The 2002 Vandals just wrapped up the 2nd week of their 4 week spring practice session, and this article summarizes our observations of the scrimmage. But first, we wish to thank the Idaho Athletic Department, and Coach Cable in particular, for allowing us to photograph the scrimmage.
Spring Scrimmage #1
To be blunt, the Idaho offense shredded the defense on Saturday. Statistically, they racked up 385 yards passing and 255 yards rushing in the first scrimmage of the season. However, we wouldn't put too much emphasis on these scrimmages, not yet anyway. Yes, the offense looked good. However, it was a fairly predictable outcome, considering our Top-10 offense returns 7 starters (8 if you want to count QB Brian Lindgren, 9 when Blair Lewis returns), and we all know how the defense faired last year. So this is hardly a cause for panic.
Tyler Scott (1), DeVonn Ford (26), and Vandal Offense
The defense graduated 2 of its most productive players in MLB Brad Rice and NT Wil Beck, and has the added burden of learning a new scheme. Its going to take time to put the defense back together and play as a unit. At this juncture, we'd be much more concerned if the offense was struggling.
So, with that being said, there were plenty of things to look forward to next year, most notably the growing depth on both sides of the ball (granted, alot of the defensive depth will be added in August with 8 JC transfers on the DL and at CB). Below is a group by group summary of our perception of the scrimmage.
What a difference a year makes. Remember last year we were sweating our O line?! Well, not this year. We've got depth and talent, and with each game comes maturity. Look for good things from these big guys.
Jake Scott (74), Jason Cobb (70)
The line is anchored by 2 year starter and All-Conference Weak Tackle Jake Scott (6-5, 290), with returning starters Jason Cobb (6-4, 304) at weak guard, Matt Martinez (6-2, 317) at center, and Robert Mitchell (6-2, 312) at strong guard guiding the first team offense. Converted defensive lineman Joshua Jelenik (6-4, 313) has been working with the first team offense at strong tackle all spring, and continues to impress. The group averages 6-3, 309 and will provide a good wall for our QB and running backs.
Equally impressive are the guys we have backing this group up. Among the guys we saw working with the second teamers were redshirt freshman Jake Leachman (6-5, 260+) at tackle, sophomore Tony Kiel (6-4, 320) at guard, and our #1 backup last season, Seann Mumford (6-6, 297) at the other tackle.
Seann Mumford (79)
Without a doubt, the size within this group is impressive, and there is significant competition for the top 2 jobs at each position.
Tight Ends & Wide Receivers
Our tight ends are much improved, which is actually saying quite abit as they were already good to begin with. Redshirt sophomore Michael McCoy (1 catch, 26 yards, TD) is developing the size that will make him a force on the line. If he continues to develop at this pace, he could earn All-Conference honors by the time he's a senior, if not sooner. His touchdown reception was definitely impressive. Hot on his heels, true sophomore Luke Smith-Anderson (3 catches, 38 yards) looks like he is starting to fill out his 6-5 frame, and will be breathing down McCoy's neck all season. Both are probably going to be on the field alot this year, and both saw extensive action in this scrimmage. Plus, converted defensive lineman, redshirt sophomore Brendan Floyd (6-6, 247) snagged a catch for an 11 yard reception. This level of competition is important, as Cable will probably use our tight ends more this year than last season.
Luke Smith-Anderson (99), Jake Leachman (75)
One of the big question marks this year is who will step for Idaho at wide receiver. We know we have a deep, talented group returning this season, but who will be the go-to receiver? Seniors Chris Belser and Josh Jelmberg showed good hands and made some nice catches (including Jelmberg's 16 yard TD). Junior Orlando Winston caught just one pass on the day, but it was an impressive 25 yard TD. Redshirt freshman Jeff Stowe looked good, as did senior Andrew Hill. Senior safety Tim Sams worked with the receivers and hauled in 2 passes for 18 yards, while sophomore newcomer Rory Tipton of Nampa High had 2 receptions for 28 yards. The next 2 weeks should go a long way in determining who will be Idaho's possession receiver next season.
Rory Tipton (80)
Quarterbacks & Running Backs
Redshirt junior Brian Lindgren saw extensive playing time last season, and his command of the Idaho offense shows. He completed 75% of his passes, did not throw an interception, and led the offense to the endzone through the air 3 times (he was the only QB to heave a TD pass). He's got a smooth delivery, throws with a soft touch, and does not hesitate with his passing motion. Redshirt sophomore Adam Mallette hit on 76% of his passes and has impressive arm strength. Redshirt freshman Michael Harrington hit 70% of his targets and has a noticeably fast release. For a redshirt freshman, he did not appear to be lacking any confidence. All 3 quarterbacks were solid and all 3 played with confidence. This is definitely a position with great depth for the foreseeable future.
