Eight days away from their opener at New Mexico State, the Idaho Vandals pretty much have their depth chart and starting lineup set. There's an exception here and there, particularly at right guard. Read on for a notebook focusing on promising true freshmen, who will redshirt, injury updates and more.
And for a bonus, I have some thoughts from AD Rob Spear about the Kibbie Dome, scheduling and the direction of the program.
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho — Relying on true freshmen to plug holes in the starting lineup is far from ideal, of course. But for the last two years Idaho coaches had no choice — the demand for immediate help far outweighed the desire to give newbies sufficient time to blossom.
Although that need hasn’t fully faded, the situation is much improved.
“This is the third year of building something,” Idaho coach Robb Akey said. “At some spots we’re gaining depth, which I’m happy as can be about that. But then you’re still trying to get something built at other spots.
“The good thing now is at least at those other spots, the starter is the guy that’s more (of a) veteran and has been there.”
The Vandals kick off the season at New Mexico State on Sept. 5, and this opener will mark the first time in Akey’s three-year tenure that a true freshman hasn’t started at wide receiver. Instead UI has matured to the point where the bulk of skill players and offensive lineman have been together for at least two years.
Nevertheless, Akey is pushing his assistant coaches to find playing time for a handful of promising freshmen rather than go the redshirt route. Defensive back Gary Walker and linebackers Conrad Scheidt and Korey Toomer, a junior-college transfer, have particularly opened eyes and could squeeze into the defensive rotation.
Lake City graduate Jared Heston, another nimble first-year linebacker, is also expected to play this season rather than redshirt, Akey said. His role, at least to start the season, will predominantly be in special teams.
“I still think it helps us because they’re good football players, doing good things,” Akey said of using true freshmen on special teams. “And if they can be core special teams guys — if we can get them doing the job as well as a guy starting in front of them is — well that kind of helps keep that starter out on the field a little longer because that saves his body a little bit.”
Starting roles all but filled
Just about all the starting positions have been claimed, including Nathan Enderle at quarterback. Still, one slot that’s in flux is right guard.
Senior Adam Juratovac has been spending the most time there with the first-team offense, but Akey said newcomer Tevita Halaholo is close behind. Tyrone Novikoff, a versatile sophomore, is also in the mix.
Matt Cleveland, penciled in since the spring as the starting left tackle, was held out of at least two practices this week because of a stinger. Akey said he expects Cleveland to be fine.
Akey said he expects freshman quarterback Taylor Davis to redshirt, as well as tight end Clayton Homme of Kennewick and offensive lineman Jordan Johnson. There are a handful of other potential redshirts, but Akey said Thursday that decisions on those players have yet to be made. … Running back Troy Vital (infected toe) should be close to 100 percent by Tuesday, Akey said.
My season preview of the Vandals will run in Monday's S-R, so be on the lookout for more soon. Also, I interviewed athletic director Rob Spear yesterday to pick his brain on the the Kibbie Dome renovation, health of the football program and scheduling issues. Plenty of interesting stuff came out of the interview that I'll touch on later, but here's a quick rundown:
- Spear said the paneling on the west wall of the Dome should be complete by Sept. 11, so the team will be able to practice the full week leading up to the home opener against San Diego State on the 19th. (Spear gave me a tour of the upgrades and I'll say this: The Dome, if only because of the added light from the panels, will be a more pleasant place to be on a Saturday afternoon on the Palouse.)
- Future BCS opponents include Nebraska and Texas A&M, and Spear said Idaho might have to readjust its thinking about playing just one BCS opponent a year because of financial constraints.
- The AD insisted that he's as anxious as anyone to see the football program turned around, but he's completely satisfied with the direction of the program under Akey.