COACHES CORNER: DC Mark Criner

GoVandals.net's Larry Johnson caught up with Idaho Defensive Coordinator MARK CRINER shortly after the Vandals opened their 2008 Fall Camp. Idaho will run an all-new defensive scheme this year, but inside Mark Criner speaks about the defense Idaho is assembling, the talent in the depth chart, and the related rebuilding efforts for the Idaho Football team overall.

On the progress of rebuilding: "One thing I like about where we're at in day two in this camp, as opposed to a year ago, is not only do I think we have more of an athletic defense, but the kids know; they're reacting a lot faster because they've been in the same system two years in a row. That's number one. Number two, we're faster right now. And number three, not only do they feel confident about what they're doing right now, I can already tell they're going to be able to pick up on our stuff - continue to add defenses – well. They've already been running it, and they'll be able to execute it a heck of a lot faster, and react a lot faster, as opposed to where we were a year ago."

"The other thing is any time you have guys that know the system and know what you're doing, they teach the younger players; so a lot of times the older guys, we're putting them with the two's, and we're putting the younger players with the one's so they can have somebody coach them on the field. It's a lot easier when you and I are playing safety and I know what I'm doing, and I can bark signals out and tell you what technique to use, as opposed to maybe you guessing. That's key."

On going to the 4-3 defense this season and a new corps of starting linebackers: [chucking] "A whole new linebacking corps is right. Our oldest players that we will be playing, for the most part, are going to be sophomores. True sophomores, or red-shirt freshmen, and one senior that only played sparingly at the "Buck" [Andrew Blevins last year] at really a defensive line position. So, now we feel comfortable about him playing linebacker. But that's how young we are. So what we've got to do is really simplify it for them, where we can put a little bit more on the D-line and the DB's shoulders, more so than our linebackers. But it is an athletic group. A year from now they're going to be pretty darn good. That linebacking corps is going be good players, and I'm impressed with the athletic ability of our new three linebackers: Robert Siavii, Tre'Shawn Robinson and Brad Marboe."

About the upcoming season and the opponent's offensive schemes: "The main thing is that we've seen everybody in our league, and that has helped us. We look at what we did a year ago, look at all those cutups, and you've got to match personnel with personnel. A lot of times we held up. We were kind of our own worst enemy a lot of the time, but again going back to the days of spring ball and the days that we've been in two-a-days, the one thing I think you're going to see is a lot less big mental error. The reason why I say that is because kids know what they're doing - more so. They know their responsibility, and, in my opinion, you've got to look at the league as a whole and say, Hey, how are we going to better ourselves? What style of defense, and what can we stop? I think the bottom line is just play sound defense. If we build off a year ago and play just more sound, physical gap control defense, and when we blitz we blitz our gaps, if we just do it and don't give up big plays - and that's what we're stressing - good things will happen. I think a lot of times, whenever you've lost a lot of ballgames in a span of three or four years, I think kids try to make the play themselves. We've gotten it across that: You've go to do your job before anybody else's right now. That's a big difference from where it was a year ago."

Thoughts about the team as far as cohesiveness and unity: "So much more cohesive…our unity is much better. We've probably had the best summer since they've… I know this is a better summer than last year, but the other guy is coach Gadeken [Idaho Head Strength Coach] who's been here for four or five years, and he says by far this is the best summer we've had. Unity and leadership. We've got to be one of the younger defenses in the country; we only have two or three seniors that are playing extensively for us. So, not only is our unity going to be better this year, but you talk about another year from now, we're really going to be very tight as a defense. The other thing is we're learning. A lot of times when you stay together and play together as a unit, obviously they learn to takeover more of a leadership role, as opposed to if you've always got change and things like that. We see guys this year that are trying to lead and lead by example, or lead vocally, that we never saw do this a year ago because they were kind of unsure of us too."

Where the depth chart would be [2nd day of camp]: "Well, up front… first of all, I think we're going to be able to have a rotation with our defensive line, more so than a year ago. We're still a little light at the defensive ends. Our defensive ends will be Taylor Rust and Josh Shaw."

On who is planned for the defensive line: "Taylor Rust and Josh Shaw will be our defensive ends. Their back-ups right now are Andre Ferguson and Derek Wieting, and then we also have Charles Smith, Hank Bryant that will be in camp, and Marcus Pedro as backups to those kids.

"Fono" [Fonomanu Sekona] is inside… "Fono" will be playing 3-technique or nose; so our starting tackles right now are Jonah Sataraka at the nose guard and our starting defensive tackle is Aaron Lavarias. Behind them right now would be "Fono" and " Big O" – Oga Faumui. "Fono" could definitely play a strong side defensive end to give us more depth because of our increase in defensive tackles, and the other kid that is really coming around is going to be Michael Cosgrove as well as Isaiah Lavea… they are going to be factors right now. Right now we're saying all the freshmen are playing unless we need to [redshirt someone], and I would think that there are going to be a couple redshirts, but we're not going to make that decision right now."

