Less than a week from the Vandals' season opener against Bowling Green, and we've got lots to get to tonight regarding the team's health and rotation. Read on if you're interested.
UPDATE: You can read an early version of my Sunday story on the Idaho defense here.
First, the biggest news: receiver Justin Veltung (turf toe) is a “possibility” for Thursday's game, coach Robb Akey said. But Akey also added that he has “the most potential of not being able to play.” Veltung was injured in the team's first scrimmage after exploding for three catches and two touchdowns. During Friday's practice, Veltung caught balls from a throwing machine, trying to stay busy. He's out of his boot, and Thursday he was able to do some running in cleats. “I think he responded well to that,” Akey said. “So that was a great positive. And if it will continuing going like that, I think the game is not out of the realm of possibility. It’s going to be day-by-day unfortunately.”
The Vandals' injury situation, at least for first-teamers and key players, is much improved from a week ago. The starting offensive line — Matt Cleveland, Sam Tupua, Mike Marboe, Jordan Johnson and Tyrone Novikoff — is once again healthy. The same goes for tailbacks Ryan Bass and Kama Bailey. “Bass, he’s been moving around,” Akey said. “He’s been telling me it feels good. The trainer tells me the same thing. Kama has been going. So yeah, I expect full go for those guys.”
Akey said the team is awaiting MRI results for backup offensive tackle Kyle Salm to see how much time he'll miss with a shoulder injury. Akey was hopeful Friday evening that Salm wouldn't miss much time (although judging by Salm's Twitter account, it doesn't look good — “6 months is way to long be out for a shoulder,” he tweeted this evening).
Salm, Spencer Beale and Dallas Sandburg are among the reserve linemen who have missed time or are still out. Their absence — especially Salm's — has left the Vandals thin at the tackle spot behind Cleveland and Novikoff. Junior college transfer Brady Lisoski arrived late at fall camp and has since started taking reps with the twos and threes. In case of an injury, he coud be pressed into action. “We’ll juggle things as necessary,” Akey said, “and that’s why I’m grateful we’ve got (coach) John McDonell working with that group in there. He’s a veteran — he’s dealt with those things before. … We’ve got a little bit of depth. We could use a little more at the tackles.”
Akey feels better about the interior of the line. A.J. Jones, Guy Reynolds and Bilal Liggins have been getting consistent looks with the twos, and even stepping up to practice with the ones on occasion. As for Jones, another JC transfer, “He’s done a really nice job,” Akey said. “And he’s a smart kid. He’s a powerful kid, and he’s executed things very well. He’s going to be a good thing for us.”
Backup defensive end Vince Keener won't play against BGSU, but he could start practicing next week, Akey said. Linebacker Jeffrey Bediako's time frame for recovery for a leg injury will be a bit longer than Keener's.
RUNNING BACK ROTATION
No one at tailback has distinguished himself yet as a clear-cut starter, Akey said. That means four running backs — Bass, Bailey, Princeton McCarty and Troy Vital — could split carries on Thursday. “I’ve seen a lot of improvement from the whole group, which is a great positive,” Akey said. “We’re probably going to need some opponents to start to separate that (rotation) a little bit.”
Said Bass, “Honestly I have my own opinions, but you’ve got to see the first game. That’s all you’ve got to do. The first game comes around and whoever does best should get the job to me. I’m looking forward to the first game. Just do my best when I’m in the game.”
I'm working a story on the defense for Sunday's paper (I'll link to it when it's ready), and one of things worth mentioning here is the position switches/additions for James Randall and Kenneth Patten. Randall has moved from strong safety to weakside linebacker — a move made partly because of the emergence of true freshman safety Bradley Njoku … and partly because of the new role for Patten.
Patten will still remain a reserve cornerback, and he'll also play at safety. “He’s played a lot of nickel for us,” defensive coordinator Mark Criner said. “But playing 10 yards deep off the ball and things like that, this is going to be his first go-around. (Wednesday) in our mock game he played corner, he played nickel and he played strong safety. I think with his ability and coverage skills, it will suit him well at the safety position. And he’s aggressive enough to play it.”
As for Randall, a 213-pound redshirt freshman, “I think he’s going to be a nice addition to this linebacking corps,” Criner said. “How fast he plays I don’t know, but I do think that he adds to a good corps and anytime you can run, there’s a place for you on defense. He can run and hit.”
CRINER ON THE DEFENSE
Here are quick hits from Criner on position battles and individual members of his defense:
As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach me via Twitter (@SR_JoshWright) or in the comments section below.