Trench Warriors - The 2005 Vandal DL

In this edition of our spring preview, we highlight the Vandal defensive line, taking a look at both the interior defensive linemen and the defensive ends slated for spring drills which start on APRIL 2nd. The changes to this group are substantial as the depth across the board is beginning to improve.

It's said that you can never have too much depth in the trenches. That axiom was put to the test last year as Idaho's already thin defensive line battled injuries all season and struggled at times to clog running lanes and apply pressure during passing downs.

Likewise, you don't go from razor thin one season to a fully stocked, deep depth chart the next. But the group that will be working the trenches this spring is showing signs of improving as several players are coming off injuries, a couple players are making position changes, some new blood joins the unit, and a couple freshmen are shedding their redshirts for next season.


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But before we get into that, a couple key moves need to be mentioned first. Probably topping the list of questions for many Vandal fans is what position will senior-to-be Mike Anderson play this year? Starting this spring, it looks like Mike is moving back to the outside linebacker position he dominated in 2002 and 2003, leading Idaho (and among the Sun Belt Conference's leaders) in tackles as a redshirt sophomore in 2003 (97, including a 23 total tackle performance against NMSU). Last year he moved to defensive end and saw his numbers drop sharply, although he was the only Vandal to earn Sun Belt Player of the Week honors defensively last season. Those numbers included 32 tackles on the year, 3 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 3 recovered fumbles, 3 QB hurries, 1 interception, and 2 blocked kicks. Not bad by any stretch. But if his impact can be even greater going back to OLB, then the move will be a hit.

Mike Anderson is not the only player to make a position change either. Backup middle linebacker Ben Alexander, a true freshman last fall who saw playing time in 8 games, is moving up to the defensive line to work with the defensive ends this spring. He will bring some nice size (6-1, 230) and speed (4.6 - 40) off the edge.

In addition senior Tim Bertalot, who signed with Idaho in 2001 as a linebacker than moved to the defensive line in 2003 and 2004 will be lining up on the OFFENSIVE side of the ball for 2005. It is believed he will be working with the H-Backs.


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Also making a position change is Brandon Ogletree, a true freshman in 2004 who made the Vandal 2-deeps at strong safety, then moved to outside linebacker towards the end of the season. This spring he makes another position change, moving up to defensive end and bringing some added speed to the Vandal side of the trenches.

Players who will not be participating in spring drills include Evan Ruud, a true freshman defensive end who saw playing time last season. Evan sustained an injury midway through last season and reportedly will not be returning to the Vandal football team. Also out is Ernest Davis, twin brother of Eric Davis (current Vandal defensive tackle), who will not be back in the fold for 2005 reportedly also due to injuries. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Antonio Lindsey also has reportedly left the program.

With that we now take a look at the returners, JC transfers, and redshirt freshmen expected to compete for playing time at DEFENSIVE END and DEFENSIVE TACKLE/NOSEGUARD this spring. We'll wait to include Idaho's recently signed recruiting class (2 high school DTs, 2 high school DEs, and 2 JC transfers) until the players report for fall camp.

Our focus here is only on the spring depth chart.


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In a nutshell, there should be some serious competition across the line. The group is substantially deeper than a year ago today (including some athletes who may be able to transition between inside and out), which is the result of hard work and dedication by the players, and a recruiting effort focused on bringing in high school talent to develop. Idaho played 17 true freshmen last year, one of which started 11 of Idaho's 12 games at nose guard. The work is starting to yield benefits, and the battles in the trenches this April on the Moscow campus should be competitive from end-to-end.

Below we take a closer look at each position. Each player is listed showing their class rank NEXT SEASON (i.e. center Siua Musika will be a sophomore next fall).




INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Despite a valient effort by the defensive line last fall, injuries took their toll on an already undermanned unit. With then-senior Michael Togafau severely limited, and the loss of starting DT Jeff Edwards part-way through the season for several weeks, defensive ends were called upon to work the interior DL for Idaho. This unit's depth appears to be improving though as the staff has put a premium on filling the depth charts with HS talent. Among last year's main contributors, Siua Musika started every game in '04 at noseguard as a true freshman and will be back for more in '05. He'll be rejoined by senior Jeff Edwards plus a host of "newcomers" will be competing for playing time this spring, including the return of Andrew Stobart who missed all of 2004 with an injury.

Among the most noticeable changes this spring is the fact that this year's edition has some excellent size to battle with across the interior line. The group is strong, has some nice speed/agility (Musika was a fullback/linebacker in HS), and there are some motors in this group. If the last few years have proved nothing, it is that depth is key. Fortunately for Vandal fans, Idaho's DL depth appears to be making big strides.

