MOSCOW - When the Vandals started fall camp, coach Paul Petrino said one of the most important tasks he had to accomplish was finding the fifth player for the offensive line.
Now, thanks to some solid play by Niklaus Van Rotz, Petrino can check one thing off his to-do list.
The 6-foot-5, 292-pound senior guard joins Jesse Davis, Dallas Sandberg, Mike Marboe and Cody Elenz to form Idaho's seemingly stalwart offensive line.
"Nik Van Rotz has actually had a tremendous camp," offensive line coach Jon Carvin said. "The other four, we went into camp feeling good about, and Nik has simply progressed incredibly. He had a great summer and has done a lot of work in the weight room. I think the offensive line will be a strength of this team."
Marboe, now in his junior year, has started 24 straight games at center. His consistent, excellent play landed him on the 2012 Rimington Award watch list, and he isn't showing any signs of slowing down. Marboe says he is in the best football-playing shape of his life, and at 6-2, 296 pounds, he has the physical tools needed to anchor the offensive line. On top of that, he's assumed the role of a leader on the team.
"Mike has really progressed as a leader," Carvin said. "He's always vocal, he coaches guys on the field, and tries to keep their tempo up and keep them positive, no matter what happened on the last play."
Davis was one of the Vandals' most consistent defensive linemen last year, but in the spring Petrino decided to move him to offensive tackle. After struggling with the transition early on, the 6-6, 286-pound junior has started to get the hang of his new position.
"I think it's the hardest position to learn in all of football," Davis said. "The technique is a tremendous challenge. It has been tough playing O-line because your footwork is all different. Instead of going forward, you're going backwards."
Davis' coaches noticed his struggles with his footwork and worked with him throughout spring and fall camps. Now he has become one of the toughest, most physical players on the team.
"Jesse is starting to get more physical, which is fantastic, and his footwork has really been cleaned up a lot," Carvin said.
Sandberg, a 6-5, 311-pound sophomore guard, and Elenz, a 6-4, 287-pound sophomore tackle, round out the starting rotation. While Carvin likes Idaho's look up front, he has a couple other guys who might see significant playing time as well.
"Larry Dugan and Calvin White are very versatile for us," Carvin said. "Larry can play guard at either side and Calvin can play four spots - both guard spots and tackle spots. So, really we have nice group of seven capable guys."