Vandals camp: Petrino has new set of playmakers

Three returning receivers are trying to meet new coach’s high standards.


— Wherever he has gone, Idaho football coach Paul Petrino has been able to turn average receivers into big-time playmakers, so it’s no surprise the Idaho Vandals have high expectations from their wideouts.

“Petrino has a lot of knowledge for us, and personally, he’s taken my game to another level,” Idaho senior receiver Najee Lovett said. “He notices all the little details when you’re running your routes and catching the ball. I know he’s helped all of us receivers.”

Lovett is one of only three receivers returning from last year’s squad. In the 2012 campaign, he reeled in 50 receptions for 548 yards and six touchdowns. The other two returners, senior Roman Runner and sophomore Marquan Major, tallied a combined 20 catches.

“Najee has to be a playmaker for us,” offensive coordinator Kris Cinkovich said. “He’s had a few big strikes each of the past few practices. He has to be a fast guy and a deep strike guy for us.”

Runner drew praise from Petrino for his play during the spring and is still getting a lot of playing time with the first string offense. However, Petrino has decided Runner will also play on the defensive side of the ball as a cornerback, which will likely limit his playing time as a receiver.

While the Vandals’ other receivers won’t play defense, they will need to learn to be versatile as well, as receivers in Petrino’s offense often play all three traditional positions — X, Y and Z — which helps the offense create potential mismatches.

“All of us receivers are going to be all over the field,” Lovett said. “There aren’t any set spots we’re going to playing. You get a good feel for the offense that way, you get to catch balls everywhere.”

If Chad Chalich wins the starting quarterback job, he will once again be tossing passes to Deon Watson. The two played in high school together at Coeur d’Alene High and seem to have good chemistry. The 6-foot-4 Watson, a redshirt freshman, has done an outstanding job using his size to his advantage this fall and appears to have himself locked in near the top of the depth chart.

“Deon has been really good at making plays,” Cinkovich said. “He’s not fast, not speedy or spectacular, but he always competes for the ball and uses his body very well — plus he has very good hands.”

In Idaho’s first scrimmage, Watson reeled in five catches and scored a pair of touchdowns while appearing to have a solid grasp of the offense.

“Deon is figuring out how to use his body and has great hands,” Lovett said. “I think he’s going to have a good year.”

Perhaps the most dynamic player on the receiving corps is Dezmon Epps. The 5-foot-10 junior college transfer is easily one of the fastest guys on the field.

“I’ve been clocked at 4.3 (seconds in the 40-yard dash),” Epps said. “I’m off and on with a low 4.3, might run a 4.4 on an off day.”

Epps has been with the team for only about two weeks, but already he has stepped up as a vocal leader and a playmaker. During Saturday’s scrimmage, he caught 10 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns.

“Dezmon leads our catch chart most days after practice, which is an indicator that, A: he makes plays, and B: the quarterbacks trust him,” Cinkovich said. “He flies around and is fast. He’s a dynamic playmaker.”

Cinkovich said Epps will serve as solid replacement for departed senior Jahrie Level, who appeared to be Idaho’s No. 1 receiver coming out of spring ball before transferring during the summer. Freshmen Jacob Sannon and Rueben Mwehla also could net some playing time this year.

• The Vandals’ second scrimmage of fall camp is Saturday morning.

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