About the Vandal linebackers for '08: "Linebacker-wise… our starting SAM linebacker is JoJo Dickson, our MIKE linebacker is Jonathan Faraimo and our WILL linebacker is going to be a battle and both of them are going to play: Andrew Blevins and "Tex", Justin Allen. Now behind them, behind JoJo, then you have a group of guys, Paul Senescall is improving, the athletic ability of the young kid being Robert Siavii… he's so athletic I don't know exactly where we're going to end up playing him. Tre'Shawn Robinson at MIKE linebacker as well, and the other weakside position will end up being Brad Marboe, who's really shown a lot of athletic ability. We're happy with him. Again, who the backups are right now… we're getting more athletic. So, I would think it's going to be the older players like Paul Senescall and those guys. I think Paul's going to give us a role where he could play a couple of different positions and we could let those younger players focus in on one thing."

About the Idaho defensive backfield: "In the secondary at the corner will be Isaac Butts and then the other corner right now is Breyon Williams along with pushing him… or both of them for spots… is going to be Kenny Patten. Kenny Patten's been a great surprise since we picked him up. Behind them is Eric Hunter and then obviously Patten being the backup right now, and we get Andre Robinson here in just a couple of days. Anytime we can get a 6-foot guy that can run, we're going to play him. At safety right now we have Shiloh [Keo] and Virdell [Larkins] who are our two best players, and I'm really impressed with the freshman in Shelton Miles and we have a walk on that's really playing well right now from junior college: "JJ"… Jeremy Jones… we kind of like him. I'm impressed with the young guys; especially those young secondary guys are not going to red-shirt. We'll play them." On the #1 DB's: "Isaac Butts and Breyon Williams at corner, and Shiloh Keo and Virdell Larkins at safety. Their backups would be at corner: Eric Hunter and Kenny, Jeremy Jones a.k.a. "JJ", and Shelton Miles at safety."

On Andre Ferguson at defensive end: "He's improving quite a bit. Andre moved to defensive end last spring, and then from there the first couple of days I didn't know if he really wanted to make that move. Now he's really starting to get himself into a groove. There's no question he's going to have a bright future, and he's going to play this year just like everybody else in that young group of kids we're playing. He's #2 on the depth chart, but he's going to have a lot of opportunity to play. A great kid, hard worker, and a guy that has really done a good job from the standpoint of the learning curve. There's a big learning curve going from outside linebacker or safety or receiver or tight end in high school. Putting his hand on the ground vs. 300 pounds is a big difference, and he really has done a great job. He's starting to really understand how to use his athletic ability to his advantage even though he's not the biggest guy in the game. Andre Ferguson in another year is going to be 25 pounds heavier."

On Brad Marboe wearing a "red-shirt" for 2008: "Don't know that yet. We've been -like I was saying - very impressed with his athletic ability. He's got wingspan. I mean, you could see right now he's going to be a 235-pound kid before it's all said and done. He's going to be a good player. I'm excited about him."

On whether any particular offense will be difficult this season: "You know, I think we're going to see so much shotgun run game. More teams in shotgun, early in the season – you're going to get a little bit used to playing shotgun teams. As a defensive coach, you've got a team that runs a spread offense, and you're seeing that week-in and week-out, and all of a sudden, boom, you go to a more run-oriented team. I think that's what gives you the most problems, when you go from one to the other. It seems to me like this league… that's really what it is. You see different offenses, different varieties of offense every week. It's a change in the mode of how you think."

On how the summer went for the team: "Yeah, I think in the short two years we've been here, this was...our players expected more. Our players knew more of the concepts, both offensively and defensively, to fit into the system, and quite frankly they got more accomplished."

On the team knowing what to run at this stage in the practice schedule: "You can't believe how much more we get accomplished as defensive coaches. I just…you know, last year I would joke with coach Akey about, Gosh, when you hired me you didn't say I had to coach every play, you know? Every single play out there, and this year you just don't feel that way. You feel more relaxed as you come off a practice and there are less mental errors. They've also bought into the system. I mean, it's just like any other… my life depends on 18 to 21-year-olds. Think about that. The more unity the better, and the more they understand the whole system… it's easier on them too. They're less frustrated. They're less frustrated now than they were a year ago. When we left spring ball we were a much better football team than we were a year ago, and I think it shows up more so right now during two-a-days because we're able to go forward more-so with the group of players, as opposed to players are keeping you from teaching more.

Your players are more reliable. They understand your concepts, they react faster, and that's the biggest thing… defensive football's all about reaction. How hard I can hit you, and how well I can cover you. That's the bottom line."

Mark Criner's opinion on he new Nike gear: "Nike gear is obviously excellent. It's nice. It's great for recruiting. I mean, I think it's a better product, more so than anything. You go with the flow."




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