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Opinions vary after first Eastern scrimmage

Eastern’s defense surrounds quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell during Saturday’s scrimmage. (Christopher Anderson)
Eastern’s defense surrounds quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell during Saturday’s scrimmage. (Christopher Anderson)

Eastern Washington University head coach Beau Baldwin put his Eagles through what he described as a “choppy” 90-minute situational scrimmage – the first of fall camp for the defending Division I national football champions – at Roos Field Saturday afternoon.

And the post-practice evaluations by those most heavily involved varied immensely.

Senior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, the most valuable player in EWU’s 20-19 win over Delaware in last January’s Football Championship Subdivision title game in Frisco, Texas, heaped praise on the defense.

“Overall, I thought the defense played really well, and in all aspects,” said Mitchell, who threw a school-record 37 touchdowns as a junior last fall and completed 15 of 24 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown on Saturday.

“When they came with the blitz, they got to the quarterback when they had to (registering six sacks), and when they were in coverage, they did a good job, too.”

But junior safety Jeff Minnerly, while appreciative of Mitchell’s comments, wasn’t nearly as sold on the his performance and that of his teammates.

“Honestly, that’s nice of Bo to say, and we did do some good things,” said Minnerly, who had a hand in seven tackles. “But I felt the defense – especially us starters – didn’t come out with enough energy, and there are a lot of areas we need to get better in, which is a good thing considering a quarterback of Bo’s caliber said we did well and we didn’t think we did.”

Baldwin’s assessment fell somewhere in between those of Mitchell and Minnerly.

“It was one of those things where you saw some big plays on both sides of the ball, but you also saw some sloppiness,” Baldwin said. “Still, it will be a great teaching tape, where we can get back and analyze how we played in all those different situations – goal line, red zone and 2-minute drill.”

Among the biggest surprises was the play of freshmen running backs Jordan Talley and Quincy Forte, who both have a chance to play considerable minutes this fall in the wake of All-American Taiwan Jones’ early departure following last year’s run to a national title.

Talley, a 5-foot-10, 180-pounder from Portland’s Jesuit High School, broke off a 65-yard touchdown run early in the scrimmage. Forte, a 6-0, 180-pounder out of Vacaville High School in Fairfield, Calif., showed he can run effectively inside the tackles.

“I couldn’t tell if that was Taiwan or not,” Mitchell said, when asked about Talley’s long touchdown run. “But, really, we’ve got some good young running backs in Jordan and Quincy.

“They’re smart, they study hard, they’re always in the film room and when they get the ball in their hands they’re going for the score.”

Talley and Forte are competing against sophomores Mario Brown and Demitrius Bronson, a first-year transfer from the University of Washington, to replace Jones, who is trying to earn a spot on the roster of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.

“The play of both of those young running backs really jumped out at you today, and they’re both likely to play this fall,” Baldwin said. “They’ve both had a camp.”

Another rookie who was expected to play this fall, according to Baldwin, was linebacker Cody McCarthy, from Bishop Kelly High in Boise. But McCarthy appeared to have hyperextended his right knee midway through the scrimmage, and the seriousness of his injury was not immediately known.

“We’ll have to wait and see on him, but we really like all three of those guys,” Baldwin said.

Several projected starters, including defensive tackle Renard Williams, defensive back Matt Johnson and special-teams standout and senior running back Darriell Beaumonte, were held out because of minor injuries. All are expected to be ready for Eastern’s Sept. 3 season opener against the University of Washington in Seattle.

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