This group is expected to be joined in the fall by JC transfer JOHN MILLER (6-2, 255) and HS graduates JUSTIN WILLIS (5-11, 281), and MARVIN JONES (6-2, 285). But until the new recruits get to Moscow, we'll focus on the unit working on campus this spring.


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SIUA MUSIKA, 6-1, 302, True-Soph
Idaho needed it's freshmen recruits to step up in a big way last season on the defensive line, and Musika responded. The true freshman started 11 of Idaho's 12 games and led the interior defensive linemen with 21 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. He lined up at noseguard, battling double-teams all season long. He was the block of granite the DL needed last season, and a solid foundation for the future. We expect Siua to remain a fixture in the interior DL rotation this spring and fall.


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JEFF EDWARDS, 6-3, 270, Senior
Senior-to-be Jeff Edwards goes into his 5th year in the Vandal program and for the first time ever will have the same DL coach for 2 consecutive years. The native of Couer d'Alene joined the team as a DE in 2001 and moved inside in 2003. He started the first 5 games of the season last year at DT before going down with an injury. He returned to action the latter part of the season and is expected to be at or near the top of the Vandal DT rotation this spring and fall. He ended the year with 21 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and 1 quarterback sack.


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ERIC DAVIS, 6-5, 250, Senior
Eric joined the Vandals in 2003 as a JC transfer and redshirted his first season in Moscow. Last year he broke into the DL rotation and played in 9 games for the Vandals. As a backup he registered 8 tackles, including 2 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback sacks, 1 pass breakup, 2 QB hurries, a fumble recovery and 1 blocked kick. At 6-5, he's the tallest interior defensive lineman on the team and should figure prominantly into the DL rotation this spring. He'll get a lot of looks at DT, but could get some looks at DE as well.


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MARCIS FENNELL, 6-2, 275, True-Soph
One of 17 true freshmen who played for the Vandals last year, Marcis started 2 games and played in virtually all on the Vandal OL (1 start at center, 1 at guard). Recruited to Idaho as a DL/OL prospect, he's trimmed down to a svelt 275 pounds and is going to take his game this spring to the defensive side of the ball where the staff will evaluate his performance. It was as a DT in HS where he made the biggest splash, earning All-CIF and All-Conference honors as a DT. He became a 2-way starter as a senior, and is proving to be equally versatile at the UI.


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ANDREW STOBART, 6-3, 265, RS-Soph
First, hat's off to Andrew for making it back to the gridiron. Injured in an accident during Christmas break, 2003, Andrew missed all of 2004 rehabbing the injuries. He has since worked back into football condition and will join the Vandals this spring. In 2003 as a RS-Fr Andrew played in 10 games (switching between DE and DT), recording 26 tackles (14 solo), 6 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and a blocked kick. He's back up to his original weight, and has looked solid in the weightroom.


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ALEX TOAILOA, 6-0, 275, REDSHIRT FRESHMAN
Alex signed originally with BYU last winter, then changed his commitment to join Nick Holt at the UI. He made a huge splash during fall camp, earning significant playing time in the DT rotation just before the season started. Then, near the end of fall drills he went down with an injury that kept him off the field all season. A major prospect, he recorded a 4.69 - 40 in HS (6-0, 255 DE/TE) in HS, and among his many honors he led California's Division IX in sacks (17) for 2003, while amassing 58 tackles (42 unassisted), and forcing 1 fumble. Alex also lined up on offense, playing tightend where he caught 4 passes for 116 yards and 1 touchdown. His longest reception was 42 yards.


Courtesy OCC
RYAN DAVIS, 6-0, 270, JC TRANSFER
A JC transfer this off-season, Ryan Davis is another addition that brings nice size and a motor to the Vandal DT/NT rotation for fall. He's not the biggest or heaviest lineman to grace the Vandal depth chart, but he is a solid prospect for '05. At OCC in 2004 he was voted a 1st Team All Mission Conference Defensive Tackle for a season in which he recorded 53 tackles (6th on the team, #1 among DL), 4 TFL, 4.5 quarterback sacks, 2 pass breakups and a fumble recovery. Ryan also earned 2nd Team All-Conference honors in 2003 as a freshman.

