It's not really football until you start laying the hits, right? The Vandals were able to do that on Sunday morning, giving coach Paul Petrino the pop sounds he was looking for when he got the team in live tackling sessions.
I have quite a bit of notes, including play-by-play from live tackling and scenario sessions as well as depth chart observations. So how I'm going to organize this is by unloading my notebook in order before getting into depth chart notes and observations by position.
AND THEN, other notes and observations from coaches. Bear with me.
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A couple of plays before tackling became live.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan stood out during the first team period with a 35-yard strike down the left sideline to Jacob Sannon, who jumped up and snatched the football over double-coverage from Armond Hawkins and Isaiah Taylor.
Hawkins made up for that later at the expense of redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Luton. Luton keyed his eyes in on Deon Watson, which Hawkins read, breaking on the ball and intercepting it before Watson could make a play on it.
Linehan made more plays in the 7-on-7 skeleton period. He hit Elijhaa Penny over the middle, leading him to allow Penny to run it the rest of the way for a touchdown. On the goal line, Linehan hit Sannon on the right side, again leading him well enough to allow Sannon to quickly turn upfield for the score.
And then tackling was live. Fair game. Pops, hits, chop blocks, the fun began.
Chris Edwards penetrated the defensive line from his linebacker spot to stop Elijhaa Penny at the line of scrimmage. He made a solid tackle below the knees, an effective way to bring down a runner with upper body strength.
Jayshawn Jordan made a good closing tackle on Callen Hightower later in the drill on a sideline dumpoff throw. Jordan broke on it as soon as it was thrown and kept Hightower from turning upfield.
Hightower was again victimized on a similar play, this time by Isaiah Taylor. Petrino ran over to Taylor, grabbed his jersey, and told him not to break on the play until he released the jersey. Linehan took the snap and immediately turned to throw at Hightower on the sideline. Petrino released Taylor's jersey and he timed the play just right, bringing Hightower to the ground and drawing the praise of his head coach.
Not to pick on Hightower with the last two plays, he's actually had a standout fall thus far and figures to factor in heavily in the wide receiver situation during the first scrimmage.
Running back Aaron Duckworth had the best run during live tackling with his between-the-tackles scamper for 28 yards to set up a red zone situation. It almost seemed like the defensive players forgot it was live tackle. But, give Duckworth credit. Once he hit the second level he made the necessary cuts to get upfield and miss tackles.
Petrino had an angry moment at Linehan on a read-option play. Linehan missed a wide open touchdown throw to Sannon up the left field by choosing the immediately pull down the option and run with it instead of getting his eyes downfield and hit the touchdown.
Freshman Jack Bamis, formerly of Gonzaga Prep, had some of his highlight moments of a breakout Sunday afternoon during this period. He churned through tackles for a nine-yard gain and was given the ball to finish off the first down on the next play.
Idaho finished off the practice with a three-and-out drill for the defense and a two-minute drill for the offense.
Linehan, who overall had a very good weekend of practice, struggled his first go around. First down was a run stuffed for no gain and then Linehan threw three incompletions in a row, including a blatant drop from Sannon over the middle on fourth down.
Linehan brushed all of that off by just hitting Deon Watson over the middle for a 55-yard touchdown his next opportunity. That's one way to make up for a turnover on downs.
Jake Luton was given a chance with the first team in the middle, leading a field goal drive. After throwing away his first-down pass to stop the clock, he hit Sannon and Penny on his next two passes to get into the red zone. Penny churned and churned his feet on the next play to set up a 2nd and 1, which Luton converted on the next play with a quarterback keeper rollout. Eventually Austin Rehkow was called on to attempt a 30-yard field goal from the right hash, which he nailed.
Rehkow finished the practice attempting field goals, hitting from 30 yards, 37 yards, 43 yards and hitting a 48-yarder on his second attempt.
All right, now for depth chart observations.
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Linehan had a very good weekend of practice. Turnovers were minimal for him and he looked sharp throwing the ball down the field. Those are basically the two things the offense really needs to turn around to get wins this season and as long as Linehan can get those things done, he will start. But Jake Luton is showing an improved understanding of the offense and isn't shy about getting out of the pocket to make throws on the run. He's thrown an interception in each practice I've been to, however.
Look out for the freshmen. Denzal Brantley and Jack Bamis stood out on Sunday when the pads came on. Petrino has no plans to redshirt either player right now. They're all going to get carries and whichever players earn the right to play will play.
Deon Watson is the constant starter here, but Trent Cowan has been involved.
It's a four-way battle for offensive tackle right now. Mason Woods and Jeff Travillion are battling for the strong tackle position, while Calvin White and Darius Peterson are battling at quick tackle. But it's possible for any combination of the four to start at the two tackle spots. The best five players will start on the offensive line, regardless of spot. Right now the sure bets to start are Steven Matlock at center, Jordan Rose at strong guard and Dallas Sandberg at quick guard.
Jake Manley is the starter. Riggins, Idaho stand up.
The three spots here are set. Quinton Bradley and Tueni Lupeamanu (say that three times fast) are the defensive ends, Ryan Edwards is the nose tackle. Edwards is really strong, by the way. He lifted Bradley onto his shoulders after Saturday's practice because that's what 323 pound defensive tackles do. Behind them are Kaylyn Ayers and Kevin White at defensive end and Glen Antoine at nose tackle.
Wide open battle here. JUCO transfer Leonard Hazewood was the starter in the spring, but redshirt sophomore Kevin Shelton has pushed him for the spot. Shelton, the little brother of Cleveland Browns first-round pick Danny Shelton, has split time evenly with the first-team and second-team defense. JUCO transfer Garren Jackson will also factor into the battle, but he hasn't been able to hit his stride yet.
