Idaho set to open Spring Camp

The Vandal football team takes to the field Thursday for the beginning of spring drills in preparation for the '09 season. Active position battles will begin on both sides of the ball as the team works to fill the voids caused by the departing senior class, and builds on the continuity of beginning the third season under head coach Robb Akey. Inside, Wednesday's press conference with Coach Akey.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Below are quotes from Wednesday's media conference with University of Idaho head football coach Robb Akey regarding the Vandal team as spring camp is set to begin.

Q: Robb, my question is - this is spring ball number three. What kind of difference do you see from the day you took over until where you are now? Are you ahead of where you thought you'd be, behind, about where you expected to be at this point?
RA: "I think for the most part we're pretty close to where we expected to be. I think we're on the cusp of a football team that's gonna start looking like it's supposed to look. We're getting a better situation. You've heard me talk about some guys in positions that we've looking for players at in the past year. For example, receiver for one, defensive line for another. I think we've got some kids in there that can do some things now that we can count on to be able to make some plays. I think a lot of our depth situations have improved a great deal from where we were two springs ago, our first spring together. There's a great deal of familiarity. We're coming off what I think was a very, very good winter both in competitiveness and in strength gains, but also in being a football team and family, with guys liking what they're doing and being excited about what they're doing, and not having to deal with a lot of the nonsense that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with football. We've become a program that's doing what they're supposed to do -- the players and coaches have our expectations, and we're able to work towards accomplishing some goals at being the kind of football team we expect to be. Getting good at playing the game, coaching football more, and I think we know each other a little bit better now. That's with two new coaches on our staff as well."

Q: Can you talk about that situation, how that's gonna affect you guys?
RA: It's going to apply to our defensive side of the ball and even the front. We've got Eti Ena and Rob Christoff, two new coaches who are going to be working with that front seven, they're worked very well with the package that we've been running and in the interview process they proved to me that each of them is a strong teacher. They're gonna do things the right way by the kids. They're gonna bring energy and excitement to it, and that's important to me. They're gonna do things right by the players and they're gonna be able to teach them, and I think that that's important. They're bringing a new level of excitement to it as well, but I think they fit in well. Actually, Rob's learning the defense this week and we're gonna put him to work on the practice field tomorrow. He's been here for a couple of weeks, but I think that that's gonna be a good thing. I like what I've seen and what they bring to the table thus far. I'm anxious to seem them on the field this spring as well as some of our new players."

Q: Coach Akey…are you gonna be in a bowl? What will your record be at the end of the season?
RA: "Well, there's an old saying: ‘Don't bet on it.' I can't go that way. I feel a lot better about where this team is right now, and I've got very high expectations for this team. I expect them to be in a bowl game –- A bowl game!? You're darn right. That's what we did with our conditioning circuit. We broke those guys into teams and wanted to see if those teams could become bowl eligible with the way they were competing against each other. Could we get a BCS eligible team; therefore you had to go undefeated. An undefeated WAC team is generally going to go to a BCS bowl. Just getting that line of thinking. It's all right to expect good things, and it is all right to expect to be in a bowl. We need to have high goals set, and I think we're gonna have a better ability to back some of those things up now. Because, where there may be some youth still involved here, a lot of those kids have been playing for us. You've got to remember our juniors now are guys that have played for us for two seasons. They've got two years of some growing pain under their belt. I'd like to think that they and we are all gonna be rewarded for some of the growing pains that we have gone through. I want them expecting to get themselves in a bowl. I told them that every time you go eat dinner or whatever it is, if you're eating a steak put it in a bowl and eat it out of a bowl. Once you get bowls in your head that's the important thing. I don't put it outside the realm of possibility."

Q: Who is the biggest competitor out of the WAC conference to go to the bowl from the Vandals?
RA: "Well, we've got to take it one week at a time. Obviously our conference I think is a talented conference. It's a very competitive conference. We need to be able to take care of our rivals and other people that are competing well, but I think we're gonna be one of the teams that is growing up and will be one of the teams that is gonna show some good things in the conference this year."

