Sports

Vandal spring football: what has stood out thus far

With only three practices remaining, the Vandals are getting a more clear look at what next season may hold. They will scrimmage twice in their final week of practice — one Monday and wrapping up with Friday’s spring game. Idaho has scrimmaged twice, with important pieces for the 2015 season making an impact in each, from veterans to raw talent.

DEEP AT RECEIVER

Idaho’s top returning receiver, junior Deon Watson (37 catches), has moved to tight end. That means only two receivers who made a catch last season return.

Yet, the Vandals seemingly have a good mix of options for sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan. Senior Dezmon Epps, who had 980 yards in 2013, was not on the team last season, but this spring has looked like a No. 1 target with 17 catches for 344 yards in the two scrimmages.

Junior Jacob Sannon and sophomore David Ungerer, who combined for 30 receptions in 2014, have impressed thus far, as have 6-foot-4 senior Jermaine Johnson and speedy sophomore Rueben Mwehla.

“They’ve been making all kinds of plays,” Petrino said last week.

DEFENSIVE LINE WILL BE STOUT

Before spring practices started, Petrino said of his defense, “I think we’re going to be really good up front.”

That’s certainly been the case so far, as the line had 14 sacks in the second scrimmage and eight in the first. Some came with quarterbacks not allowed to be hit, but the group has operated well out of a new-look 3-4 defense, anchored by senior end Quinton Bradley (eight sacks in the scrimmages).

“We’re so much better than we’ve (ever) been,” Petrino said of the line after the April 11 scrimmage.

YOUNGSTERS MAKING A NAME

Petrino had not even seen freshman linebacker Kaden Elliss in a full practice before saying “everyone around here is going to know his name for many years to come” the day prior to the beginning of spring ball.

The son of two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Luther Elliss, he has racked up 36 tackles, leading the team in both scrimmages, prompting Petrino to call him “a beast” after the second.

Sophomore Armond Hawkins, listed as a cornerback, has played some nickel and even outside linebacker, getting an interception in the second scrimmage.

Redshirt freshman running back Isaiah Saunders and sophomore Aaron Duckworth likely will see time behind senior Elijhaa Penny. Saunders has 130 yards in the scrimmages, while Duckworth had two TDs in the first scrimmage.

O-LINE IN FLUX SO FAR

The team seemingly entered the spring with nearly every position solidified — junior Steven Matlock at center, senior Dallas Sandberg and sophomore Jordan Rose as guards with junior Mason Woods at one tackle spot and a competition for the other.

Rose has missed most of the last week with an injury, though he has worked some at tackle. Junior Andrew Erbes has worked as a first-team guard, with junior Calvin White also seeing some first-team work at tackle. After allowing 94 sacks the last two seasons, most in the Football Bowl Subdivision, a jump in improvement would pay huge dividends.

“The O-line’s down to seven players, they’re taking every single snap the whole time, and a little bit of the time getting worn out,” Petrino said.

BIG PLAYS STILL A CONCERN

Idaho allowed 162 plays of 10 yards or more last season, 35th fewest in the FBS. However, the Vandals yielded 43 plays of 30 yards or more, which was 125th. Only three teams gave up more.

Sophomore safety Jordan Grabski told The Spokesman-Review the secondary’s focus is “just no deep balls never want to be beaten deep.” The Vandals have stepped up against the run in the spring, but in the scrimmages have given up 10 touchdowns that covered 29 or more yards, eight via the pass.

“We have to tackle better in the secondary,” Petrino said April 11.

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