Marc Millan has had to sit out with a hamstring injury and his return is unknown. Millan spent the weekend doing stretches to rehab the hamstring. I haven't seen him do any running. In his stead it's been freshman Kaden Elliss, who Petrino raves about. Elliss is guaranteed to see the field this season, based on Petrino's comments. The question then is where will he play? Edwards is the starting strongside linebacker, Millan on the weakside because of his pass rushing ability. Elliss has practiced at both of those positions this week. Could he play in the middle, where Broc Westlake is currently the starter? Breske's 3-4 defensive system is sure to give Elliss plenty of packages to get on the field as well, which I hope to see during the scrimmages. Tony Lashley, Emmanuel Jones and Ed Hall are the depth here after the top four.
This is where the competition really gets fun. It's so fun that we're not allowed to interview any cornerbacks right now. Saturday saw Jayshawn Jordan and Dorian Clark work mostly with the first-team. Sunday saw Isaiah Taylor replace Dorian Clark. There's no clear depth chart at cornerback right now from my perspective. The Vandals hard arguably the worst pass defense in the country last season, so there's really no reason to guarantee anybody a starting spot.
The safeties have a similar-ish situation. Russell Siavii, little brother of former Vandal Rob Siavii, seems to have nabbed a starting spot at safety. He's been a ball-hawk during spring and fall and might be Idaho's best turnover-forcing player in the back seven. Next to him, we'll see. Jordan Grabski has yet to practice because of an illness and Petrino was mum about his return. Jordan Frysinger, Desmond Banks and Armond Hawkins have all gotten time next to Siavii. On Sunday it was Hawkins, who nabbed an interception and certainly looked the part with his speed and size. Kendrick Trotter is playing the role of Siavii's backup.
Austin Rehkow has friends! Patrick LeCorre and Brandon Flores have walked onto the roster to help out during practice and relieve Rehkow during some of the drills. Offensive coordinator Kris Cinkovich, who works with the kickers, says it's important for Rehkow to have that relief during practice. If they stick on the roster they will likely redshirt if Rehkow, a junior, stays healthy. Cade Coffey will join the team in January as a grayshirt.
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MORE NOTES. MOAAAAARRRRRR.
- I got to chat with defensive coordinator Mike Breske. The defense is still in an installation phase, with two more practices dedicated to installation left before all facets of his system will be integrated into the defense. From there, they'll pick and choose which schemes work best for each opponent.
- Idaho scrimmages for the first time on Saturday. Scrimmages are live tackle, except for quarterbacks.
- Tight end Khalin Smith is still finishing one class before he joins the Vandals. If he gets a certain grade, Petrino said, he be able to join the team.
- Freshman quarterback Gunnar Amos was still in shorts on Sunday. He missed Wednesday's practice.
- Wide receivers coach Charley Molnar loves to run and is one of the most in-shape individuals I've ever met. Over the summer he ran a criterium race at the University of Idaho, the Bloomsday marathon, a duathlon in Montana and the Ironman triathlon at Coeur d'Alene. Molnar would often do the Boston Marathon when he was the head coach at UMass.
- The son of the late Bryson Gardner committed to Idaho at practice on Friday.
Alright. Now how about some quotes.
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Defensive line coach Kenny Holmes on Quinton Bradley's leadership role - "Stepping up into the role of being a leader. In the past, I’ve heard he hasn’t been as vocal. Now he’s been vocal a lot with making sure guys finish reps. We do scouting reports on offensive linemen and he makes sure they turn those in. He’s been more vocal in that aspect. And not just in our room but overall with the rest of the defense. With age comes maturity."
Defensive coordinator Mike Breske on defensive installation - "We still have two more two more installation days on defense. We try to get as much of the pie in in fall camp and when we start preparing for Ohio we pick and choose and pick pieces of the pie. By doing that our guys have a knowledge ‘I remember that, we did that at this point in camp’ and we perform at a higher level at it."
Linebackers coach Eric Brown on Chris Edwards' scuffles the first week of practice - "Chris understands that he’s got to be able to control his emotion. Football is an emotional sport and you have to be able to play with emotion to play it well. And, for us to be able to trust him and for his teammates to be able to trust him he has to control his emotion and be able to contain it and use it to his advantage. So that’s the way we talked to him .. When he starts the other stuff, the talking and all that, it takes him out of his game. That was the discussion I had with him the other day and that coach Petrino had with him and I think he took it well."
Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Kris Cinkovich on Steven Matlock taking the reigns at center - "I didn’t think he practiced very good the first day and he’s gotten a lot better since. He’s really taking seriously a leadership role in the middle of the line. He’s a strong guy, he’s not very big but he’s a strong guy. He’s got to battle Ryan Edwards every day. That’s what you want, you want to play against really good players in practice and that’s what he’s doing."
Wide receivers coach Charley Molnar on the development of sophomore receiver David Ungerer - "He caught the ball well but he didn’t always catch it with his hands last year so if the ball was outside of his frame he had a hard time making those plays. He’s really improved his craft, he’s become much more of a hands catcher, which is the mark of an excellent receiver. I think his hands right now are about as good as anybody we have."
Center Steven Matlock on last year's pass protection woes - "Being ranked one of the last teams in sacks wasn’t the greatest. I read an article about it a few days ago and we’re the answer, not the question anymore. That’s what we believe in, that’s what we’re striving for and we’re going to make a change — bottom line."