FAMILIAR FACES RETURN TO MOUNTAINEER DEFENSE

August 31, 2001 12:00 am
BACK TO QB: Junior Mark Hanrahan (left) was originally recruited as a quarterback, but has played wide receiver and slotback the past two seasons. (The Observer/PAT PERKINS).
BACK TO QB: Junior Mark Hanrahan (left) was originally recruited as a quarterback, but has played wide receiver and slotback the past two seasons. (The Observer/PAT PERKINS).

By Pat Perkins

Observer Staff Writer

If the names of Eastern Oregons linebackers look familiar and out of place, well, they are.

Actually, theyre not out of place, but Brian Moore and Brett Ekart are familiar with Easterns defense, having played there last year.

Moore led Eastern with 12 tackles for losses from his spot on the defensive line, but he has moved to outside linebacker this season. Ekart (6-foot-1, 245 pounds) had four tackles for losses as a defensive end, but linebacker is his natural position.

Hes back where hes comfortable, Eastern coach Rob Cushman said. He didnt play up to his ability last year. He just wasnt comfortable. Hes back in his comfort zone.

Moore (6-4, 220) struggled at times in camp adjusting to his new position, but that didnt worry Cushman.

This really plays into his skills, Cushman said. As a linebacker, you can disguise him, hide him, bring him off the edge, and hes a tall, rangy defender.

The changes at linebacker have made room for speedy defensive end Mike Kyle (6-4, 260), who led Butte (Mont.) Community College in sacks last year. Kyle runs a 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and with Moore beside him, teams wont run their way very often.

Hes as big and strong and fast as weve ever had here, Cushman said. Kyles only problem, however, is whether summer school and transfer transcripts come together to make him eligible. Kyle is also the teams punter, but if he cant play, wide receiver Phil Nyby will take over that job.

Candidates for the other defensive end position are redshirt freshman Drew Storm (6-2, 235), sophomore Corey Level (6-2, 218) and Eastern Washington transfer Eli Thornley (6-1, 223).

Back at nose tackle is senior Sven Wilson (5-11, 245), Cushmans blue-collar guy. Sophomores Scott Young (6-2, 275) and Jon Liepold (6-3, 265) will play on the interior defensive line. Junior Erik Swanson (6-2, 250) could also see some time there.

Its nice to have three guys whove played and a fourth whos good, Cushman said.

Also at linebacker will be sophomore Mark Jensen (6-1, 220), senior Brock Jorgensen (5-10, 239) and freshman J.D. Wolf (6-0, 206).

Easterns defensive secondary had problems stopping the pass last year, but three starters are a year better, and as a group, theyre by far the most improved unit coming back, according to Cushman.

Senior Ollie Van (5-10, 190) is the strong safety but he can drop down into coverage and play cornerback, too. Senior Leon McDaniels (5-11, 186) was the nickel back a year ago but has moved to free safety to replace Chris Lewis, who graduated. Senior Jason Rice (5-10, 180) is the other defensive back, and he shared the team lead with Lewis with three interceptions in 2000. Senior Cam Christensen (5-8, 165) will be at cornerback.

It all adds up to an improved defense that could face plenty of passing.

If were as good as I think we are up front, were really going to be challenged because teams are going to want to throw (the ball), Cushman said.