Q: Robb, those eight teams you mentioned in the conditioning drills. How did you break those up?
RA: "Well, what we did, we took basically the eight major position groups. As a coaching staff we took and identified a leader from each one of those groups, then we took those eight guys and we put them in a room and we broke the remainder of the team into three groups of the big skill guys – that would be your offensive and defensive linemen, your middle skill guys which would be like your linebackers, tight ends, running backs, those kind of guys, and then the small skill guys which would be your receivers and DBs. We had those guys in there and we had eight captains draft out. They started with all the big guys. We got all the big guys drafted out and then we went to the middle sized guys and then to the small sized guys so we got evenly matched up teams in regards to size. Then when we got into the mat drills and the circuits. If the drill they came to was gonna be a bag drill, instead of one set of bags and cones out there, we would put two of ‘em and the coach would just call out – maybe it was the big guys, and there would be two big guys that match up against each other and they competed through their drill. We never once had to encourage a kid to finish through a drill or finish through a line. They were diving to get across the line trying to score points for their team, and that was kinda the way they got themselves matched up. That also enabled the players to do things like you do during a ball game. Look at some of the matchups that took place. We were able to coach the circuit like you would coach a ball game, because when there were eight stations you'd have initially your first four that would constitute the first half of the circuit just like the fist half of a game, and we had a halftime and some things like that; so we got to teach some principles of football along with just the competitive nature that we were working to gain."

Q: What did the best team do? What kind of record did they put up?
RA: "Well, I would tell you this. Team Jackson did remain undefeated through the whole group. Their next competitor was Team Enderle who had only one loss, and that was to Team Jackson. So, they matched off in the steak bowl at the end of the circuit, and Team Jackson held true and they won that one also. So, they're gonna be treated to a big monster T-bone steak dinner at coach Akey's house here sometime during spring ball. Team Komar was another one that was just one game behind the Enderle team, and then we had a group of ‘em that were kinda matched up all in there with pretty even records. I think we got a lot out of it."

Q: That was kinda something new you did during the winter. You could have done something like that before or was that sorta new?
RA: "We've been running the mat drills, the circuits forever, but it was always we had ‘em broken into groups that might have been similar size-wise, but the guys went through a station and that klnda became a deal where you got in better shape and you worked through it. You competed hard to make yourself better, but now we're putting ‘em head to head; so pitting teams against each other and putting a schedule together they can look at and they had to play and they saw the standings in the locker room after each of those games, that was completely different. It was a new idea. It was something that our offensive line coach, Dan Finn, kinda brought to the table and we tweaked it to fit what we were doing. I'm really happy with the results that we got out of it."

Q: Robb, looking at the spring, you got a new linebacker coach and you got some of the key linebackers that you were counting are either not here yet or out because of contacts. How is that gonna affect you this spring?
RA: "It's going to give a lot of guys an opportunity to get coached, For example there are a couple of guys that we expect to play great roles for us in the fall that are gonna do a lot of learning and they're gonna get to know their new position coach well. Our new position coach is gonna get himself comfortable with all the players within our defense and the scheme of what we're doing, and it's gonna provide an opportunity for some younger guys that might be able to build themselves a role for the fall and an opportunity to compete with some of these guys when they come off of the injured reserve list. We've got a junior college linebacker and some youngsters coming in in the fall that I think are gonna help us provide some depth and some kids that we can put on the field; so that's gonna help us in that respect. I think the important thing as a whole is just to make sure…there may only be two starters running with that first group. We're not gonna hold the whole defense hostage with that next guy that's getting an opportunity for those reps. He's got an opportunity to build himself a role, and we can still get that defensive package executed, and to me that's the important thing about what we're doing."

Q: Robb, Al Genatone. He enlisted in the Army? Is that right?
RA: "Yes he did. Al is gonna take on a new endeavor, and he's gone into Officer Training School. He's involved with that at this point too; so when he gets through that he will be in the Army as an officer and then obviously he will be taking on a new form of an assignment: protecting our country."

Q: Robb, what was your relationship with coach Christoff? How did you find him? I know you said he was energetic and proved to be a teacher, but a lot of people say, "Wow! Hired a Boise State guy so to speak." Just talk about that whole process.
RA: "Rob Christoff is a young man that I've been aware of for the last several years. He was at Montana State for about seven years there for a period of time. Jeremy Thielbahr who is on my staff, they worked together over there. Then there were a number of people within the profession…he was actually one of the guys that had been recommended to me and some thought had gone towards when I was putting the initial staff together here three years ago. This was an opportunity to get some things changed. Obviously the Montana State situation changed. He then went to Idaho State. There was a desire for him to get to Division I football and he left a full time coaching position at Idaho State to go put in a graduate assistant role at Boise to get to the Division I level. It's something that he's been working hard to do. He's got ties to this area here, and in the process of the search I can't tell you how many calls from different people, well-respected people throughout especially the western side of our country that could speak strongly in regards to him as a knowledgeable football person, and he certainly executed that when we interviewed him."

