2002 Outlook: The Defense

A beefed up defensive line, improved depth/speed in the secondary, and a complete defensive coaching overhaul (including new defensive coordinator <b>Ed Lamb</b>) should result in an improved Vandal defense in 2002.

(Kevin German /AP)
Idaho defense looks to be more aggressive in 2002.

The DEFENSE (9 Returning Starters)

In 2001, Idaho's defensive struggles were epic, due in large part to a lack of depth across the board. Two starters (safety Nick Williams and rush end Brandon Kania) were playing high school football just one year before they were thrust onto the field for Idaho. Two of our starting linebackers last season had played their careers at Idaho at 2 safety positions. And one defensive lineman (Brian Howard) made his first start for Idaho as a true sophomore after starter Mike Jones went down with a season ending injury just 2 games into the season. With the dismissal of basically the entire defensive coaching staff at the end of last season, it's not too difficult to understand how last year's unit ended the year ranked at or near the bottom of every defensive category in the country.

There were, however, a number of bright spots that lend some optimism for the future. True freshman Brandon Kania was named to The Sporting News Freshman All-American Team. Freshman Williams came in and started the last 6 games of the season at free safety, and did well, as did DT Brian Howard. The new defensive coaching staff then went out and brought in 5 quality JC recruits for immediate help on the defensive line, and 4 JC recruits to help out at cornerback. It was arguably the most aggressive haul of defensive athletes recruited to Idaho in years, and should pay dividends this year and in the future as the younger athletes are given an opportunity to develop within the system.

Below is the complete depth chart, to the best of our knowledge, for the 2002 Idaho defense.

(Note: Starters, Backups & Redshirts refer to status last year. Recruits are this year's recruits)
Starters (2) DT Brian Howard (6-3, 286, Jr), DT Mike Jones (6-3, 285, Sr)
Backups (6) Josh Jelinek (6-4, 313, Sr), Brendan Floyd (6-6, 243, So), Kevin Powell (6-2, 267, Jr), Todd Drage (5-11, 239, So), John Neddo (6-2, 272, So), Zane Hines (6-0,248, Jr)
Redshirts (3) Jeff Edwards (6-3, 230, Fr), Tyler Scott (6-4, 240, Fr), Kris Honas (6-3, 200, Fr)
Recruits (5) Ryan Atoe (6-2, 314, Sr), Jason Jones (6-4, 325, Jr), Johnny Parra (6-3, 310, Jr), Kelly Talavou (6-2, 310, Fr), Geoff Zuber (6-4, 272, Fr)
Outlook: Jones was injured early in the season after winning the starting DT job going into 2001. Brian Howard made his first start in place of Jones last season as a true sophomore, and proved to be among the most consistent on the line. Recruited to provide depth and, in particular, help at Nose Tackle were 3 Junior College Transfers. Expect big, talented freshmen Talavou and Zuber to be redshirted this season.

Venue Picks: DT Brian Howard, NT Ryan Atoe. Cable didn't make Atoe a one year recruit to warm the pine, so we'll pencil him in as a starter at Nose Tackle. Brian Howard was the starter for 8 games last season at DT as a true sophomore, so we'll pencil him in as the starter at DT, knowing full well that Mike Jones, Jason Jones (no relation), and Johnny Parra will be battling hard for a starting job somewhere on the line. We expect a lot of situational line changes during games, so expect a number of the above to get significant playing time. "Goal line defense" should have a lot more meaning this fall.

Starters (1) Brandon Kania (6-3, 230, So)
Backups (0) .
Redshirts (2) Mike Bonelli (6-2, 225, Fr), Dan White (6-2, 245, So)
Recruits (3) Kody Kraus (6-3, 228, Jr), Kelly Nead (6-4, 236, Jr), Nick Pilon (6-4, 230, Fr)
Outlook: Kania was the lone Vandal defender to make last year's All-Conference team, and one of just 2 Sun Belt Conference players to be named to TSN's Freshman All-American Team. The addition of redshirts Bonelli and White, along with the addition of JC transfers Kraus and Nead should make this a good, young group. Freshman Pilon will likely be redshirted. Flowers, a backup last year, has transferred to Eastern Washington to get more playing time.
Venue Picks: RE Brandon Kania, DE Kelly Nead (SWAG). Kania appears to be a lock to start, while we're penciling in Kelly Nead based in large part on the size he brings to the table. White played as a true freshman, but took a medical redshirt last season, and could work into the starting rotation if fully recovered from his injury. Bonelli was a highly touted recruit last year, so he (along with JC transfer Kody Kraus) will factor strongly into the mix. All should see plenty of playing time.

