Vandals lineman makes switch look easy

Jesse Davis already is one of Idaho's top blockers after playing defense last season.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comAugust 27, 2013 

Perhaps the only down side of Jesse Davis' new job is trying to knock his old friends onto their backs every day in practice.

Davis, a 6-foot-6, 286-pound junior, is expected to start at offensive tackle for the Idaho Vandals in their opener Saturday at North Texas after starting 12 games last season at defensive tackle.

"It's a bittersweet kind of thing. Those guys on defense will say they want me back or something, but I'm telling them I'm probably on offense for good," Davis said.

Idaho first-year coach Paul Petrino didn't have many preconceived notions of the roster he inherited when he first stepped onto the Vandals' practice field this spring. Davis accumulated a team-high five quarterback hurries and also had an 86-yard fumble return against Louisiana Tech on Oct. 20, where he was tackled 3 yards shy of the goal line.

Still, Petrino saw more potential on the other side of the ball.

"When I looked at him, I thought, 'That's an offensive lineman,' " Petrino said. "He's a bright kid, and with his experience on defense, he moves really well. He can run up front, get to the next level."

The move was precipitated partially because of Davis' potential, but also the fact the Vandals only had a half-dozen offensive linemen in the spring.

"I learned a ton. It was a little rough - learning to step backward instead of forward is a big change," Davis said. "For the first half of spring, I did both. I kind of cheated on defense because I knew the calls on offense."

Davis did not play much as a lineman in high school, though he did at least have a bit of experience as a blocker, playing tight end at Asotin High in southeastern Washington. Now that he has settled into his new position, Davis has quickly fit into a group that returns three starters from last season.

"He's got the right size, and he can move around against those pass rushers," quarterback Chad Chalich said. "He has picked up the offense really well, and it's nice he's keeping those D-linemen off me."

Through his time at a trio of BCS conference schools as an offensive coordinator, Petrino has an eye for players that can help his offense, and he's sure Davis will do that, but also has his post-Vandal career in mind.

"I thought he was a good defensive lineman, but he has the potential to be a great offensive lineman," Petrino said.

Though his former compatriots on the defensive line still might hold out some hope Davis will return, he has embraced the offensive side, especially considering he will start right away.

"It's the best move for me," Davis said. "When you hear someone say it's going to help you get to the next level, that gets your attention."

North Texas picks a QB

On Monday, North Texas coach Dan McCarney said senior Derek Thompson will start at quarterback. Thompson, who has 4,531 career passing yards, has started since he was a sophomore, but beat out three competitors this fall camp for the starting job. Thompson will be protected by a deep offensive line that gave up six sacks last season, tops in the nation.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_southorn

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