In eight months, the Idaho football program has been (almost) completely remade. The coaching staff is all new, save for tight ends coach Al Pupunu. The offensive playbook under Paul Petrino will be much more extensive and adaptable than in previous years. And though the Vandals will be an independent this season, the uncertainty of a conferenceless future is gone; next year at this time, UI will be prepping for its first season back in the Sun Belt.
Idaho opens fall camp Monday afternoon at 3, and below the Vandals' new offensive and defensive coordinators share what you can expect from them as coaches.
My camp preview ran in Sunday's S-R, complete with a look at key dates and this breakdown of a few positions of note:
• Quarterback: Chad Chalich is at the top of the depth chart, but senior Taylor Davis has the most experience and JC transfer Josh McCain is the wild card. Erickson said Chalich and Davis got tougher in spring. Chalich also showed a knack for running Petrino’s read-option offense.
• Offensive line: Veteran Jordan Johnson (back) might not play this fall, which means converted D-lineman Jesse Davis has settled at offensive tackle. The anchor of the line is junior center Mike Marboe, and Dallas Sandberg and Cody Elenz are returning starters.
• Linebacker: UI has talent here but little FBS experience. JC transfers Marc Millan, Juan Martinez and Eric Tuipulotu impressed in the spring, and Broc Westlake (another JC product) has been cleared after an injury. Redshirt freshman Russell Siavii, converted QB Austin DeCoud and returners James Randall and Matthew Willis are also in the mix.
• Secondary: Cornerback and safety might be the thinnest positions on the team. Solomon Dixon and Jayshawn Jordan are talented corners. Bradley Njoku and Trey Williams have experience at safety. After that, UI will rely on new faces.
• Defensive line: This is the strongest spot on Idaho’s defense, and maybe the whole team. Quinton Bradley and Maxx Forde are promising D-ends. Vince Keener and reinstated QuayShawne Buckley are key returners, while JC signee Anthony Rice should see time. “I feel really good about up front,” defensive coordinator Ronnie Lee said.
An extra note on the quarterbacks: JC transfer Anthony Neyer, a onetime walk-on at USC, has left the program. QBs coach Bryce Erickson said Neyer, who got very little playing time during the spring, had "decided to go somewhere else."
I talked with Ronnie Lee and Kris Cinkovich late last week. And since both are new as the Vandals' coordinators, I asked them to describe their approaches to coaching. Each spoke about the importance of teaching.
Ronnie Lee, defensive coordinator/safeties coach
"My philosophy as a coach is constantly teach the game. Teach the players what they need to know. Make sure the scheme is not a popular scheme but a scheme that fits your personnel. And keep it simple so they can play fast.
"I want the defense here ... No. 1, we’ve got to stop the run. That’s our first objective is stop the run. The second is create turnovers. Third, got off the field on third down. So those are the things that we’re going to do.
"Stop the run. If we stop the run, that creates opportunity for http://www.spokesman.com/sradmin/blogs/blogpost/116896/us to be more aggressive. And we will be an aggressive defense. We will not sit back and get hit in the face; we will come after people."
Lee said the Vandals will move between a 4-3 and 3-4 defense, depending on the players' strengths. "It’s going to be a mixture. The whole time from spring till now is developing the scheme that fits our players. Not the other way around. Stuff that kids can do and be successful at. And not just the first 11, but the second 11, when they go in, they execute it. And it fits their ability."
Kris Cinkovich, assistant head coach/offensive coordinator/receivers coach
"For us, it’s important to be good teachers. And good teachers just don’t stand at the board for a hour. Because I don’t know about you, but I lose interest in about 20 minutes. My deal will click out. In today’s generation, maybe less than that. And I’m bad too — I reach for my cell phone all the time. I’m terrible. So it needs to be a combination of yeah, I get on the board and talk, but I need to show film. Then we need to get up in the room and move around and walk through it, so we’re active learners. So that stuff all ties in.
"Coach challenges everybody on the staff to be a really good teacher. I’m fortunate because when I was a high school coach, which some guys in this profession at this level would look down on … (Former UNLV coach and Cinkovich's ex-boss) John Robinson didn’t. He said, ‘You’re lucky because you have the training.’ I taught in the classroom, and when you’ve got to teach in the classroom with 35 ninth graders, you’re going to be organized and structured. And you’ll know how to impart discipline. And if you don’t, you’ll get trampled because they don’t care. So for me, that was really good. Really good in my background."
Cinkovich worked with Petrino at Arkansas, and Lee and Petrino were on the Idaho staff in 1992. These coaches are all longtime friends (or in the case of Lee and Petrino, former roommates).
Because Petrino has an offensive background from his days at Arkansas, Illinois, Louisville and before that, I asked Lee if he had more control of the defense than other coordinators might across the country. His response: "You may see him on the offensive side, because that’s his forte, but he has a vast knowledge of football, period. So we constantly communicate, and we sit there on the board and draw up stuff. Just see how we defend this, how this works. It’s constant communication. Like I said before, my job is to do a job that he don’t have to worry about the defense. But there will be, as my boss, there’s a thin line between friendship and boss. And so constant communication is important to me.
"In the end, I do understand this, and you can quote me on this: This is Coach Petrino’s team. My job is to make sure I’m doing everything I can to make this defense a great defense."
Note: I'll be back on the SportsLink blog with a recap of the first day of camp. The Vandals' first scrimmage is Saturday at 10 a.m. They'll host a mock game on Aug. 23. Follow me on Twitter @SR_JoshWright.