Late in Idaho's fourth practice of the spring on Friday evening, running back Jerrel Brown turned to teammate Kris Olugbode and yelled, "I could do this all day!" Tomorrow, he might actually get a chance to.
The Vandals will hold their first scrimmage of spring at the Kibbie Dome at 10 a.m., and if it's like most of UI's scrimmages last season, it could be a marathon. Coach Paul Petrino likes to run through 100 or more plays in rapid succession to get his team acclimated to a fast game tempo. He even told Idaho defenders during Friday's practice to ease up on trying to tackle offensive players who were off-limits, because "we're going to hit for three hours tomorrow."
On the eve of scrimmage No. 1, I talked to Petrino, offensive coordinator Kris Cinkovich, quarterback-turned-receiver Joshua McCain and linebacker Marc Millan. Their thoughts -- and few of my observations -- are below.
Before we get to players and coaches' quotes, here are a few things that stood out on Friday:
- Redshirt freshman Matt Linehan looked sharp at quarterback -- quite a bit stronger than Chad Chalich. The two are battling for the starting spot. Petrino said he's pleased with both quarterbacks. After watching tape of Wednesday's practice, he thought both threw "really well."
- Joshua McCain continues to wow coaches and teammates with his transition to wideout. He made a number of strong catches on Friday, and afterward he said it's been a "pretty easy transition." McCain said he approached the coaches after the season to see if they would be open to him moving from QB, where he played sparingly last year, to receiver. Offensive coordinator Kris Cinkovich called it a mutual decision, and he said he hopes tomorrow's scrimmage will like "a coming out" for McCain. Said Petrino, "I didn’t know he’d be that good at receiver."
- Even with Jesse Davis not a full go, Petrino and Cinkovich are pleased with the progress of the O-line. The Vandals have nine linemen who started at least one game, and JC transfers Kato Fawkes and Jeff Travillion also could compete for starting spots. Petrino has spoken highly of the versatile Nick Von Rotz and Mason Woods. "I expect us to be a lot better," Cinkovich said.
Paul Petrino (video courtesy of Idaho media relations)
On the quarterbacks. … "Matt (Linehan) had a good day today. He did a lot of nice things. He a good day Wednesday too. Actually they both (did). When you went back and watched the tape, they both threw the ball really well on Wednesday. But just being out there today, I think Matt did a lot of nice things."
What are you looking for out of the QBs tomorrow? … "Just to compete. Get us in the best place possible. Do a great job. I’ve been really happy with both of them so far. Just got to keep it up."
Offensive line, seen progression there? … "Yeah. I think they’re improving a lot. I’m happy with the two new junior college guys. Since we put the pads on, Mason Woods has played way better. He wasn’t looking real great the first two days in shorts and T-shirts, but since the pads went on, he’s done a really good job. So tomorrow will be a big day for them."
Nick Von Rotz. Can you just plug in him at different spots? … "Yeah. He could be the quick tackle, the quick guard, the strong guard or the strong tackle. It’s kind of going to be just whoever the best five guys are, and Von Rotz and Cody (Elenz) probably give themselves a better chance because they can play all four positions. So whoever the top five that will be who it is."
Struggle to calm your defense down? … "Well, we hit a bunch Wednesday. Today just wasn’t a day to do that, so tomorrow, yeah, it will be live. Let’s get after everything. So they can fly around and get after it both sides."
How is team responding to position battles? … "Good. I think it really helps us as coaches with them knowing that there’s so much more competition and so many more guys battling for spots. And so it’s been great. And there’s going to be even more coming in this summer. So I told them today, you better take every chance you get because you’ve got some more guys coming in this summer trying to take your job. But it’s been really good."
Do you feel like competition helps hold players accountable? … "Oh, no question. They know. You can say whatever you want to. If they look behind them and know that guy can’t play, they know they’re going to play. And right now we’ve got competition at every position so if they’re not being accountable, they’re not going to play."
Do you think the competition builds a sense of camaraderie about the guys? ... "Yeah. It’s been really good so far. What I’d like really to see tomorrow is neither side of the ball dominate. I’d like to see just kind of play after play just batting each other and being about equal at the end of the day. That’s be nice."
Kris Olugbode getting a lot of reps. Is he getting that separation? … "No. Actually on Wednesday when it was live, Jerrel (Brown) and Richard (Montgomery) probably had better days. And then out here today, it looked like Kris was. So no, no one has separated yet. But we’ll just keep on going. The good this is, they’ve all been going good. And Isaiah Saunders has been looking pretty nice, too; he’s had some nice runs. … There isn’t any separation yet."
Any positions or players who have been a surprise through four days? … "Josh McCain. I didn’t know he’d be that good at receiver. He’s looked really, really good. That’s been a big surprise. I think Irving (Steele) has played better than I thought he would play that early. Tony Lashley. I mean Tony’s still got five years to play here. He’s doing some really nice things. Just off the top of my heads those would be the guys doing the best."
