The University of Idaho’s hiring of Dennis Erickson six weeks ago had an immediate effect on ticket sales, booster donations and the interest level in the football program.
Erickson will begin trying to generate a similar effect on the actual football team at 10 a.m. today when the Vandals take the field for their first spring practice.
After a year away from the sidelines, Erickson is happy to be back coaching, but not quite sure what to expect.
“It seems like I haven’t been on the field in a long time, which I haven’t,” Erickson said. “It’s exciting just to get back out there, No. 1, but more than anything it’s just to see where we’re at and get a chance to look at our players.
“You can look at them on tape and you can look at them in the weight room, but we’ve just got to find out who the players are. We’ve got a lot of teaching to do on both sides of the ball.”
Teaching, coaching and winning have been Erickson staples through the years. In his first tour at Idaho in the early 1980s, he took over a 3-8 program and transformed UI into a Big Sky power by winning 32 games in his four seasons.
The landscape has changed considerably. Idaho is now in the Western Athletic Conference and has won 11 games combined the last five years. Erickson teams have won 10 or more games six times in his 17 seasons as a collegiate head coach, but even the most optimistic Vandals fan understands it will take some time to rebuild the program.
“It depends on what you consider a factor (in the WAC), but we’re going to be competitive next year,” Erickson said. “We’ve got some guys that are pretty good players and if we stay healthy we can be competitive. I look at this team and they’re hungry.”
Erickson’s forte is offense, where he’ll welcome an interesting unit. There’s quarterback Steve Wichman, who endured an up-and-down 2005 season. Wichman’s success will likely be tethered to the performance of the line and the running game, which sagged last year after Jayson Bird suffered a broken collarbone.
“When you have the opportunity to start a guy that’s played and played well it makes it a lot easier,” Erickson said of Wichman. “The things Steve will deal with are terminology changes and a lot of different things we do. We’ve got to find a way to run the ball. Everybody talks about the (18 interceptions), but if you can run it you’re going to put the quarterback in a position where he doesn’t have to force things and you get coverages you’re able to complete balls against.”
Numerous linemen have starting experience, including Nate VanderPol, Billy Bates, Jade Tadvick, Kris Anderson, Marcis Fennell and Adam Korby, but depth is a concern. Senior Hank Therien left the team and Desmond Clark (recurring migraines) is focusing on school.
The return of tight end Luke Smith-Anderson, who has had three seasons cut short by injuries, should provide a big boost.
Receiving options include Wendell Octave, Tracy Ford, Matt Askew, Lee Smith, Wes Williams, Ryan Heacock and Tracy McCormick. Ford also could see time at running back.
The defense returns a fair share of experienced players. Familiar names include linemen Charles Campbell, Ben Alexander, Siua Musika, Ryan Davis, Alex Toailoa, Josh Shaw and Brandon Ogletree; linebackers Josh Bousman, David Vobora and Robert Davis; and defensive backs Jason Martin, DeAngelo Ramsey, D.J. Dykes, Tone Taupule and Jevon Butler. Junior college transfer Stanley Franks figures to be in the mix at cornerback.
“We’ve got to replace Cole (Snyder),” Erickson said of his defensive priority. “That guy made every tackle at middle linebacker.”
Idaho will scrimmage at Lake City High at 11 a.m. on April 15. The annual Silver and Gold spring game is April 21. … Three junior college players are on campus: defensive linemen Jon Dominguez and George Fa’avae and Franks. Highly touted running back Brian Flowers may arrive this fall if he completes his two-year degree.
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