MOSCOW, Idaho – How much progress has the Idaho offense made? Steve Axman, the Vandals’ offensive coordinator, pondered that question and immediately went back to early April to draw a comparison.
“Our first scrimmage in spring, we didn’t score a point,” he said Wednesday evening, after UI’s first fall scrimmage. “Today we moved the ball. We had big plays. We put the ball in the air well.”
A large portion of the explosiveness came from wide receiver Justin Veltung, who had three catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns. On the first play of the scrimmage, he snared a Brian Reader pass near the sideline and managed to shake free of two defenders in the open field during a mesmerizing 70-yard catch and run.
But it wasn’t all good news for the offense, and for Veltung in particular.
After bringing in a 42-yard bomb from Reader later in the day, Veltung landed awkwardly while getting tackled by cornerback Aaron Grymes. The 5-foot-11 junior from Puyallup, Wash., sustained an apparent turf toe injury and missed the rest of the scrimmage.
Coach Robb Akey said he wouldn’t know more until seeing the results of an X-ray.
“I think (Veltung) has an opportunity to be a big-play guy for us this season,” Akey said, “and hopefully he came out of this scrimmage all right there.”
The Vandals’ passing game glimmered for much of the two-hour session in breezy, warm conditions at UI’s outdoor practice field. Yet Akey and Axman weren’t pleased how the offense bogged down in goal-line situations – an issue that cropped up last season as well.
Axman took part of the blame for not substituting in Idaho’s goal-line package in those situations. Instead, with Idaho’s base offense on the field, the Vandals defense came up with one key stop after another inside the 10-yard line – including a tackle for loss from linebacker Tre’Shawn Robinson in which he slammed Kama Bailey to the ground and ended up losing his helmet.
“Our defense gave up some big plays but also had some goal-line stands after they had given up some yardage,” Akey said. “… So great for the defense there. But then I’m ripping the offense. You’ve got to be kidding me – we’re on the 4-inch line and we can’t get it in there?”
The offensive line, even with a few malfunctions, appears to be coming together. The same five players – led by tackles Matt Cleveland and Tyrone Novikoff – have formed the first unit for the first week of fall camp.
With better protection, Reader threw for 222 yards and four touchdowns Wednesday. His lone interception came early, when Grymes stepped in front of a sideline route.
“I think he’s on track to be a really fine quarterback this year.” Axman said.
“And as some of our young kids progress and can understand what we do, I think he’ll be all the more valuable for us.”
Defensive lineman Aaron Lazaro, a JC transfer, arrived in camp Tuesday after becoming eligible. … Akey said offensive lineman Brady Lisoski, another spring signee, “is on his way” after finishing his necessary class work. … Linebacker Su’a Tuala has yet to join the team, and the eligibility of three freshmen is still pending, Akey said.