MOSCOW, Idaho – Their first practice in full pads isn’t until Thursday. Still, the Idaho Vandals, especially a few rambunctious defensive players, spent much of Monday’s fall camp opener going as close to full tilt as possible for a shirts-and-shorts session.
The 11-on-11 team scrimmages got physical at several points – a little too physical for Paul Petrino’s liking. But the second-year coach doesn’t mind the general trend.
He has a more athletic, faster and deeper team than a year ago, one that knows the fast-paced practice tempo that he demands.
Even the players can sense it.
“I think we’re a better team already,” sophomore running back and receiver Richard Montgomery said. “But there’s still some stuff that we’ve got to clean up as a whole from every position.”
The most glaring issues: drops from receivers and missed opportunities from quarterbacks Chad Chalich and Matt Linehan. Neither signal-caller was sharp, and both said they might have been too amped up after preparing all summer for Day 1 of camp.
“To be honest with you, I thought they both needed to practice better,” Petrino said. “They both probably practiced better all spring than they did today. They looked a little rusty today.”
The QBs split reps evenly for most of the 2 1/2-hour practice, with true freshman Jake Luton getting sporadic snaps. Luton, a 6-foot-6 native of Lake Stevens, Washington, ended Monday’s scrimmage with a perfect deep ball to newcomer Jermaine Johnson.
Johnson bobbled the throw and didn’t bring in the catch, but Luton made an impression.
“Jake’s got all kinds of talent,” Petrino said. “He’s got a big arm. He’s just new. Talent-wise, he’s up there. You’ve got three quarterbacks like Chad, Matt and Jake, and they’re sophomores and freshmen or redshirt freshmen. That’s a good thing for the program.”
Petrino was most impressed by the offensive line and secondary, two position groups that played poorly last season when UI slogged through a 1-11 season. He also couldn’t help but notice the physical stature of two new junior-college signees – 6-foot-2, 248-pound running back Elijah Penny and 6-2, 217-pound safety Chris Edwards.
Regarding Penny, who flashed solid speed for his size, Petrino said, “I hope he looks that good in pads. If he’ll just be tough, as big as he is, how are they going to tackle him?”
Because it failed to meet Academic Progress Rate standards, Idaho will lose four hours of practice time per week during the season (in addition to not being eligible for the postseason). So Petrino has stressed the importance of practicing efficiently. He got on linebacker Irving Steele for going too aggressively on back-to-back scrimmage plays, yelling at him, “That’s not how you act!”
“We’ve got to practice smart, we’ve got to practice fast,” he said. “Harder than anyone in the country, but smarter too, so we don’t lose anybody (to injury).”