GARRETT NELSON, 6-0, 250, SOPH (TRANSFER-WALKON)
Joining the Vandal defensive line roster this spring will be Garrett Nelson, a transfer from Wheaton College, a Division III university in Illinois. The graduate of Nampa Christian High School joined the Thunder in 2003 and was listed as a linebacker. Because he transferred to Idaho last fall he had to sit out a year, but will be battling for time on the field this spring.




DEFENSIVE ENDS

The defensive end depth chart took a some hits this off-season with the graduation of 4-year starter Brandon Kania and the move of Mike Anderson back to linebacker (plus the graduation of top backup Curtis Bibolet). From an experience standpoint this group will be very young, boasting just 1 player who lined up at DE last season (senior Mike Bonelli). But the group got a nice injection of speed with the move of Brandon Ogletree up from the strong safety and outside linebacker positions he played last fall as a true freshman. Also seriously bolstering the speed, depth and experience of this group was the move of Ben Alexander up from middle linebacker to DE this spring. Lewiston product Chris Jasper moves outside after being listed as an interior DL last fall, and redshirt freshmen Taylor Rust and Jimmy Reed will get their shot to work into the rotation.

This group is expected to be joined in the fall by JC transfer CHARLES CAMPBELL (6-4, 225) and HS graduates BRYAN BRAMAN (6-5, 225), and JOSH SHAW (6-3, 230). But until the new recruits get on campus, we'll focus on the unit working on campus this spring.


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MIKE BONELLI, 6-2, 240, Senior
The 5th year senior-to-be and former CIF Defensive Player of the Year (2001) out of St. Bonaventure High School (CA) has seen his playing time steadily increase the last 2 years. Last year, with Idaho's interior DL depth decimated by injuries, Bonelli moved inside to help the DT rotation. He finished the year with 9 tackles (4 solo) in 8 games, with 1 tackle for loss. He bulked his stout frame up to 240 pounds last season and the experience he got battling in the middle could pay off in 2005. This spring expectations should be fairly high for Bonelli to see substantial time in the DE rotation.


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BEN ALEXANDER, 6-1, 230, TRUE-SOPH
Like 16 of his peers last fall, Vandal true freshman Ben Alexander stepped up his game right out of the blocks for Idaho. The speedster with nice size and a knack for making place out of southern California earned the #2 MIKE job last fall (also seeing time at WILL as well) backing up 1st Team All Sun Belt selection Cole Snyder in 8 games. He's taking his game to the defensive line this spring, giving the DE rotation a nice burst off the edge. In 2004 he finished the year with 16 tackles (7 solo) and 1 quarterback sack.


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BRANDON OGLETREE, 6-3, 220, TRUE-SOPH
As quick as Ogletree is for his size, it should be no surprise that the safety-turned-linebacker is taking his game to the trenches. The 6-3 former sprinter out of Georgia will battle for playing time at defensive end this spring after a rock solid true freshman season saw him work as the team's #2 strong safety for most of the season and a major special teams contributor. Reportedly running a 4.5 out of highschool (his 4x100 track team took 3rd in Georgia's Class AAA State Championship), he's bulked his already solid frame up to 220 pounds.


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CHRIS JASPER, 6-2, 250, Junior
Chris walked on at Idaho in 2003, and last season saw his first playing time of his career, getting in on 3 games and recording 1 quarterback sack. He was listed last season as an interior DL, but this year takes his game to DE. In high school Chris finished 7th in the Idaho State Track Championships in the 100m Dash as a senior in 2002. Lewiston has sent some quality athletes to Idaho as walk-ons, most recently Jake Scott (now with the Colts in the NFL) and Mike Anderson, one of Idaho's top defenders...will Chris be next?


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TAYLOR RUST, 6-2, 230, RS FRESHMAN
One of the very first athletes to give a verbal commitment to Nick Holt when the head coach returned to Moscow last year, redshirt freshman DE Taylor Rust out of Timberline High School (ID) has added 20 pounds to his frame and will be working with the DE's this spring. He had an OUTSTANDING redshirt season, earning Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year honors for '04 and will be expected to factor into the DE rotation for '05. As a high school senior he earned 1st Team All SIC DE honors in 2003 and played in the East-West Shrine Game where he recorded 4 QB sacks in the game.


JIMMY REED, 6-3, 220, REDSHIRT FRESHMAN WALKON
An invited walk-on out of Weiser High School(ID), Jimmy was originally listed as a linebacker on the Vandal roster for his redshirt year last season, but will be working as a DE this spring. As a well-decorated high school senior he took home Class 3A 1st Team All Southern Idaho Conference honors as BOTH an offensive lineman and a defensive lineman on a strong Weiser football team.


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