A month ago the Defensive Tackles looked stacked. However, the loss of 2 recruits now makes the group look a bit thinner (well, figuratively speaking that is). Neither prospect had played a down for Idaho; one was a JC transfer last year who tore an ACL before the season, the other was a JC recruit this year. How big an impact these losses will be remains to be seen, and likely depends on how much the entire depth chart, including senior <b>Jason Jones</b> (6-4, 325), develops this spring.
The good news for Vandal fans is that 3 of last year's top 4 defensive linemen will return for 2003. Among them is the Sun Belt's #3 tackler among defensive linemen (Brian Howard), and a sophomore who made a heck of a splash as a true freshman (Kelly Talavou). The top 3 returners saw significant playing time last year, and experienced more success up front than in recent years.
However, the group will need to replace a senior starter lost to graduation (Talafaia Atoe). Alot of this group's success will probably have to do with how the Big Cat, Jason Jones, does next fall. At 6-4, 325 pounds he's the biggest of the unit, and has the potential to be quite an obstacle in certain situations. A JC transfer last fall, he came in and earned significant playing time immediately, including being named the starter in the first game of the season against Boise State. His continued development, whether or not he starts this fall, will likely make a difference throughout next season.
Overall, the unit is more experienced than last year's interior DL (3 of the top 4 were first year Vandals), and a whole heck of alot better than the 2001 DL. Its not as deep a group as it could have been (maybe), but the potential is certainly there for this group to make some noise. Especially if they stay healthy.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Some of the height/weight information below is updated, some is using last fall's numbers. We'll update all as we get more information.)
Returning Starters: Brian Howard
6-3, 286, Sr
True senior Brian Howard, of Kent, Washington (Kent-Meridian High School) joined the Vandals in 2000 (Coach Cable's first recruiting class). As a high school senior he was named to Washington's Top 100 football prospects list, and was chosen for the under-19 National Rugby Team. He immediately earned playing time as a freshman. By the second game of his sophomore season he had earned a starting role, and he's been a versatile athlete on the defensive line ever since. Last year Idaho had enough depth on the interior DL to rotate 4 guys at the 2 defensive tackle positions throughout each game (a first since Brian had arrived), and in certain situations lined Brian at one DE, Talavou and then-senior Talifaia Atoe at the tackles (both 310 pounders), and Kraus or Kania at the other end. It was a situation which saw Brian begin to flourish as he ended the year 3rd on the team in tackles (54), 3rd in tackles for loss (10), 2nd in sacks (5), 4 pass breakups, and 2 fumble recoveries.
He's one player we definitely expect to see continue to improve for his senior season.
Players on the rise: Kelly Talavou
6-2, 310, So
Last year, true freshman recruit Kelly Talavou was a relatively unknown prospect out of Los Angeles (Fountain Valley High). He certainly didn't waste anytime making his presence known. He started against Wazzu, and played a significant role in 10 games (backing up senior Talafaia Atoe). He ended the year with 23 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. Not bad for a guy who 12 months earlier was playing high school football.
As with Jason Jones, how much Kelly develops this off-season will go along way in determining how much of an impact this unit will make next fall. The young man has alot of potential, and we were given an impressive glimpse into what he can do in the trenches.
Newcomers: Michael Togafau
6-3, 291, Jr
Calling redshirt junior Michael Togafau of Pittsburg, CA (Pittsburg High) a "newcomer" is really a misnomer. He joined the Vandals in Coach Cable's first recruiting class as a defensive lineman. After his redshirt year he was moved to the offensive line to give that group some depth, but missed most of 2001 with a knee sprain. Last year, very quietly, he was moved back to the defensive line in October. He appeared in 4 games (an impressive accomplishment, considering we were already rotating 4 defensive linemen), and recorded a tackle and a pass break-up. Nothing earth shattering, but significant in that it got him back into defensive lineman mode (he's shown here in a fall camp photo working as a backup strongside offensive tackle). As a highschooler he was a 2-way All Conference lineman, was named his high school volleyball team's MVP, and was an honor roll student. With the depth Idaho now has on the offensive line, getting him back to the position he was originally recruited to play sounds like a great move.
Also keep your eyes open for redshirt sophomore Jeff Edwards who moves inside from the defensive end position he was originally recruited to play. He's added 20 pounds to his frame, and should be in the thick of the hunt for playing time next fall. Obviously, how much both Mike and Jeff develop this spring and summer will go along way in determing how flexible, and deep, the DT rotation will be.
Note: * = Walk-on last fall, (+) = Started at least 1 game
Returning starters listed in BOLD Players with starting experience (+) listed below starters
All remaining players listed by class
Brian Howard, 6-3, 286, Sr
(+) Jason Jones, 6-4, 325, Sr
(+) Kelly Talavou, 6-2, 310, So
Michael Togafau, 6-3, 291, Jr
Jeff Edwards, 6-3, 262, So