Questions surround East Washington football as it enters the offseason

Throughout East Washington’s football season, which ended in a second-round playoff loss to Montana, 57-41, on Saturday, fifth-year head coach Aaron Best has repeatedly praised the leadership of the three senior classes of the Eagles.

He had a lot of choice. The additional year of eligibility granted to all varsity athletes due to the pandemic has changed the exact meaning of the terms “senior,” “junior,” “sophomore,” and “freshman,” popularizing the term “senior. sixth year ”. Even a handful of Eagles have called themselves “seventh-year seniors,” having graduated from high school in 2015.

But after playing 20 games in the 2021 calendar year, many Eagles players have finally exhausted their eligibility, and even a couple are giving up that extra “COVID year” to move on from their college football careers. Still others might enter the transfer portal.

So the roster the Eagles bring to spring camp in 2022 will be devoid of familiar names like Eric Barriere, Talolo Limu-Jones and Jack Sendelbach. But he’ll also bring a number of new ones to his next recruiting class, which will be announced next week.

Here are five questions before the offseason:

Who will be the starting quarterback against Oregon in the 2022 season opener?

There is no more pressing issue for the Eagles, who have been coached by a Walter Payton Award contender – their most recent – for more than three seasons: Barriere took over in mid-2018 and never has dropped the reins, historically racking up big numbers in his 51 games with the Eagles: 301.8 yards of attack per game, a 62% completion rate, 22 total rushing touchdowns and 121 other assists.

The Eagles have a two-decade track record of replacing one productive quarterback with another, but this time around, there’s no obvious heir. Gunner Talkington has played 38 games in the past four years, but has only attempted 64 assists. Current subclasses Simon Burkett and Trey Turner received praise during fall camp, and there’s also Arizona State transfer Ryan Kelley, who joined the squad this summer and has at at least one year of eligibility and maybe two.

How will the coaching team be structured?

Following Ian Shoemaker’s resignation as offensive coordinator, Pat McCann was raised as an interim wide receivers coach and led the offense to continued effectiveness following the mid-season change. McCann has never been a full-time Division I coordinator, but the Olympia native has been with the Eagles since the start of the 2019 season. If he’s high, he could also remain a wide receivers coach and a coach. shifts could be recruited, or Best could choose to organize the staff in some other way.

After dividing up the tasks among a handful of coaches, the Eagles could also bring in a full-time special teams coach – which they had in 2019 – after those units were operated by other teams all through. throughout the 2021 season. Three blocked punters took a toll in the three-point loss to Weber State, and overall, the Eagles’ kickoff coverage was among the least effective in the Big Sky. The Eagles were also deprived of their starting kicker and long snapper for periods of the season, and it’s clear that of the three main units – offense, defense and special teams – the latter was the Eagles’ weakest this year.

Who will step up to the wide receiver?

Given the current success of EWU graduates Cooper Kupp and Kendrick Bourne in the NFL, this group of positions for the Eagles has raised its national profile over the past decade. In an attack that slams the ball as often as the Eagles, the opportunities are plentiful. Limu-Jones and Andrew Boston have led the squad this season with a combined 2,091 yards and 13 touchdowns on 140 receptions. Both will be gone next year, however, with Boston apparently choosing to leave a year of eligibility on the table.

Still, the Eagles have a promising pair in current subclasses Freddie Roberson (49 receptions, 779 yards and six touchdowns) and Efton Chism III (57, 735, 9) and a stable of options behind them who will be counted to produce. as well. Tight ends Blake Gobel, Dylan Ingram and Nolan Ulm – all eligible to return next fall – have also had 34 receptions and nine touchdowns this season.

Who will face the players of the other team?

Someone sure will, but it won’t be seniors Ty Graham, Jack Sendelbach or Calin Criner, a line that has combined for 298 of the team’s 958 tackles this season. Defensive lineman Josh Jerome will be the top returner in the class at 61. His teammates have been raving about the leadership of those three all season, and they will take a wealth of experience with them.

Safe, the Eagles appear to have clearer options to replace Criner: Anthany Smith (six games, 38 tackles), Ely Doyle (40 tackles, three missed passes) and Keshaun King (29 tackles, two interceptions) have all had plenty of time throughout the season, and Smith, who missed the first half of the fall with injury, was a whole-conference safety last spring. At linebacker, future senior Cale Lindsay is sure to have his chance to land a full-time job with Graham and Sendelbach gone. But after him, no other returning linebacker has seen much playing time in this position.

How active will EWU be on the transfer portal?

With the NCAA transfer rules changing last spring, it has become easier than ever for a player to change schools under the new single exemption rule. Traditionally, Eastern has not been a program relying on inbound transfers to strengthen its roster; he had only a handful this year among his 105 players. Whether that changes ahead of Best’s sixth season as a head coach is something to watch ahead of spring camp, when the Eagles face off to replace six starters on offense and three on defense.

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