CHENEY, Wash. -- It may be a glorified practice, but competition is competition, says Eastern Washington University head football coach Beau Baldwin.
The Eagles will conclude their first week of spring practices with a scrimmage Friday (April 8) at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles will begin practice at 4:40 p.m. (not 4 p.m. as listed in previous practice schedules), and will scrimmage starting at about 5:40 p.m. The scrimmage is free and open to the public.
"More than anything it will be a situational scrimmage -- a very glorified practice is what it really is," explained Baldwin, who is entering his fourth year at the helm. "We aren't necessarily going to drive the ball a whole bunch -- it's going to be more of putting the ball in certain areas and going live. It will look more like a practice format than a scrimmage format. We're just trying to fill-out the depth chart and see where we are.
"We want to create great competition at every spot," he added. "When you put players in a live situation with live bullets, it creates for the best of the best in terms of competition."
The Eagles are the defending NCAA Division I champions, and Baldwin's team returns 15 starters from last year's squad that finished 13-2. Finding depth and, eventually, a travel roster, is first and foremost on the mind of Baldwin. The Eagles open their season Sept. 3 at Washington, and play their next two games on the road as well.
"We are taking a serious glance at our depth," he explained. "We need to improve in that area, plus, at a lot of positions, there are a lot of backup spots available. We are trying to figure out who is going to fill those holes. And because we play on the road for our first three games, we are trying to get a good idea which players are going to be on our travel roster in September."
Thus far, a couple of areas have caught Baldwin's eye. With a total of 54 letter winners returning, he has plenty of familiar faces to look at. But he knows replacing lost letter winners -- 15 from the 2010 squad -- is never easy.
"I love our overall team speed on defense," Baldwin said. "And I do think the front seven has some serious depth compared to some other positions, so that has caught my eye and I'm glad to see it. I think that will allow us to be even more effective with our pressures and the things we are working on up front."
"There are a number of players returning who were starters or serious contributors on a national championship team and they have a chance to be even better," he continued. "With all that practice time we had during our playoff run, it's exciting to see those players become even better. And they are going to have to be. We are never going to replace some of the players we lost, so we need some other players who have played for us to step-up."
Weather conditions for practices thus far have been cold, blustery and rainy, but that hasn't dampened Baldwin's spirits. The previous two months of winter conditioning were even tougher, he says.
"Winter is always a challenging time. Whether we made the playoff run we did or not, it's colder and darker, and we're up early for weightlifting and winter conditioning. It's the toughest quarter for our sport. So it's always good to hit spring and be able to actually play football again outside. You feel like it's the start to the next chapter of your offseason."
Visor Returns to Baldwin's Head . . .
One noticeable return at spring practices has been the visor on top of Baldwin's head.
Early season, after the Eagles lost to Montana State 30-7, Baldwin's signature visor atop his head disappeared. For the rest of the season as it turned out.
"I wore one during practice going into the Weber State game, and for some reason, right before the game I said, ‘I'm not going to wear this.' I don't know why, but I just decided to change it up and took it off. We played pretty well, and I said, ‘you know what, if we lose somewhere along the line maybe I'll go back to it. But I'll see if we can put together a little streak without it.'"
Eastern won that game 35-24 and the streak began, ending with Eastern's 20-19 come-from-behind victory over Delaware in the NCAA Division I championship game on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas. With Baldwin visor-less, the Eagles won their final 11 games of the season.
Baldwin donned a visor for Eastern's first spring practice on April 1, but hasn't ruled out putting it on the shelf again. Whether or not he's wearing one might just be an indication of how the team is progressing this spring.
"I'll wear it until I don't like what is going on and then I'll take it off again -- I even wore a hat the other day," he laughed. "But I wouldn't even call it a superstition. Last year, I just took it off and once we won, I thought I would just leave it off. Coach Aaron Best decided to grow his hair out and I decided not to put my visor on."