Vandal football team still looking for answers in secondary


MOSCOW - Idaho's revamped secondary has been an area of concern throughout fall camp, and with the Vandals' season opener against North Texas looming, there are still plenty of issues that need to be addressed.

While last year's defensive backfield was a senior-heavy group that produced an NFL-caliber player in Gary Walker, this season's group is largely inexperienced.

The Vandals will need to figure out who their starters are quickly and mold them into a cohesive group - or it could be a long season for the defense.

At cornerback, sophomore Solomon Dixon and junior Delancy Parham have received most of the reps with the first-string defense.

However, Idaho's depth chart is far from being settled, defensive coordinator Ronnie Lee cautioned.

"Right now, there are no starters, we're still evaluating, still seeing where guys stand," Lee said. "We have some good chemistry in the back end, but we have to continue to work at game speed and in game conditions, so when Aug. 31 comes, it's nothing new."

Dixon was one of the most impressive defenders for the Vandals in his freshman season.

Although he only started four games, Dixon led his team with three interceptions and defended six passes. During the spring, he impressed his coaches with his athletic ability and energy.

Parham is a junior college transfer from Santa Barbara City College (Calif.). In his sophomore season, he broke up 20 passes and picked off two passes while recording 46 tackles.

Freshmen Desmond Banks and Armond Hawkins could easily find themselves on the field as well, although their coaches have noted they are still adjusting to the increased speed of the college game.

Banks' size (6-foot-3, 192 pounds) suggests he might be better suited to playing safety, while Hawkins looks the part of a nimble, speedy cornerback.

For nickel and dime packages, sophomore Jayshawn Jordan will be on the field, as might senior Roman Runner.

Runner normally plays receiver, but his talent on defense caught coach Paul Petrino's eye during spring ball.

"It might just be a nickel package, it might just be during certain things," Petrino said. "When you go punt and punt return with the gunners, of the guys holding them up, Roman is the best press guy we have, so we have to get him over there and have him play some corner for us."

At safety, the Vandals will have a little bit of experience returning.

Senior Trey Williams, who started four games and played in 11 last year, should lock down the strong safety spot as soon as he is healthy.

Williams has missed the majority of fall camp with an undisclosed injury, but should be back in time for the start of the season.

"We'll have to get with the trainers before we make that final call, but we're planning on having him," Lee said. "Right now it's up to his body and the doctors though."

The picture is a bit more muddled at free safety.

Junior Bradley Njoku and senior D'Mario Carter appear to be in the running for the position, but freshman Jordan Grabski has impressed Petrino with his work ethic.

Regardless of who ends up starting, Idaho's secondary will be in for a rough start to the season.

Last year, even when facing run-heavy teams like LSU and BYU, opponents were happy to exploit the Vandals' secondary and threw 4 percent more than the national average on standard downs and 10 percent more on passing downs.

"We're counting on the older guys' experience and leadership to help with the younger guys, to help bring them along," Lee said. "They're a big part of the chemistry we're building in the backfield."

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