Observations so far? … "Overall, our execution is better. But we’re still not at that high level of execution where our level of consistency is where it needs to be. We had a rough spot early in a team period on Wednesday. That’s unacceptable. Today, we actually battled through it a little bit better. So I think we’re starting to see some understanding of the offense and the expectations of how we execute it. We just have to keep improving."
Second spring just feel different? … "I think we can focus more on details, because we’re not having to coach how we do things. We can coach on the details of their position or of a play or how we did things within our systems. Because how we practice and how we prepare, that stuff they know it now. I’m very confident that it would be different and it should look different."
Josh McCain … "He’s been really good. He looks like a real natural receiver. That was kind of a mutual talk that we all had back right at the end of last season. He wants to play the game and keep playing the game. Probably being a quarterback wasn’t the best use of his ability, and he’s got some of those natural things you look for in a receiver. And he’s been very good so far and I’m hopeful that tomorrow will be like a coming out for him and people can see it. People saw that he was a good athlete last year and he could run. I also think that he has good ball skills and has some things that could make him a very special receiver."
"Dezmon Epps has improved his game. He’s improved in several ways. I think he’s become a more precise route runner. We have to continue to work on it. Jacob Sannon has shown up at times. Deon Watson is finding a way, because he’s doing some stuff inside and outside, taking some different roles. And I think he’s shown improvement. You know, he’s heavier, he’s stronger. He’s 212 pounds. I think it’s helping him."
Matt and Chad at QB … "Well, Chad has obviously benefited now from a year in the system and a year under the gun. Matt got a lot work last year, particularly in our Sunday night scrimmages. Chad’s become a better student of the game with his understanding, and Matt kind of brought that pretty well. So I expect it to be a good competition. I think the level is coming up, and I think they’re responding to the competition. The need to keep doing so."
Offensive line … "I expect us to be a lot better. Fundamentally, I believe you’ve got nine guys at least that started at least one game back. And then you bring in two junior college kids who have done some good things at time in Kato (Fawkes) and Jeff (Travillion). In my opinion, that’s 11 guys that think they should start. So the competition in and of itself should make us better. Mike (Marboe) is a fourth-year starter. He’s managing his weight, and I think it’s helping him a lot. Nick (Van Rotz) can play guard or tackle. Stephen Matlock got a lot of experience last year. We had a lot of guys get a lot of experience, and obviously it wasn’t real pretty sometimes, but you always live and see that out the other side. And that experience should come back and benefit you, and that’s what we expect in the offensive line."
Increased competition? … "Oh, man. It’s great. We’ve got a lot of competition at the linebacker spot. A lot of depth. That’s going to make us a lot better."
What are your first impressions of Steele and Lashley? … "Man, it’s great to have them here. They fly around. It’s what we need. We’re trying to make a new identity for ourselves as a defense, and they’re helping us 100 percent."
What’s the difference this spring? … "We understand it. Now it’s just perfecting it. Now we’ve just got to protect our craft."
How are guys responding to the position battles? … "I think it’s great. Anytime you have people getting comfortable at a position, it’s not really going to help them. So when you have people on their butts everyday that’s coming for their position, it’s going to make them work that much harder."
What are the things you’re focusing in the offseason? … "Personally, I think I can improve my pass coverage a lot. Just my overall effort. And trying to lead the defense."
On being a leader … "Since I’ve been young, I’ve been told that I was meant to be a leader. So that’s something I take pride in."
Comfortable in your new position? … "Yeah. It was a pretty easy transition, you know. I mean, the help of my quarterbacks, Matt and Chad, helping me a lot on and off the field. So it was a really easy transition with the help of the coaches and everybody. So I’m doing the best I can out there."
Film of past receivers? … "There was a lot of receivers he shows us daily. I mean, I’m not going to say specific ones, but there are a lot of them. Just watching them, just taking notes from them."
Some of the steepest learning curve? … "It’s a lot of things. It’s everything. It’s not going to come over night. I work on it day by day. I work on my hands, work on my routes, learn the plays. So I’m taking it day by day. As long as I do that, I’m going to be all right."
Ever played any other position except for QB? … "No, just quarterback my whole life."
Conversation with coach … "I went to him. I knew I wanted to get on the field. Didn’t want to sit on the bench. I just wanted to have my talents out there to help the team out, you know. I knew if I was out on the field I could help the team, so it’s all the team aspect, you know. That’s all it is."
Scrimmage … "I’m not looking to do anything individually. It’s all the team aspect. I want the offense to come together. I want us to have a great performance. I don’t just want to focus on myself. I want to focus on the whole offense, the whole defense. So as long as we come together, we’ll be all right."
Competition benefit you guys … "Competition is a great motivator. Without competition, you’re just out there doing it. I mean, you need competition out there to bring your best out there when the best is needed."
When do you go to coach? … "It was a little after the season. It was just something I was feeling that was a gut feeling, so I just wanted to go talk to him about it. So I had to make the decision, and this is the one I made."