Starters (3) SLB James Staley (6-1, 218, Sr), WLB Patrick Libey (6-2, 233, Jr), SLB Jordan Kramer (6-2, 220, Sr)
Backups (6) Jordan Lampos (5-10, 239, Jr), Chad Kodama (6-2, 226, Jr), Jason Williams (6-2, 232, Jr), Justin Womack (5-11, 190, So), Ryan LaPlante (5-11, 177, So), Chris Welch (6-0, 241, Jr)
Redshirts (2) Tim Bertalot (6-2, 220, Fr), Mike Anderson (6-2, 206, Fr)
Recruits (1) Jaron Williams (6-1, 205, Fr)
Outlook: Early reports are that SLB Staley should be back from what appeared last season to be a career ending neck injury. Converted safety Kramer took over for Staley at SLB after he went down with an injury in the 5th game last season. Libey started 2 games at MLB, and the last 6 games at WLB. Lampos started the first 3 games last year at MLB, and Kodama saw significant playing time as a backup. Bertalot and Anderson are both talented freshmen who were redshirted last year. Recruit Williams will likely be redshirted this year.

Venue Picks: SLB James Staley, MLB Jordan Lampos, WLB Pat Libey. Kramer will definitely be in the hunt to return as a starter, and we've been told to keep an eye out for Jason Williams and redshirt freshman Mike Anderson.

Starters (1) Ed Rankin (6-1, 202, Sr)
Backups (6) Tim Sams (5-9, 178, Sr), Sammy Ruben (5-9, 165, Sr), DeVonn Ford (5-9, 168, Sr), Antuan Tolbert (5-11, 170, Jr), Chad Troxel (5-6, 186, Jr), Jedidiah Getzlaff (5-9, 178, Jr)
Redshirts (2) Antoine Geraghty (6-1, 180, Fr), Nathaniel Banke (6-0, 166, Fr)
Recruits (4) Rod Bryant (6-1, 180, Jr), Darryl Murphy (5-11, 195, Jr), Robert Ortega (6-1, 200, Jr), J.R. Ruffin (6-1, 175, Jr)
Outlook: Although Ed Rankin was the starter at one CB position last season, the staff brought in 4 JC transfers to improve depth and, ultimately, cornerback performance. Both starting jobs appear to be wide open.

Venue Picks: CB J.R. Ruffin and CB Darryl Murphy (SWAG). We expect the staff to go with height, all things being equal. And although Rankin has a leg up on D-1 game experience, and we believe he will factor into the rotation, we think the newly recruited CBs will be viewed as equals in the new staff's eyes. J.R. Ruffin has arguably the best speed of this group, so we'll pencil him in as one starter. Murphy is expected to be working with the team during spring drills, so we'll give him the nod at the other corner. We know Ortega, Bryant, and Rankin will be fighting hard for starting jobs as well, and we expect a healthy game rotation that will give most of this group significant playing time. With better DB coaching, Rubin will probably factor strongly into the mix.

Starters (2) FS Nick Williams (6-0, 200, So), SS Sergio Robleto (5-10, 186, Sr)
Backups (1) Simeon Stewart (5-8, 175, So)
Redshirts(1) Nate Nichols (6-2, 205, Fr)
Recruits (1) Robert Davis (6-4, 195, Fr)
Outlook: This group was extremely young last season (all played Division I football for the first time last season). Both starters and one back returns, plus the addition of redshirt freshman Nate Nichols should help fortify the group. Expect recruit Davis to be redshirted. Backup Mike Wakefield has left the team for personal reasons.
Venue Picks: FS Nick Williams and SS Sergio Robleto. Both of these guys played well last year, plus with new coaches and a beefed up D-Line they should be even better. Robleto started all 11 games last season, while Williams, just 12 months removed from high school football at the time, proved he is a solid Division I safety. We expect Nichols and Stewart to see significant playing time as well.

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