Under the guidance of first-year defensive coordinator Mike Breske last season the Vandals implemented an entirely new defensive scheme, switching from a 4-3 defensive front to a 3-4 alignment. Combined with a much more potent offense, Idaho won four games, its biggest win total since the 2010 season.
Although the Vandal D at times showed substantial gains, more work remains. Idaho will return all four starters and will feature three seniors for 2016. All four backups return as well. Expected back is cornerback Jayshawn Jordan, a senior 4-year starter who missed last season with an injury. Idaho will need that experience in the backfield this fall – and to build on it – as the Vandals picked off just six passes in 2015, its lowest total since at least 2007. Of the four Vandals with picks, two will be back for 2016 in senior safety Russell Siavii (2) and junior cornerback Dorian Clark (1).
If the Vandal D is going to continue to improve in 2016 they have to become a more ball-hawking unit. They also need to build on the strides they made last season being stingier giving up yards through the air. Two years ago in 2013 Idaho’s pass defense gave up a staggering 3,790 yards and 40 passing touchdowns, letting almost every QB they faced look like a Heisman candidate. Last year under first-year DC Breske those numbers were nearly cut in half, giving up just 2,573 passing yards and a more reasonable 22 TDs on the year. These numbers are about the same as league leading Georgia Southern, with one exception: the Eagles picked off 17 passes last year.
How do you continue rebuilding the secondary? By continuing to develop the players in the system that started the turnaround, and by stockpiling the pipeline with more talent. Last week Idaho added one more prospect to the depth chart, one that could make an immediate impact this fall, when Scottsdale College standout defensive back D.J. Olmstead signed with the Vandals.
THE LINE ON OLMSTEAD is impressive, starting with his stature. At 5-foot-11, 190-pounds he benched an eye-popping 335-pounds, exhibiting a remarkable strength-to-weight ratio. Add to that the 4.44-40 he logged at Arizona State’s camp last summer, and you have a defensive back prospect that is physically capable of playing the position at the highest level.
Coming off a freshman season Scottsdale Community College in which he battled for playing time with two sophomores, started four games (had one pick) and played in all 11 on special teams, his name may not have been popping up on a lot of boards. But as his sophomore season unfolded his prospects started to change. By the end of the season he was named a First Team All-ACCAC (Arizona Community College Athletic Conference) selection and a First-Team All-WSFL (Western States Football League) pick after leading all defensive backs in the conference in tackles per game (7.0 per game, 77 on the season) while hauling in two picks and recovering two fumbles (that he also forced). Scottsdale made it to a third consecutive Valley of the Sun Bowl while three of their defensive backs made the All-Conference team.
At the time he signed with Idaho he had offers from Eastern Michigan (MAC), Indiana State, Central Arkansas and East Tennessee State. But the strong relationship he developed with Idaho secondary coach Aric Williams helped close the deal.
“Coach Williams was one of the first coaches to get into contact with me last year, my sophomore season at Scottsdale,” Olmstead told GoVandals.net. “Originally he saw my first couple of games and was saying he wanted to maybe recruit me as a corner; he wanted to build a relationship with me and talk with me a little more. I had four Division 1 offers, and one night I was making dinner and Coach Williams got back in touch with me. He said, ‘I told you if something came up you would be the guy we’d get in touch with.’ I talked with him and Coach Petrino on the phone and they offered me that night. They got me out there on a visit the next weekend and it seemed like it was going to be the place for me.”
The offer from Idaho came in at the end of January, just days before signing day.
“At that point [right before the Idaho offer came through] I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do,” Olmstead said. “I wasn’t really interested in the other schools that had offered me, but I was going to wait it out and see if something else came up. Coach Williams said they’d be willing to wait for me, but he also asked me if I wanted to commit right then on the phone. Spur-of-the-moment, it was just too much to do. I told him I wanted to go up for a visit and he said, ‘We’ll wait for you after signing day if you think this is going to be the place for you.’”
After Signing Day his trip was booked and Olmstead visited the Idaho campus where he was hosted by former Scottsdale CC teammate Callen Hightower, a wide receiver who burst onto the scene for the Vandals last fall and is one of Idaho’s top receiving targets heading into spring camp.
“When I went up there they were showing me a lot of love,” Olmstead said of his visit. “But I told them I needed to go home and talk it over with my parents and make sure this was going to be the right fit for me. They gave me a few days, and on the 19th (February) I signed.”
AS WOULD BE EXPECTED with a player of Olmstead’s caliber, although he has three years available to play two there are no plans for him to redshirt this fall. Idaho has talent and experience coming back next fall (collectively it will be the most experienced defensive backfield Idaho has had in years), but Olmstead could be a difference maker in multiple facets.
“I’ll be playing safety, probably free,” Olmstead said of the position he expects to play when he joins the program this June. “Coach Breske and Coach Williams were saying they want me to play the free. But honestly any way I can impact the team and get on the field and put myself in position to make plays is good with me.”
Voted a Team Captain by his Scottsdale teammates last year, Olmstead also has experience on special teams where his skillset could be utilized this fall too in his first season at Idaho. A student of the game, Olmstead understands all aspects of his role as a safety.
“What I do well is being able to get people into position,” Olmstead said when asked what he considers some of his strengths as he joins the Idaho program. “I feel like I have a lot of knowledge for the game. Being back there at safety it’s my job to say, ‘this is where you are, this is where I am, I’m going to be here and this is where you’re help is.’ All of that, and just instincts; being able to read and react.”
As Idaho looks to add new packages to their defensive arsenal this spring, the focus will clearly be to get more athletes on the field. In that regard, Olmstead will definitely be one to keep an eye on when he joins the program this fall.