Adam Mallette (14)
What went into this off-season as a position that could potentially be a huge problem for 2002, running back is starting to look like a position with ample depth and talent. Redshirt junior Zach Gerstner has shown us no reason yet to say that he is not the #1 back. However, JC transfer Malfred Shaw is a tough ball carrier, who can best be described as a powerful runner with a non-stop motor. More importantly, he looks like the kind of running back that will break through most arm tackles. JC transfer Shung Peoples is quick and darting, and put up impressive yards on Saturday. But, to Zack's credit, he appears to possess a lot of these skills, plus he's a real slasher. The player that wins the starting role will definitely have earned the spot. Obviously, the ideal situation is to get senior Blair Lewis back healthy, but if he is unable to make it back, our backfield should be in capable hands.
Zach Gerstner (20)
The Idaho defense is experiencing an infusion of youth throughout the depth chart at virtually every position on the field. Redshirt freshmen are expected to be major contributors this fall at defensive end, linebacker, and safety. Coupled with the JC tranfers coming in this fall, each position should have as much competition for the starting job as there has been in recent years. Although the defensive line and cornerback depth charts probably won't be ironed out until this fall, this scrimmage was indicative of what appears to be a more aggressive defense working to absorb new schemes being implemented by new Defensive Coordinator Ed Lamb.
Mike Anderson (13)
Idaho's much maligned defensive line of 2001 got its first boost of the 2002 season with the return of senior Mike Jones on Saturday morning. It was his first full speed practice since suffering a season ending injury last September, and he saw plenty of immediate action. As he returns to the form that earned him a starting job going into last season, the overall performance of the defensive line should improve as well. True junior Brian Howard looked strong, and appears to be becoming a stronger rusher under new defensive line coach George Booker. As he did on several occasions last season, he also knocked down a couple passes at the line of scrimmage.
Mike Jones (55), Brandon Kania (86)
The performance of the defensive ends was definitely a bright spot on the line. Although true sophomore Brandon Kania has noticably lost weight as a result of his bout with mononucleosis this winter, he was as strong to the quarterback as he was last season. He recorded at least 2 quarterback sacks, several hurries and in general applied good pressure. JC transfer Kody Kraus also looked strong and showed good speed. Redshirt freshmen Mike Bonelli and Tyler Scott were also impressive, rounding out what should be a strong, young group.
Of special note, Tyler Scott has definitely filled out his 6-4 frame, and is probably close to 250 pounds, if not more. Although he looks to still be favoring the knee he injured in highschool, he's strong off the ball. On the opposite end, Bonelli is really quick off the ball. As he gets stronger and gains experience, he should become a force up front. On at least 2 occasions, he simply bull rushed the offensive lineman in front of him to disrupt the play.
Brian Howard (3)
Having not seen this group of linebackers much this spring, we have to believe now that this will be a bright spot for our defense next season. Most noticeably, although the offense had a huge day against the defense during this scrimmage, there were some tremendous hits being delivered by the linebacking corp. Senior James Staley is simply an intimidating athlete, and this year appears to be a more vocal leader than he was last season. When he was on the field, he seemed to be in on almost every defensive play.
James Staley (41)
Which brings up another point that should be mentioned...the defense appeared to do a better job making the going tough for the offense. Yes, the defense as a whole gave up a ton of yards (just to clarify, that wasn't against just the first string D, it was against the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd string defenses). But the difference this year is that the defense delivered its fair share of hits, and plenty came from this goup.
Jordan Kramer and Chad Kodama looked solid throughout the scrimmage, and the unit as a whole had its moments of strength. Granted, the unit appeared to struggle at times during running plays as they work to absorb the new schemes implemented this spring. Much like the defensive backs, continued improvements on the defensive line should yield more effective performances from the linebacking corp.
Chad Kodama (35)
Among the more notable surprises watching this scrimmage was the size and athleticism of redshirt freshman Mike Anderson. Although listed on the depth chart as a middle linebacker, he appeared to frequently line up as either a strongside or weakside linebacker, and at 6-2, 220 (approx) he showed some good quickness and agility.
There are alot of ways to look at the passing yardage registered on the Idaho defensive backfield Saturday. Near the top of the list has to be the fact that all 3 QBs appeared to have alot of time in the pocket, and little interference with passing lanes. Considering the caliber of our 3 QBs, and the depth of our offensive line, that's pretty much a recipe for disaster, no matter who your DBs are.
One of the most noteworthy differences between last year's defense and this year's group is that the DB's now at least seem to be in a position to make tackles and go TO THE BALL. It's not perfect, and it certainly doesn't mean we'll win a lot of defensive struggles this season, but it's a step in the right direction.
Another noteworthy difference from last year includes the hits being delivered by our safeties. The DBs appeared to struggle during most pass plays, but they made up for some of the breakdowns on a few running plays by putting some good hits on the backs. Again, it is a start, and a noticable change from 2001.
Some of the defensive breakdowns are going to be ironed out with continued practice, as missed assignments occur less frequently. Improved defensive line play, at some point, is also going to have a dramatic impact on making the DBs jobs alot easier, both in the passing game and providing run support.