Sandwiched between two-a-day practices on Monday and Wednesday, the Vandals practiced Tuesday morning for more than two hours. We've got a brief report and an update on the strides the offensive line is taking after the jump.
The Vandals are less than two weeks from their opener at North Texas (Aug. 31, 4 p.m. Pacific), and they're clearly in game-prep mode.They spent the latter portion of Tuesday's workout on kickoffs (Dezmon Epps, Richard Montgomery and Najee Lovett were returning kicks from Austin Rehkow and walk-on Ryan Bordner), scout team work for North Texas and the usual 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.
A few notes before we get to the offensive line:
- Tailback Kris Olugbode saw action after missing the first two scrimmages. If healthy, he's expected to see time along with Jerrel Brown and Richard Montgomery.
- Safety Trey Williams had shoulder pads and shorts on while standing with the defense on the sideline. He has yet to fully practice this fall, but he's expected to be a key part of the secondary -- in terms of leadership and playmaking ability -- once healthy. On Saturday, coach Paul Petrino said Williams might return at the start of this week. And he appears close to being ready. In his absence, the first-team safeties Tuesday were junior Bradley Njoku and true freshman Jordan Grabski. The second-team safeties appeared to be Tom Hennessey and D'Mario Carter, with Desmond Banks at corner.
- The starting linebacker corps appears to be set: Marc Millan, Eric Tuipulotu and Juan Martinez. All are JC recruits who were in Moscow for spring camp. The second unit looks to be Broc Westlake, Matthew WIllis and James Randall.
- Defensive tackle QuayShawne Buckley was in pads but didn't appear to be participating Tuesday. He also missed Saturday's scrimmage. Sophomore Ryan Edwards and senior Vince Keener have been the first-team D-tackles in practice. Matthew Neal was not in pads and appeared to be rehabbing an injury on Tuesday morning.
The Vandals' offensive interior has been hit with injuries -- both in spring and this fall. Jordan Johnson, a potential starter, won't play this year because of his health. Tackle Jesse Davis, a converted defensive lineman, missed the first fall scrimmage with a concussion. And guard Dallas Sandberg also missed part of the first scrimmage and all of the second with a concussion.
But the starting five is back together, and the veteran of the group -- center Mike Marboe, traditionally a tough critic of the line -- likes what he sees. "... We’ve really been coming together as a group," he said. "And we’ve gotten a lot better since camp started. It’s been nice having Jesse and Dallas back this week. I think it’s exciting. I think we’re really starting to work well together. And hopefully that will turn into some good results this season."
Quinton Bradley and the defensive front seven had their way in the first scrimmage. Plus, Marboe had trouble with high snaps. But last week, the Vandals' O-line tightened up their pass protection and opened a few holes for Brown and Montgomery (though Petrino said UI's run blocking needs to improve).
In addition to Davis and Cody Elenz at tackle and Marboe at center, Niklaus Von Rotz has been in control of the guard spot opposite of Sandberg since camp opened. (I stay away from labeling players as left guard or right tackle, for example, because the Vandals flip back and forth as part of each offensive series.)
Meanwhile, because of the injuries, a few backups have gotten more reps with the first unit, which has paid off, Marboe said. That includes fifth-year senior Larry Dugan (who's listed at 360 pounds and was quite a bit heavier when Petrino was hired) and redshirt freshman Calvin White.
"There’s a lot of guys doing great things on the O-line," Marboe said. "Larry Dugan has been having a great camp as well. Calvin White’s been taking a ton of reps. So those guys are all getting better. And that’s mostly due to those injuries — those guys had to step up and that was awesome."