Three takeaways from Eastern football’s fall scrimmage


File Photo | The Daily Eastern News

Senior wide receiver Aaron Gooch runs with the ball during Eastern’s spring football game last year. Gooch is slotted to play receiver this season as well as handle return duties.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

Eastern’s football coaching staff got a good look at a lot of the team’s young players Saturday during a team scrimmage at O’Brien Field. 

No score was kept, but the goal of the scrimmage was to get as close to a game scenario as possible; in that however, some things about the roster became clearer while other aspects, including the quarterback battle, became murkier.

Here are three keys from Eastern intersquad scrimmage:

The quarterback situation is getting tighter.

Four of the six quarterbacks Eastern has on its roster played in Saturday’s scrimmage, with Tulane transfer Johnathan Brantley getting the first reps of the game. He was followed by Navarro Junior College transfer Harry Woodbery, redshirt-freshman Jaylin Banks and true freshman Qua Gray.

What made the day particularly interesting, specific to quarterbacks, was the struggles of Woodbery in the game. So far in camp, Brantley and Woodbery have been the front-runners to secure the starting spot. Saturday, however, was not Woodbery’s best showing. 

Woodbery has a stronger arm and better velocity on his throws than Brantley does, but Woodbery was just a tad off in the scrimmage. Multiple times he was given clean pockets to throw out of but missed receivers by mere inches, typically leading them too far. 

He did, however, lead one drive down the field that resulted in a touchdown, in which he fairly sharply passed the ball, but the rest of the day was not his greatest performance by any stretch. 

Woodbery’s game is probably not anything to get over-concerned about or read too deep into. Even head coach Kim Dameron said he was not particularly concerned with the actual passing and throwing of the football as he recognized the players were not all synched up yet.

What does make his performance on Saturday important, however, was the play of Brantley. 

Brantley himself did not play eye-poppingly great–he too missed some throws and seemed to get rattled by pressure–but he did multiple times scramble out of the pocket and show off his speed and athleticism in open space. 

Banks, who has been also playing at defensive back throughout camp thanks to the crowded quarterback situation, played well also. His game was pretty similar to that of Brantley’s: his throws were not always on the mark, but he too moved out of the pocket a couple of times for large gains. 

The running backs stole the show

While all the quarterbacks who took the field on Saturday left some things to be desired, all of the running backs that played for Eastern were very good. 

Independence Community College transfer Jamal Scott did not have a great start to the game, his first two times touching the ball were both dropped passes, one of which he was hit hard on, but he recovered in a big way. 

Scott on multiple runs in the game lowered his shoulder and put defensive players on their backs and rumbled down the field for big gains. 

Redshirt-junior running back Robert Columbus played very well. He broke off for big runs all game and juked out and danced around multiple defenders on runs, playing the opposite role of Scott who instead bowled over smaller defenders.

Senior and preseason all-conference back Isaiah Johnson did not get a lot of playing time, but was serviceable when he did get touches, as is to be expected from him. 

Junior Darshon McCullough was also a factor in the game as he too found holes in the offensive line and was able to make good use of those for good chunks of yards throughout the game. 

The play of all the running backs is nothing but a good sign for Eastern moving forward. 

The defense was up and down

The defensive backfield for Eastern played very well on Saturday. They forced turnovers, something coordinator Cary Fowler says the team is being much more conscious of this season, and also dished out some big hits to receivers in open field.

The defensive line at times looked tenacious and at other points was a non-factor. Early in the game it appeared the defensive line had an upper hand, but as the game went on, they struggled to put pressure on the quarterback. Perhaps that could have just been an attest to how well the offensive line played for most of the game, but surely Fowler would have liked to see more from his front-seven. 

Nothing that happened in the game was anything to get too worked up about, though. There were lots of players being rotated in and out, a lot of them young, and even the areas of the roster that did struggle did not do so in any alarming matter. 

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