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EWU football players battle for open spots at scrimmage

The competition at several key positions on Eastern Washington University’s football team has been as interesting as it has been intense this spring.

That made for some entertaining moments Saturday morning at Roos Field when Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin put his defending national champions through a spirited 68-play scrimmage.

Of particular interest was the battle for the backup quarterback position, which Baldwin said was still far from settled.

With Scott Burgett, a former quarterback, having recently been moved to safety, three players – Anthony Vitto, Nick Gauthier and Greg Panelli – are still in the mix of those trying to become the backup to senior-to-be starter Bo Levi Mitchell.

All three had their moments Saturday.

Vitto, a sophomore-to-be, connected on 6 of 8 passes for 73 yards and hit Mitchell’s younger brother, Cody, with a short touchdown pass that capped an impressive 10-play, 60-yard drive. Gauthier, who will be a senior next fall, finished 7 for 8 for 40 yards and finished off an eight-play, 48-yard scoring drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Greg Herd.

Panelli, who will be a junior, completed 3 of 5 passes for 53 yards, but was picked off twice – once by Alden Gibbs, a former EWU basketball player who is among a group of players battling for one of the two vacant starting cornerback positions, and once by Ronald Baines, another starting cornerback candidate.

Mitchell, who started all but one game under center last fall, completed 7 of 12 passes – including a 14-yard scoring pass to Alante Wright – for 75 yards. While Mitchell had the luxury of wearing a no-contact black jersey, the other three wore white and went live.

“It’s not set at all, but I mean that in a good way,” Baldwin said of the backup QB spot. “We’re going to compete the rest of the spring and continue to compete each practice.

“Being a former quarterbacks coach, you wouldn’t expect it, but I probably go live on quarterbacks more than any coach in America.”

Baldwin feels that allowing his backup quarterbacks to become fair game for his defense is beneficial in a couple of ways.

“First, you find out what those (quarterbacks) are about when the lights are totally on and its live back there,” he said. “And it also gives the defense a chance to truly have to defend a quarterback. A lot of times (defenders) go all spring and all fall camp never having to make a sack, or tackle a scrambling quarterback, and that makes it hard for them come Game 1 (in the fall).”

Three running backs, all hoping to replace All-American Taiwan Jones, who left school a year early for the NFL draft, got carries in the scrimmage. While neither Mario Brown (eight carries for 31 yards), Darriell Beaumonte (five for 23), nor first-year University of Washington transfer Demitrius Bronson (nine for 58) put up big numbers, their collective effort seemed to satisfy Baldwin.

“I love it,” he said of the three-man battle. “First off, you’ve got a veteran in Beaumont, who is always ready and who has been an incredible leader for us. Mario started at the end of last year (for the injured Jones), and just continues to get better and be more comfortable with the offense.

“And I think Bronson is going to be a great addition. All three of those guys are going to have an impact next fall.”

The Eagles, who have seven practices remaining before their annual Red-White Game on April 30, will hold their last scrimmage of the spring at 10 a.m. Saturday.

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