MOSCOW, Idaho – Entering spring football practice with a work-in-progress approach is nothing new at Idaho. For coach Robb Akey, it’s part of developing a long-suffering program.
But unlike the past few years, when UI had relative stability at quarterback and among its coaches, this spring feels different.
The first of 15 practice sessions for the Vandals is today at 3 p.m. in the Kibbie Dome. After a two-win season last year and major changes in the offseason, Idaho has unanswered questions at almost every position on offense – and yet-to-be-filled spots on its offensive staff.
Here are the key story lines to follow for UI throughout spring, which culminates with the Silver and Gold game on April 20.
Who will be quarterback?
For the first time in Akey’s six years, Idaho doesn’t have a clear-cut starting QB going into spring. Dominique Blackman and redshirt junior Taylor Davis will compete for the job, while Logan Bushnell will be the third QB.
Davis started three games last year, but completed only 45.2 percent of his passes. Blackman, a 6-foot-5, 253-pound left-hander, sat out 2011 after transferring from Old Dominion.
Neither has an advantage at this point, and Akey said the competition might extend into fall camp if there’s not a discernable favorite by the end of spring.
“I think we’ve got two very talented young men there, both who want this job in a bad, bad way,” he said.
How will staff shape up?
Akey announced the hiring of Gordy Shaw as run game coordinator/offensive line coach on Monday, but he still has yet to hire a running backs or receivers coach. One of the vacant spots on his staff will be filled soon, Akey said, while the other is “probably not going to be for quite a while.”
Jason Gesser was promoted to offensive coordinator/QBs coach and Al Pupunu remains as tight ends coach. But those are the only holdovers among offensive assistants.
Down two coaches in spring, Akey will rely on Gesser, Shaw and Pupunu to oversee a mishmash of position groups.
Who will take over on O-line?
The Vandals lost starting guard Sam Tupua and tackles Matt Cleveland and Tyrone Novikoff to graduation. Three possible fill-ins – Spencer Beale, Kyle Salm and Ben Westrum – will either be limited or miss spring with injuries.
UI will lean on center Mike Marboe and guard A.J. Jones, as well as veterans Guy Reynolds and Jordan Johnson. Brady Lisoski and newcomer Nick Von Rotz are candidates for starting tackle jobs, while Dallas Sandberg and Cody Elenz have impressed Akey with the gains they’ve made in the weight room.
“We’re going to have a lot of opportunity and a lot of work for this crew this spring,” Akey said. “And obviously that’s going to be very, very important. Just as important as who the starting quarterback is going to be.”
What about skill positions?
The Vandals lacked explosiveness on offense last year, and they lost two of their key playmakers – Kama Bailey and Princeton McCarty. Akey hopes Ryan Bass, finally healthy after transferring from Arizona State, will emerge at running back to lead a group that includes newcomer James Baker and redshirt freshmen Todd Handley and Justin Parkins.
At receiver, UI will be without top wideout Justin Veltung (turf toe) in spring and slot receiver Marcel Posey (broken wrist) will be limited. Senior-to-be Mike Scott is the top healthy returner.
Can the defense improve?
By far the most stable unit is Idaho’s defense, which returns all but a few key starters and welcomes back linebacker Robert Siavii and safety Thaad Thompson after yearlong knee injuries.
The strength of the defense should at linebacker and along the line, where the Vandals have depth and experience. Akey also likes UI’s group of safeties.