Q: Robb, you mentioned a few guys who aren't going to be able to go. Is there anybody else who might be out during spring?
RA: "Well, the guys that would be really limited would be JoJo Dickson. I talked about Shiloh Keo. Tre'Shawn Robinson, Kevin Small the tight end is gonna be limited – he won't have contact. Corey White is coming off his shoulder, the running back, he won't be having contact. Some of those guys will be able to do a little bit more, some of the non-contact things that we're doing. Matt Cleveland is expected to be back full go. We'll keep paying attention to that leg, but his rehab has gone very well. Derek Weiting, who had a similar broken leg at the end of the year, he's been cleared to go and hopefully that will continue throughout the course of spring. Those are the guys that right now are gonna be held."

Q: When Wooldrige – if he gets his academic house in order – he'll be able to get out there perhaps?
RA: "Yes, I expect to have him out here this spring. He's shown good things in regards to the ground that he's making in academics, and every day is important to DeMaundray Woolridge in the classroom to be eligible for the fall, but he's been gaining good ground in that respect."

Q: Any more academic concerns out there?
RA: "You always have a few, but it's a lot better than it ever was. We're gonna be playing close attention to it, and right now I expect everybody to be out there. If we do have some issues I might pull some guys a little bit of classroom practice. But, right now, I expect to have everybody out there and do what they're supposed to do. You came here to be a student and you get to be a football player. That's what we're gonna look to do this spring."

Q: Robb, what do you do with special teams in the spring? I know that with Nansen leaving you're splitting up some coordinator duties and you lost a whole bunch of front line special teams guys. How big of an emphasis will that be in the next couple of weeks?
RA: "We're starting day 1. So, our first practice, the first thing we're gonna do is working towards our special teams. I‘ve got two new coordinators that are gonna handle the special teams for us: Patrick Libey and Jeremy Thielbahr. I've split those teams between those two guys. The staff, myself included, will all be involved in the special teams, but we're gonna start that and we're gonna do that with every practice that we have. We'll have an insertion that will get the four basic teams put together and we're gonna get that executed through the course of spring so we can get, for example, the protection and the blocks – those things taught. Then it's also gonna give us an opportunity to find out who are some of the guys gonna be that can play these roles for us. When I'm being able to talk about running back and receivers and defensive backs, those are guys that should be able to play special teams roles for us. Obviously you expect your linebackers to be able to do that as well. We've got some young linebackers that are getting an opportunity in that fashion, and that's also where some of the new players coming in the fall will get brought up to speed, but I want to get the base taught and the understanding taught. Obviously the emphasis that this is important, we're starting day 1 and it's gonna be involved with all of our spring."

Q: Have you identified a long snapper?
RA: "That's one of the objectives of spring football practice, to come up with not only one - but a backup long snapper. We're gonna be new in each of those positions for the first time in a while. A long snapper, that's the first thing we've talked about. I've got it written up on the boards in here. Coaches are working with every guy on the team who's ever done it before. What quarterback has ever stood on his head and had to throw a football between his legs before? Whatever the case may be, that's gonna be a very competitive thing, and I'd like to believe that we're gonna come out of it with one, but the fact that we haven't had to talk about long snapper as long as I've been here, that was a good thing then. That makes it a very important thing to get handled now. We're also gonna have a new punter and a new kicker. Bobby Cowan I expect to be out punter and he's gonna get plenty of work this spring to prove that that job should belong to him. He did a great job for us. We red shirted him this fall, and I have every expectation he's gonna be able to handle that job. At kicker, that's the reason we recruited Trey Farquhar. We gray shirted him in the fall so we tied him up with the two senior kickers leaving. We've got to put him in those situations to make sure that he's able to do what we brought him to do and that we'll have confidence in each other in doing it; so that's gonna be an important thing for us to get accomplished. We're also gonna have to come up a new holder. Those things are all gonna fall into it. That's another reason it needs to be important in the course of this spring."

That's one thing that will be an added challenge for us this spring. One of the beautiful things about being at the University of Idaho is the opportunity that it's always 70 degrees and sun shine with no wind, no snow and no rain. This spring we're gonna have all those elements come into play because they've started working knocking out that west wall of the dome here and with the construction taking place all of our practices are gonna be held out front here. That will add a new element to it, and it'll help us teach our guys to deal with the elements. If the WAC ever finally gives us a football schedule, I'd like to think that the rival game will be scheduled somewhere around rival weekend. We all know that weather can get nasty down in Boise that time of year; so we may be getting ready for that point in time."

Q: Is the spring game gonna be outside too?
RA: "Yes it will. It'll be out on our practice field."

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