The star of the University of Idaho’s football preseason practices the last few days might be its four-decades-old Kibbie Dome.
It’s considerably less than 90 degrees in there when the Vandals practice. The building seems to do a good job of keeping the fire smoke and harvest dust outside, so an Idaho player after a two-hour workout doesn’t feel like he just chain-smoked a pack of Marlboros.
“It’s an advantage for us,” junior cornerback Dorian Clark said. “We’re very thankful for the field.”
It contributes to a practice tempo and focus that has coach Paul Petrino generally pleased this week.
“Guys flew around,” he said following Tuesday’s session. “On blitz pickup, the offense got after the ‘D’ a bit, but the rest of the day was pretty much equal, which is what you want to see.”
The absence of key senior leadership hasn’t interfered with what Idaho has been able to accomplish, Petrino said.
Quarterback Matt Linehan took a sick day Tuesday, and offensive tackle Jordan Rose missed Monday and Tuesday with a similar ailment.
“I hope it doesn’t go through the whole team,” Petrino said.
Sophomore Mason Petrino has been swinging between working with the quarterbacks and receivers, but he mostly played quarterback Tuesday. He joined junior A.J. Woodin and freshmen Colton Richardson and Dylan Lemle.
Petrino and Richardson each completed a long throw downfield. If they weren’t Linehan, all four at least looked competent in the bread-and-butter portion of Idaho’s passing game – the short, precise and often slanting routes that make playing defense against the Vandals seem like a geometry pop quiz.
On an offensive line on which Rose is the only senior, Petrino pointed to sophomore Cameron Weller and junior Sean Tulette as a pair who took advantage of additional reps this week.
Sophomore Zion Dixon and redshirt freshman Connor Vrba have also stood out during preseason camp. Still, on such a young line, Rose is missed.
“We had a mat drill this summer when Jordan was not there,” Weller said. “We were all over the place, like a chicken with our head cut off.”
As a 19-year-old junior college transfer, Weller is still getting used to Division I football.
“Every play you might be facing a future NFLer,” he said. “In our team meeting, Coach ‘P’ said just trust him with the amount of work he’s giving us. He said we’ll roll into that first game ready.”
Petrino also said a faster defense will be a Vandals attribute this season. At cornerback, Clark is a connoisseur of quickness.
“It feels a lot faster being out there this year,” Clark said. “Everybody is running to the ball.”
The Vandals’ team motto this year is “raise the bar.” Clark said the defense has one of its own: “Tap the hat.”
“After someone makes a big play, we run up and tap the hat,” he said. “We want to play with passion, keep that enthusiasm going on the dark side.”
Idaho has its first fall scrimmage set for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Kibbie Dome.