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Defense wins Idaho’s second scrimmage of the spring

The Vandals scrimmaged for the second time this spring this afternoon at the Kibbie Dome. It was less eventful than the first one in terms of depth chart movement and the focus on the quarterbacks, but it revealed some about how the defense is going to go about its business this season. 

Read on for more. 

The spark notes on this scrimmage is that if the offense wasn't putting up big plays then they weren't moving the football very efficiently. 

The defensive front seven had a lot to do with that. The defense put up 32 tackles for loss, 18 of them sacks, constantly blowing up the pocket for Matt Linehan and Jake Luton. 

Senior Quinton Bradley led the onslaught with six tackles for loss, five of them sacks. He's settling into his new three-technique defensive end role well, chewing up offensive guards instead of trying to elude offensive tackles. 

Here's my unloaded notebook followed by my transcript of quotes from today:

- The offensive line a still a work in progress. Today I saw Mason Woods at strong tackle, Jordan Rose at strong guard, Steven Matlock at center, Dallas Sandberg at quick tackle and Calvin White at quick tackle. Rose, however, left the scrimmage with what looked like a foot injury, on crutches. Idaho coach Paul Petrino didn't think it was serious. Patrick Johnson filled in at strong guard with Rose out. 

- Armond Hawkins is playing some SAM linebacker with Chris Edwards out, also sometimes playing a "Nickel" role. He had an interception and a sack today, which should speak to the role that Idaho hopes to use him in this season. 

- Elijhaa Penny was relatively tamed today. He opened the scrimmage with a 47-yard touchdown run, busting through tackles and racing down the sideline. But it was give and take from there, pumping out 4.1 yards per carry after that touchdown run. 

- Deon Watson had six catches today for 135 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown catch in which he won a foot race down the right sideline. Speed was his problem at wide receiver, but has turned into an advantage with his move to tight end. Tight ends coach Al Pupunu hopes to get him up to about 230 pounds by the time the season starts. 

- Jake Luton is coming along, but there are still decisions he makes that make me cringe. One such case was obliviously throwing into double coverage at a clearly not-open wide receiver. Luckily for him, Elijah Williams dropped the interception (which drew a loud scream from corners coach Aric Williams up in the coaches booth). But then he displays the arm that makes me think he has a good future ahead of him. His 38-yard touchdown toss to Deon Watson over the middle was a good read and delivered just enough touch on it that he threw it over the defense but in stride with Watson. He's not over-shooting deep passes which is an encouraging sign for a young gunslinger with a cannon. 

- Matt Linehan is becoming more and more comfortable as a runner and getting outside of the pocket. Two of his three touchdown throws were him rolling out to buy time and him airing it out accurately down the field. He also made quite a few plays with his feet. His status atop the depth chart probably won't be challenged this spring. It'll be up to Luton to improve enough over the summer to push him in the fall. 

- The secondary is still struggling to contain passes over the top. Jordan Grabski was a repeat offender this afternoon. Him and Siavii are still the starting safeties, but the starting corners might not be as safe. Perhaps that's why freshman and Idaho Falls product Elijah Williams was getting a lot of play with the second team. 

- Kaden Elliss is a "beast," as Paul Petrino put it. The freshman had 17 tackles, leading the scrimmage in tackles again today. Armond Hawkins has cut down his first-team looks from last week, but he's turning into a good piece of depth for the Vandals defense while Chris Edwards is out with an ankle injury. 

- Isaiah Saunders left on crutches during the scrimmage with his left foot wrapped up. Aaron Duckworth didn't participate today, although he was suited up and wearing a red jersey after taking a hard hit during last Saturday's scrimmage. We don't have official word on what his injury is. 

- Dezmon Epps led all receivers with 165 yards because Dezmon Epps is a very good football player and will catch a lot of passes this season if he stays healthy and out of trouble. 

Now, to unload my quote book. 

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Linebackers coach Eric Brown

On Armond Hawkins playing Nickel Backer: "He did a good job, he's athletic and that's what we're looking for at that position. He did a real good job of staying underneath on kind of a high-low route and got an interception, something we're looking for out of him."
On what the defense is doing to stop the run better: "We've been working tackling, we've been working striking blocks, we're just focused on learning how to track and tackle and play in space and having some guys in there who can play downhill and being physical." 
On Marc Millan's role in the 3-4 defense: "He's going to have to more opportunities to blitz, which is a good thing for Marc. He's got good opportunities to do what he does best. And kind of keep him out of the things he doesn't do as well. I think it's a real good defense for him." 

Tight ends coach Al Pupunu

On Deon Watson's day: "He did some good things today, still gotta get better at that position, still got some things he’s got to learn, especially blocking at the perimeter. He’s got the skills and talent to do it. Just keep getting used to driving guys, keep getting movement. Get used to blocking 300 pounders as opposed to before he was stock-blocking 150 pounder secondary guys."
On getting faster and bigger: "He’s getting stronger out there right now. Trent did some good things out there as well. He’s tough, still a little light. We’re at 220 right now, hopefully by the end of spring ball we’ll be about 230, 235."

Linebacker Marc Millan

On the new defensive scheme creating pressure: "With the scheme that we have now we’re always getting pressure from somewhere, the safeties are coming down and the linebackers can come from anywhere, it’s really fun."
On BUCK Leonard Hazewood: "Lenny is awesome, he’s a great addition to our defense. he’s fast, he’s smart, he’s really physical, he’s going to be a baller this season."
On the play of Kaden Elliss: "He’s coming into his own, I told him don’t think, just react, just play. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do this season and just watch him grow." 

Defensive end Quinton Bradley

On the scrimmage: "I think we dominated today, I mean, offense did what they could and we had a good day today. We showed them we can stop them any time, any given day, I think it’s a props to the defense today." 
On differene between 4-3 DE and 3-4 DE: "You got to deal with a fat person before you have to get out there. Now I have to handle a 350 pound person, and then get after it, but I’m getting stronger for it."

Coach Paul Petrino

Thoughts on the day: "I thought early on the offense made a couple big plays and then later on the defense got after them. Which was good to be,  It’s the first scrimmage since I’ve been here that the defense got after them that much and they did probably for the last 50 plays. They really got after them. We have to tackle better in the secondary. The D-Line really played well today. Kaden Elliss was a beast, he looked like the best football player on the field today."
On quarterback play: "They did some good things early, then there’s some things where we have some wide open touchdowns and we miss them, can’t have that." 
On what he wanted to see: "I wanted to see the defense go against some option stuff, wanted to have a period where I threw a lot of play-action, for both the offense and the defense and I wanted to get as many live tackles as we could, I thought we accomplished all of those."

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Click here for full stats from the scrimmage

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And here is my full edited story featured in Sunday's paper. 


Sean Kramer
Sean Kramer is a freelance correspondent who covers the University of Idaho football team and men's basketball team.

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