Eagle 'D' should be stifling - again - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Eastern Washington - Football

Eagle 'D' should be stifling - again

(Photo: File / EWU Athletics) (Photo: File / EWU Athletics)
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Veterans play key roles at linebacker, secondary

by EWU Athletics

Like the offense, Eastern Washington University's defense was superb in the last half of the season under first-year defensive coordinator John Graham. After giving up 623 passing yards in a 47-36 loss at Portland State, the Eagles held five-straight opponents from Oct. 11 to Nov. 15 to 19 points or fewer. That was something that EWU has never done since becoming a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in 1984. The Eagles closed the year by limiting Weber State's high-powered offense to 26 points in a 33-26 Eagle victory.

 "A lot of that was just finding out what our identity was on defense, understanding our philosophies and the players having a better idea of how they were being coached," said head coach Beau Baldwin. "It was night and day when comparing the first five games with the last six. We're excited about carrying that over."

The defensive line last season featured a trio of senior All-Big Sky performers, but the cupboard is certainly not bare for Eastern's defense.

Sophomore Renard Williams (6-2, 300) returns as a starter after finishing his debut season with 27 tackles, two sacks and seven total tackles for loss. Junior Tyler Jolley (6-3, 285) started four games and finished the year with 27 tackles with a sack and three passes batted down in nine games played.

Other returning letter winners include senior Jacob Kragt (6-3, 235), sophomore David Miles (6-4, 255) and senior Josh Jacobson (6-1, 280).

"We're excited about the group we have coming in," said Baldwin. "It's a lot like last year when we lost a lot of offensive linemen. We're excited to see the young defensive linemen and we're excited about some of the older players who haven't been able to play quite as much and now have that opportunity. We're excited to see how hard they work and how bad they want playing time. That group wants to come in and prove something."

Six starters return at linebacker and the secondary, including three linebackers who all earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors in 2008. Zach Johnson leads the returning backers with 96 tackles and a team-leading seven passes broken up in 2008, with injuries sidelining Sherritt (64 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for loss, one interception) and Makai Borden (43 tackles) at various times during the season. Borden has started 20 games, with Eastern owning a 13-4 record the past two seasons with him in the starting lineup.

Other returning letter winners at linebacker include senior Kyle Wilkins, junior Jason Harris and sophomore Bobby Gentry. Wilkins finished the 2008 season with 46 tackles and a sack as he helped fill the void when injuries sidelined a trio of linebackers at the same time.

In the secondary, 24-game starting free safety Kevin Hatch returns for his senior season. He had 60 tackles for the season and an interception he returned 73 yards for a touchdown in Eastern's season-ending win over Big Sky champion Weber State.

Matt Johnson and senior cornerback Lonnie Hosley are the other two starters returning, with Johnson finishing his freshman season with 83 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions. Hosley started EWU's first five games and finished with 13 tackles and six passes broken up before a foot injury ended his season.

Six other letter winners return in the secondary, including seniors Brett Igbinoba and J.T. Leggin, who both moved to cornerback after playing as a wide receivers in 2008. The others are juniors John Roberts, Jesse Hoffman, Dante Calcote, Will Edge and Ethen Robinson. Edge, however, will not be able to play in the fall after suffering a dislocated left ankle and broken fibula in spring practices.

 "Another position where some young players are going to have to step-up is defensive back," said Baldwin. "We don't have a large number of defensive backs, but it was a position we recruited heavily. We signed a number of defensive backs, so there could be young players in the lineup, but a lot of that depends on where the veteran players are. We're hoping that's a very competitive position during fall camp and that some players who haven't played much in prior years are able to step-up for us."

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