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Idaho football: Friday practice report, focus on wide receivers

If Paul Petrino gets his wish, Jermaine Johnson will be a name Vandal fans will be fond of come the Thursday night opener against Ohio in the fall. 

The senior wide receiver, who arrived at Idaho last season from New Mexico Military Institute (junior college), had his best day of spring ball with five catches.

But more importantly, he had no drops.

(Read more about the wide receivers below). 

Johnson has unique physical attributes that alone are carving a spot on the wide receiver depth chart for him. He's 6-foot-4 and has the speed to get down the field quickly.

But his problems have been at the most fundamental level: Catching the football. 

Johnson prevented himself from moving further up the depth chart and consistently into formations with the first team until he figured those problems out.

He may have turned that corner Friday afternoon with five catches, including a deep touchdown down the right sideline in which he made a good adjustment to the ball in the air over his defender.

He then caught comeback routes on the sideline and even a hot pass from Jake Luton over the middle in which he won positioning against the defender and cradled it with his body.  

"He’s taken a small step every single day this spring and we’re hoping in the next three practices he takes on giant step forward," wide receivers coach Charley Molnar said. "If he can do that he’ll really help himself with his own confidence, with the confidence that his teammates have in him and the confidence his coaches have in him going into the summer."

Taking that giant step may include catching a pass during Monday's scrimmage, the third of the spring. Johnson has combined for zero receptions during the first two scrimmages, being clearly outplayed by Jacob Sannon and David Ungerer and even recent junior college arrival Callen Hightower. 

Depth at wide receiver is one of the bigger question marks this spring with only 30 receptions of experience returning from last season between Ungerer and Sannon. 

Josh McCain led the team last season with 76 receptions, Richard Montgomery (who left the team after his sophomore season) was second on the team with 50. 

Deon Watson had 37 receptions, but is taking that experience to the tight end position. 

The Vandals received a massive boost when Dezmon Epps re-joined the program after being dismissed prior to the 2014 season. Epps caught 79 passes in 2013, his junior campaign. 

He hasn't slowed down during spring ball, again demonstrating on Friday why he will be Idaho's top threat at the skill positions. He's fast, can get off the line against press coverage and runs clean, crisp routes. 

It'll be up to Ungerer and Sannon to take advantage of all the attention Epps will Garner, which is the 5-foot-8 Ungerer is working hard on getting off the press at his outside receiver position. 

"It’s all technique, and that’s something I struggled with the second week of spring ball was using my technique and coach had us get up at 5:30 in the morning a couple times just to work with a few of us on our technique and that’s helped up go a long way," Ungerer said. "It’s gotten a lot better and that’s helped me get open against the press."

His size isn't common for receivers who play on the outside, though it's irrelevant in Idaho's system. 

It's quite simple, actually. The three best receivers will see the field the most.

"We don’t really care about tall outside receivers or short inside receivers. We’re just going to play the three best players on our squad, those are the three guys that are going to be out there," Molnar said. "The advantage I think he has is his ability to set guys up and beat them, he’s got a great sixth sense about him. FBI as we call it, and I’ll watch him day after day use it and I’ll tell him every single day ‘That was pretty darn good.’"

And on the attention Epps is sure to get from opposing defenses, Ungerer is confident in his opportunity to get favorable match-ups. 

"So, that’s definitely on my mind, I definitely think that with Dez getting double teamed that it’s going to open up opportunities for me so I have to try to win on every play to get the ball," Ungerer said. 

- - - - - 

Here are some other notes and quotes from practice. 

- Jordan Grabski was absent from practice because of a field trip. He will be back for the scrimmage. Jordan Frysinger is his back up. 

- Speaking of the scrimmage, Petrino moved it from Friday to Monday because he wants to give some of his players the weekend to get healthy. Jordan Rose and Aaron Duckworth to be specific.

- Duckworth was playing but in a red no-contact jersey. Jordan Rose wasn't a participant, but did some jogging on his injured ankle. Chris Edwards was suited up and practicing lightly. 

- Patrick Johnson is slotting in for Jordan Rose at his guard spot. Calvin White again got the go at quick tackle, he's certainly leading the competition to be the fifth offensive lineman. 

- Quinton Bradley took a huge hit from, I believe, Dallas Sandberg during a pass-rushing play and was on the ground for a good five minutes. But he returned around 30 minutes later and finished the practice. 

- The cornerback competition is still hot. Dorian Clark worked with Jayshawn Jordan with the ones. Kendrick Trotter teamed with Isaiah Taylor and DJ Hampton with the twos. 

 - - - - 

Now for some good quotes. 

Paul Petrino on some altercations during practice:  "That’s typical spring ball. When you see each other for 15 straight days, hitting each other you’re going to get angry with each other. But when you step off that field we all have to be together, we have to be a fist and be one team ... I like it when they get after each other and compete, but I’m not a big talk guy. I’m in a show-me world. Talking doesn’t mean anything to me."

David Ungerer on Dezmon Epps: "One thing, Dez helps us work harder and play harder just with his mentality and how he plays. He plays hard and tries to get as many reps and catches as he can. And that’s translated to us, so he’s been a great leader in that way. The other thing to, teams are going to have to double him throughout the year because he’s the main focus of our offense."

That's all for today. See you Monday. 

 


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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