MOSCOW, Idaho – Today marks the start of Robb Akey’s fifth fall camp as University of Idaho football coach, and with each passing year the exuberant leader of the Vandals’ program seems to grow a bit bolder with his preseason forecast.
Last week at the WAC’s media event in Las Vegas, Akey freely threw out jokes, anecdotes and an assessment of the Vandals’ personnel and schedule during an 11-minute introduction. And at the end of his spiel, he saw no harm in cranking up the pressure on his club and coaching staff.
“Do I think this team has a chance to be good? Yes. Do I expect us to be in a bowl game this year? Yes, I do,” Akey said. “We stay healthy, we have a chance to (do) a lot of things this year.
“That’s what I’m going to put on our players. They need to stand up to that and back it up. … We all need to make that happen.”
Less than a month away from UI’s season opener against Bowling Green in the Kibbie Dome, Akey clearly feels comfortable with the Vandals’ development. That confidence is a natural offshoot of “having a program intact,” he said, and having players and coaches who know what to expect.
It also helps that the Vandals have drastically upgraded their depth and talent base in recent years. The beefed-up roster should help offset a wave of losses at key positions from graduation and injury.
Nate Enderle, UI’s four-year starter at quarterback, was drafted by the Chicago Bears this past spring. The top three receivers from 2010 have also departed, and the Vandals lost arguably their three top defenders – Robert Siavii to an ACL injury and Shiloh Keo and Aaron Lavarias to graduation and the NFL.
“I think we’ve got a chance to be a very good football team,” Akey said. “I think a lot of things still have to play into that. We had very good representation with our kids in summer school. They were in town, on campus. I think that’s a great positive.”
Akey also likes the budding leadership skills of new starting QB Brian Reader – a senior who has performed solidly in spot duty the last two seasons – and senior defensive tackle Michael Cosgrove. Both were named team captains, along with middle linebacker Tre’Shawn Robinson and right tackle Tyrone Novikoff.
Cosgrove will anchor what could be a surprisingly deep defensive line with the emergence of tackle Karel Kearney and pass rusher Benson Mayowa – as well as the additions of 300-pound junior college transfers Aaron Lazaro and Dontae Scott.
Yet Akey still has concerns. Aside from finding reliable playmakers at receiver, the Vandals’ biggest questions revolve around the offensive line and secondary.
Akey said four players will compete for two available starting spots on the O-line. Left tackle Matt Cleveland, guard/center Sam Tupua and Novikoff appear to have starting roles locked up.
The onus, meanwhile, is on Idaho’s crop of defensive backs to perform more consistently, the coach said. Starting cornerbacks Aaron Grymes and Kenneth Patten return as upperclassmen, and Gary Walker is the lone starter back at safety.
The Vandals will practice this afternoon at 3:30 and Friday through Sunday at 2:30, with the first scrimmage Wednesday at 2:30. … Akey expects everyone to meet academic requirements, but a handful of players – led by running back Ryan Bass and incoming offensive lineman Brady Lisoski – were wrapping up classes earlier this week to become eligible, he said.