Mid-Term Report: The Vandal Defense

Idaho's cornerbacks, including junior-to-be REGGIE JONES, have had a remarkable spring camp and we attribute their success to two things (at least partially, from our vantage point). First, the corners themselves are playing well. And second, the defensive line is creating havoc across the entire defensive front.

LOOKING GOOD … One of the most surprising performances this spring is actually being submitted by a trio of players – cornerbacks Reggie Jones, Jason Martin, and Stanley Franks. To be fair, we really aren't that surprised by Martin; he did, after all, join the team as a JC transfer last winter and immediately started 9 games for the Vandals last year, making steady improvement in his game as the season progressed. Similarly, we know that Jones is an exceptional athlete who has battled injuries (and crossing a team rule last fall), but has always been considered one of Idaho's top corner prospects. Additionally, we learned this winter that both Jones and Martin were doing well during winter conditioning and were going to be counted on to be leaders in 2006.

The biggest surprise, frankly, has been 3-star JC recruit Stanley Franks, who originally signed with Idaho as a wide receiver but was moved to corner shortly after arriving on campus this winter. He had earned All-Conference honors as a junior college wide receiver last year, and although he is fleet afoot it was uncertain how well he'd do at corner (after all, he hadn't played the position much since high school, where he was successful as both a CB and WR). Well, he's done exceptionally well this spring and is poised to make this possibly the deepest, most talented corner rotation at Idaho in years. In last Saturday's scrimmage Franks spent significant time working with the #1 defense and picked a Steve Wichman pass that he returned for a TD.

So which of the three playing the best? It's tough to say, but as one of our scouts said of last Saturday's scrimmage, "Jones just simply stands out…he forced fumbles, stripped the ball, and knocked balls down." But in general, the overall play of the corners has just been impressive.

Even redshirt freshman walkon Zachery-James Santos (out of Hawaii) has looked good this spring, and may be a nice surprise next fall. Speedster Keith Charles, a redshirt freshman recruit out of southern California who has worked with the Idaho track team this winter and spring, will be a factor this fall. Additionally, incoming recruit General Parnell will reportedly get a long look by the staff when he joins the team this fall, with a very strong possibility of playing as a true freshman.

It's still too early to make any prediction about how the corners will play next fall, but the group overall is having a productive spring camp. And for the first time in years, Idaho may be going into a season without major questions at corner… a testament to the job cornerbacks coach Alundis Brice has done developing this unit each of the last two years at Idaho.

GETTING A PUSH UP FRONT … The defensive backfield for Idaho is playing well, but a lot of that improved play can be attributed to the disruption that the defensive line is causing. Although the team is without junior noseguard Siua Musika (a starter at noseguard since his true freshman season in 2004, Musika is reportedly rehabbing a knee injury suffered late last season), the defensive line is full strength. This group has been the focus of much of Idaho's recruiting in each of the last 3 recruiting classes, and that focus is starting to pay off now.

The defensive staff has been experimenting with personnel up front, and in last Saturday's scrimmage started Charles Campbell (6-3, 230) at strongside defensive end and Ben Alexander (6-1, 238) at rush end (weakside DE), while sophomore defensive end Josh Shaw (6-2, 255) moved inside to defensive tackle, lining up next to Ryan Davis (6-0, 270) who started at noseguard. With Shaw having done a remarkable job bulking up last season and during winter conditioning, this group puts a little more speed on the defensive front.

Marvin Jones, 6-2, 301
Redshirt Freshman
Defensive Tackle
For more size on the interior DL (noseguard and defensive tackle), the #1 defensive unit has included senior noseguard Ryan Davis (who incidentally is having an outstanding spring camp, and is consistently working with Idaho's #1 D), plus a combination of sophomore Alex Toailoa (6-1, 299), junior Jon Dominguez (6-3, 255), and redshirt freshman Marvin Jones (6-2, 301) all rotating in at nose guard and defensive tackle. This group of interior defensive linemen are getting serious reps this spring, and with Musika back this fall Idaho should have a solid rotation.

On the ends, Alexander, Campbell and Shaw top the charts. Depending on the formation and the tactic, JC transfer George Fa'avae (6-2, 255) and Taylor Rust (6-2, 238) have seen reps with the top defense and give Idaho some added size off the edge.

The bottom line is that two years of playing an army of true freshmen and redshirt freshmen is starting to pay off for the Vandals. For the first time in years the team goes a legit 2-deep across the entire defensive line, and that is undoubtedly having an impact on how well the corners are playing.

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