3 things learned in spring football


Sean Hastings

Redshirt senior Aaron Gooch runs up the field in Eastern’s spring practice April 4 at O’Brien Field. Eastern’s offense showed signs of getting the new offense to click and the defense continued to be solid just as it was last year.

JJ Bullock, Assistant Sports Editor

1. The quarterback position is open, but there may be frontrunners. 

Four quarterbacks competed in spring camp for the Panthers and in the eyes of the Eastern coaching staff, four quarterbacks still have a chance to be the starter against Arkansas in the season opener. 

There was redshirt-sophomore Scotty Gilkey Jr., who started in five games for the Panthers last season, proving to be a reliable option at quarterback during a season where the Panthers were riddled with injuries at the position.

Joining him in camp as a familiar face was redshirt-freshman Jaylon Banks. Last season he was a member of the scout team and struggled to move the ball down the field in Eastern’s spring football game.

Both Banks and Gilkey Jr. will be given the same amount of reps and opportunity to start next season, but it was two transfer quarterbacks who set themselves apart in spring camp and may be the favorites to win the starting job. 

Tulane transfer Johnathan Brantley already separates himself from the other quarterbacks with his speed and ability to create plays outside the pocket, something the Eastern coaches knew he would do before spring camp. But, Brantley also showed off his arm talent. In the spring football game Brantley was 11-of-13 passing with 103 yards and two touchdowns. 

Brantley showed in spring football he is ready to compete on the field. However, his spot in the quarterback race could very well depend on how fast he learns the new offense. 

Coming into Eastern already knowing the offense, Navarro Junior College transfer Harry Woodbery stepped into the quarterback battle already with a leg up on the other players. He played in new offensive coordinator Scott Parr’s offense at Navarro. On top of already knowing the playbook, Woodbery played very well in spring camp. 

Possessing arguably the strongest arm of all the quarterbacks, Woodbery put that on display in the spring football game. He was 17-of-27, passing with 198 yards and was responsible for throwing the Panthers’ other two touchdowns in the game.

Eastern also has quarterback Qua Gray coming in next season as a freshman from Texas. He threw for 60 touchdowns as a senior in high school and could add yet another interesting dynamic to the quarterback battle. 

Gilkey Jr. is big, a strong runner and familiar with the team and Banks is untested and waiting to make his mark. But based on the performances in spring football, Woodbery and Brantley may be out front in the job race.

2. The new offense is not perfect yet, but it is coming.

Head coach Kim Dameron said before the spring football game that he did not expect the new, fast-paced offense, to be running on all-cylinders yet, and he was right. At times during the game and practices there were lapses or miscues in the offense, as to be expected when a new system is put in place, but when the offense showed glimpses of what it can be, it looked good. 

During the spring game, Eastern had some long pass plays and an option run, all being run very fast, that showed what can happen when the air-raid offense clicks. But there was also a fumble on the first play and some missed passes down the field that displayed it still is not 100 percent ready. 

Woodbery has been helping the other quarterbacks get a hang of the new offense, assisting them with signals, play-calling and offensive line communication. 

3. The defense is still good.

It is not exactly news, but the Eastern defense, which carried the struggling offense last season, is still good in its second season with defensive coordinator Cary Fowler. 

Even with injuries in the secondary and at the defensive line, the defense still won the spring football game by a score of 34-27 and had the offense on its toes for most of the game.

 The linebacking core is something that coaches have been impressed with all spring and the spring game showed why. Sophomore linebacker Dytarious Johnson finished with nine tackles and one sack and sophomore linebacker Austin Johnson finished with six tackles and one fumble recovery. 

The defense finished with seven total sacks in the game.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]