April 12, 2008

Familiar Names and New Names Stand Out for Eagles

April 12, 2008

Veterans Matt Nichols, Brynsen Brown, Aaron Boyce and Toke Kefu were their usual productive selves, but there was also welcome production from a lot of new names as Eastern Washington University ended the first week of spring football practice with a 45-play scrimmage Saturday (April 12) at the EWU Sports and Recreation Center.

Nichols completed 11-of-15 passes for 166 yards, Brown caught four passes for 112 yards and Boyce added three grabs for 39 yards as that trio made their debut as Eagle juniors. Senior Toke Kefu added 40 yards rushing as the offense finished with 250 yards of offense.

Some new names on defense -- such as twin brothers Zach and Matt Johnson, Taiwan Jones, John Roberts and Bobby Gentry -- also made an impression on first-year head coach Beau Baldwin. However, he hesitates to single out any particular player, young or old.

"There are a number of great players on this team," said Baldwin after the scrimmage played under warm and sunny skies. "I don't see it as a team with five or six standout guys, I see it as a collective group. We have a lot of players stepping up."

Zach Johnson had five tackles from his linebacker position and Matt Johnson finished with four and a pass broken up as a safety. Jones, a cornerback who is one of the fastest players on the team, added three tackles. Roberts, a defensive back from Colville, Wash., had four. Gentry, a new linebacker, had eight tackles and a pass broken up as those five freshman redshirts helped the defense hold the offense to a lone touchdown in the scrimmage.

"Both sides of the ball made plays at different times," said Baldwin. "The effort is there -- guys are flying around and they want to be coached and learn. There are some new things on both sides of the ball. There is a serious learning curve but they are working to get better."

Nichols directed the offense to two long drives, but both stalled inside the 20-yard line. The lone touchdown came during a red zone possession on a 22-yard reverse by wide receiver Brett Igbinoba, a 2005 graduate of Cheney, Wash., High School who previously played as a cornerback for the Eagles.

Five players -- Jacob Kragt, Greg Peach, Josh Jacobson, Jason Belford and Jim Haman -- were in on the five sacks, including 1 1/2 by Kragt. Sophomore Dante Calcote added a pass broken up.

"I thought there were plays made between the 20's, but when we got into the red zone the offense really sputtered," said Baldwin. "It was great for the defense to get stops down there, but it was a combination of things -- on offense we were stopping ourselves too. We had some unforced errors and we'll work on that next week so we're used to being down there."

Baldwin also said his team will work more on its game-like communications from the sidelines the final three weeks of spring practices. Coach communications from the Woodward Field pressbox will also be stressed the next two Saturdays as Eastern will scrimmage next Saturday (April 19) at 10:30 a.m. before playing the annual Red-White Game at 2 p.m. on April 26.

"Our communications weren't great," said Baldwin. "There were a couple of times where we would have had to call a timeout because we had 12 in the huddle or were in the red zone and weren't clear about what play was being called."

"We have to get better at creating game-like situations in practice," he added of the team's focus this week. "We're always going work on fundamentals, but we need the 11 players on offense and defense doing a better job of communicating with each other without being coached on the field."

All and all, Baldwin was pleased with what he saw in his first EWU scrimmage as head coach. But he knows there is a lot of work to be done between now and the team's opener at Texas Tech on Aug. 30. In particular, he knows that process will take time along the offensive line where four starters were lost to graduation.

Wanting to learn is the key, Baldwin said.

"They are a group hungry to learn because they know there are a lot of open positions. They are not set in stone so they're all fighting for them. I like they way they are coming along, but it's going to take time. Whenever you have young players at a position, it takes time even if there is talent. They are progressing well, but they have to keep getting better."

"At this point you never seem satisfied," Baldwin added with a smile. "We always feel like we have a lot of work to do, and we do. It's hard to say whether we're on track, but I do feel good about the character of this group. When we keep working and teaching, they are going to keep responding. They want to learn and they want to be great."

Remaining 2008 Spring Practice Schedule:
(begin at 3:20 p.m.; Media Interviews at 3 p.m.)
Tuesday, April 15
Wednesday, April 16
Thursday, April 17
Tuesday, April 22
Thursday, April 24
Tuesday, April 29
Wednesday, April 30

2008 Spring Scrimmages:
(times/location tentative and subject to change)
Saturday, April 19 - 10:30 a.m. (Woodward Field)
Saturday, April 26 - Red-White Game - 2 p.m. (Woodward Field)

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