A small crowd had gathered at the Kibbie Dome. Boosters were on hand to see the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $27 million renovation. Even officials showed up. But mounting injuries prompted Idaho coach Robb Akey to call off the Vandals' third scrimmage of fall camp. Instead, UI went through a quickish practice with game situations and lots of special teams work.
Still, plenty of notes and tidbits came from the practice and Akey afterward, so read on.
The Vandals ran through some scrimmage-like situations, during which a few guys stood out. Safety Quin Ashley picked off Brian Reader right away — one of the few mistakes Reader's made of late. Backup QB Taylor Davis looked sharp outside the pocket on several snaps. He completed a nice pass on the run to Clayton Homme, and later showed very quick feet scrambling for positive yardage. True freshman tailback Todd Handley returned a punt for a touchdown, again flashing elite speed (more on him later).
The Vandals had a no-pads practice on Thursday night, and the coaches decided to lighten the load for Friday by barring tackling. Clearly, the injuries are a concern. But there no key players — with the possible exception of receiver Justin Veltung — who are in danger of missing the opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 1.
“I thought we got a lot of great work done tonight,” Akey said. “This would have been the night we would have had our third full-go scrimmage. We talked (as coaches).The injury report was getting a little bit bigger than I wanted it to be. The important thing is I get these guys ready to play against Bowling Green. And so we’ve adjusted our practice schedule a little bit. Things happen in life and you deal with them.”
The only injury to come out Friday night was backup offensive tackle Kyle Salm. He has a “little sublex” in his shoulder, Akey said. Salm had it wrapped with ice at the end of practice. “I would hope everything would be smooth, but I don’t know yet,” Akey said.
Salm saw time with the ones at left tackle before his injury. That's because Matt Cleveland is still nursing an ankle injury, as is center Mike Marboe. Cleveland and Marboe could be back by early next week, and guard Sam Tupua (ankle) took snaps Friday.
At tailback, Ryan Bass and Kama Bailey remain out, though both could be back soon. Princeton McCarty and Troy Vital split the carries Friday.
As far as Veltung — the Vandals' top playmaker at WR — his turf toe is “coming along quickly,” Akey said. Still, Veltung's status for Week 1 is “in jeopady” depending on how the toe responds.
IN OTHER NEWS …
Akey said he's pleased with how camp has progressed, even with all the injuries. “We are coming together great as a team. I had a great conversation with our captains last night and that’s what they’re feeding back to me. And that’s a good thing.” Akey was especially happy with how the team responded to his news right before Thursday night's practice that there would be no pads. “They expected a full-pad practice and nobody hooted or hollered. In fact, half of them looked at me like they were mad. I took that as a good sign. When that practice was over, I had a couple of the captains say, ‘Hey, Coach. You know, we would have had a great full pad practice tonight. We were mentally prepared for that.’ And I thought that was a great thing.”
Akey likes how the defense responded to Monday's scrimmage, when it was torched. But he singled out the cornerbacks — again — as a posiition that needs to get stronger. “I think our defense has a had a good camp, and I think they got their eyes open, you know, in the previous scrimmage. And I saw some things come back together. I do think we’ve got to challenge the corner play a little bit. That’s got to be better. I want to see that be better. It’s been inconsistent a little bit in the last week, I would say, of camp. I do believe we can get that back. And I think our defense has had a good camp. We’re capable of being a good defense. But we’ve still got work to go to be able to get that done.” When a TV reporter brought up that CB Aaron Grymes had mentioned a bend-don't-break defense, Akey replied, “I think I need to have a conversation with old Channel 6 (Grymes) there because I don’t want to see bend-don’t-break. I want to see … let’s don’t bend (at all). I want to see that come along a little more.”
Safety Bradley Njoku, a true freshman, won't redshirt this fall, Akey said. He's also expecting CB Dion Bass (“Smallmouth Bass,” as Akey called him; his brother Ryan is “Largemouth Bass”)
to contribute on defense and special teams, while RB Todd Handley and defensive end Quinton Bradley are other candidates to play as rookies. If Handley does play, it would be on special teams. Bradley, meanwhile, is a potential long snapper, Akey said. Current long snapper Marius Burgsmueller (tricep) sat out Friday.
Akey said LB Jeffrey Bediako suffered a setback in his recovery after missing all of camp. “I thought we were a practice or two from getting him on the field, but that may extend another few practices now.” Akey said he will be a special teams player and provide depth at linebacker.
Defensive end Vince Keener (knee) is another week from returning. He could compete for snaps when healthy.
Classes start Monday and the Vandals will begin light preparations for Bowling Green on Tuesday. Asked about how classes change things for the players, Akey said, “That changes everything because now they’re going to class. That’s why you come here — to get your degree. You get to play football, and that’s a great thing. Now they’re juggling both. For the last several weeks — it seems like we’ve been going a month and a half now — they’ve been able to pay attention to nothing but football and taking care of their bodies. Now they are going to be in class, they’re going to have those distractions going on. They’re going to be dealing with other students and things like that. I’m sure they’ll see some pretty girls along the way that’s going to catch their eye as well. … I like the fact that the first ballgame isn’t taking place the first week of school. So we can get adapted to that.”
Akey confirmed to the Lewiston Tribune that onetime quarterback Justin Podrabsky has moved to tight end.