MOSCOW, Idaho – The offense has yet to coalesce. Key players from almost every position are either on crutches or hobbled. And the Idaho football team is forced to operate outside, where bone-chilling weather hasn’t departed the Palouse.
The Vandals, to be sure, are still fully in spring mode – “not a finished product,” as coach Robb Akey said Saturday, by any means.
For this and other reasons, Akey is careful to avoid making sweeping proclamations with 41/2 months remaining before the season opener against Bowling Green.
But he’s seen enough through four weeks of spring practice to say this: Idaho might have the deepest, most talented crop of defensive linemen since he took over before the 2007 season.
It starts with senior-to-be defensive tackle Michael Cosgrove and defensive end Benson Mayowa, both of whom collected three tackles for loss Saturday in UI’s third scrimmage. The list of promising linemen also includes three freshmen – 273-pound tackle Karel Kearney and ends Maxx Forde and Jesse Davis.
Kearney had two sacks while taking most of the reps of newcomer Ryan Edwards, a 300-pound freshman out for the rest of the spring with a knee injury.
“Yes, I’m very confident (this could be our best D-line) because we’ve also got two junior college guys coming in that are 6-5, 300 pounds and can run to go with this group,” Akey said, referring to February signees Aaron Lazaro and Dontae Scott.
“Cosgrove has been playing well. He’s got great experience,” Akey said. “And Benson is playing like an experienced guy right now. So I think that has a chance to be a good group for us. Finally.”
Until last season, when Aaron Lavarias and Jonah Sataraka were consistent producers, the Vandals have had noticeably few playmakers along the line in recent years. They signed five defensive linemen in this year’s recruiting class, and Forde and Davis are two Washington high school products from the 2010 class starting to make an impact.
Kearney, though, has seemingly been the fastest learner of the group of redshirts from last year.
“He’s playing Division I football for the first time,” Akey said. “The plays he’s making – I’ve coached good defensive linemen that didn’t show up as much as true freshmen in their first spring ball.”
Mayowa battled with Andre Ferguson last year for playing time as an edge pass rusher. Ferguson, along with Charles Smith, is still expected to play in the fall. But Mayowa appears to have surpassed both of them, and it’s partly because of the devotion to his diet.
He came to Idaho from Inglewood, Calif. as a true freshman before the 2009 season at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. Now he’s up to 251 pounds after an intense two years of eating and working out.
“I just came here with a mindset that I have to gain weight,” Mayowa said. “And I have to go about it in a way to gain weight or else I’m not going to get on the field.”
Mayowa still wants to get bigger, as do Forde, Davis and Kearney. But Cosgrove, the leader of the D-line, isn’t focused on their size.
“We just had two young guys mainly who are stepping into starting roles,” he said. “And they’ve had 10 to 12 different practices. (That’s) a lot of maturity for them.”
Starting left tackle Matt Cleveland missed Saturday with a “freak” knee injury that occurred coming out of the weight room, Akey said. The coach said the team will know better Monday if Cleveland will need a knee scope. … Sam Tupua, a 345-pound senior-to-be, provided the highlight of the scrimmage by recovering a Princeton McCarty fumble at the 5-yard line and rumbling into the end zone. The slowly evolving touchdown sparked laughs from Akey and the few dozen onlookers on hand.