units combined for 507 yards of offense, including 371 through the air and 136 on the ground. Senior running back Darriell Beaumonte rushed 11 times for 110 yards for the White, including a 63-yard TD run.
"From the scrimmage itself, I was pleased with our overall energy level," said Baldwin. "But I still don't think we're in quite the shape we need to be in for a real game. But that's kind of common this time of year because you're trying to put on good weight and strength during the winter. That was one thing I noticed -- I don't mean it as a negative but it's just something we have to address."
The fact the Eagles could even play a game at all -- let alone a competitive contest -- was a testament to the team's depth.
"I love the fact we had enough depth to break up every unit and have a quality scrimmage," Baldwin said. "I feel good about that, because a lot of years you don't have enough healthy players to play a competitive game. I've talked to some different coaches, and they said they just couldn't do that -- even at levels higher than ours. We split it up into what we felt were two fairly evenly-matched teams, so we feel good about our depth. And we'll just add to it with the incoming class in the fall. I'm excited."
Despite the Loss of a Trio of Cornerbacks, Newcomers Were Impressive in the Spring
In the spring, the Eagles put to rest much of the concern surrounding the cornerback position. Despite the fact Eastern has 11 returning letter winners in the secondary, both starters at cornerback were seniors in 2010 and one of the team's top backups is not returning. The letter winners back at that position are sophomore Ronald Baines, senior Jeremy Chaten, senior Alden Gibbs and sophomore T.J. Lee.
"Anytime you lose two or three players from the previous year, that's always going to be a concern," said Baldwin. "You expect those questions, and it's probably talked about more outside our program than inside. We are just excited about our young players and their opportunity to have a chance to step-up and replace a couple of players who played some really good football for us."
Baines had a pair of interceptions in Eastern's four spring scrimmages, and added nine tackles and a pass broken up. Lee had six tackles in EWU's first three scrimmages, then exploded with an interception, a pair of sacks and four other tackles in helping the Red beat the White 28-14 in the Red-White Game.
Gibbs played basketball for Eastern in the 2009-10 season, then moved to football and lettered on special teams last fall. He finished the spring with 12 tackles, an interception and a team-high three passes broken up. Chaten finished the spring with two passes broken up and three tackles. Sophomore Shane Stagg added a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Red-White Game.
"Ultimately, I thought they got better as the spring went along, and that showed up in the spring game," said Baldwin of his corp of cornerbacks. "We saw some plays being made by three or four different corners out there, which is exciting. And we have a couple of more coming in next fall."
Despite their inexperience as starters, Baldwin likes the mix of upperclassmen and underclassmen at that position.
"Like every team, you always have some positions which are younger than others," he explained. "We still have a senior in Jeremy Chaten coming back, and he had his best spring ever. And we have another senior in Alden Gibbs -- I know he's only played two years of football, but from an age and maturity standpoint he's still an older player. And although he's young, T.J. Lee played a lot for us last year, especially at the end of the season. We'll have a mixture."
Rushing: Darriell Beaumonte 24-145 1TD, Demitrius Bronson 27-96 1TD, Mario Brown 21-99 2TD, Tyler Hart 1-7, Marquise Moses 3-5, Nick Washburn 6-0, Trenton Pinson 1-minus-4, Bo Levi Mitchell 9-18, Nick Gauthier 5-17 1TD, Greg Panelli 5-minus-22, Anthony Vitto 12-minus-24, Team 1-minus-3, Totals 115-334 (includes 13 sacks for minus 81 yards) 5TD.
Passing: Bo Levi Mitchell 22-44-0 270 3TD, Anthony Vitto 24-43-2 305 3TD, Greg Panelli 19-34-3 186 1TD, Nick Gauthier 21-27-1 246 3TD, Totals 86-148-6 1007 10TD.
Receiving: Cory Mitchell 14-240 3TD, Ashton Clark 14-195 1TD, Nicholas Edwards 11-98 1TD, Alante Wright 10-73 1TD, Tyler Hart 9-62 1TD, Greg Herd 8-99 1TD, Mario Brown 5-54, Daniel Johnson 3-98 1TD, Zack Gehring 3-36, David Miles 2-17 1TD, Patrick Mealey 2-12, Marquise Moses 1-9, Darriell Beaumonte 1-9, Dalton Puyear 1-4, Nick Washburn 1-2, Demitrius Bronson 1-minus-1, Totals 86-1007.
Leading Tacklers: Grant Williams 15, Bobby Gentry 14, John Goldwire 13, T.J. Lee 12, Alden Gibbs 12, Rusty Haehl 12, Allen Brown 11, Charles Moetului 11, Paul Ena 10, Ronald Baines 9, Zach Johnson 9, Jeff Minnerly 8, J.C. Agen 8, Paul Ena 7, Andru Pulu 6, David Gaylord 6, Billy Lechtenberg 6, Chandler Gayton 6, Jerry Ceja 6, Jarred Walker 4, Jakob Pugsley 4, Ashton Boothroyd 4, Jeremy Chaten 3, Renard Williams 3, Scott Burgett 3, Trenton Pinson 3, Dylan Zylstra 3.
Interceptions: Ronald Baines 2 1TD, Shane Stagg 1 1TD, T.J. Lee 1, Alden Gibbs 1, Chandler Gayton 1, Totals 6 2TD.
Passes Broken Up: Alden Gibbs 3, Jerry Ceja 3, Jeremy Chaten 2, Allen Brown 2, Ronald Baines 1, Chandler Gayton 1, Scott Burgett 1, Renard Williams 1, Dylan Zylstra 1, Shane Stagg 1, Zach Johnson 1, J.C. Agen 1, David Gaylord 1, Rusty Haehl 1, Totals 20.
Sacks: T.J. Lee 2, Paul Ena 2, Jerry Ceja 2, Renard Williams 2, Andru Pulu 1, David Gaylord 1, Zach Johnson 1, Ashton Boothroyd 1, Bobby Gentry 1, Totals 13.
Field Goals: Mike Jarrett 2-4 (makes of 30, 37; misses of 42, 32).