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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Matt Linehan’s health crucial to Vandals’ success

Idaho football coach Paul Petrino sat down on Wednesday to answer questions about his team, although he’s still in the process of gathering his own answers about the Vandals. Petrino and the Vandals hold their first practice at 6 p.m. on Thursday and will hold a scrimmage on Aug. 20 at 10 a.m.

The offense could be really good, provided quarterback Matt Linehan is healthy. If not, depth at the most important position is razor-thin thanks to Jake Luton’s transfer, and Petrino’s freshman son Mason is already No. 3 on the depth chart.

“We’ve seen (Linehan) move around in the weight room and he’s doing really well,” Petrino said. “He was cleared by the doctors this week and as the summer went on, he was able to do more in the weight room.”

If Linehan is healthy, he will lead an offense that returns four starters on the offensive line, who have combined to make 82 starts in their respective careers. Petrino announced on Wednesday that center Steven Matlock has been reinstated; Matlock was suspended from the team after he was incited for theft last season.

The Vandals are deep at running back, and the competition for playing time there will be among the most watched competitions on the team this spring. Petrino said that he is open to having three players contribute, but acknowledged that Aaron Duckworth is the clubhouse leader to be the team’s primary rusher.

“He probably had the best spring of all of them,” Petrino said. “I think all of them going into the fall are going to go out there and compete.”

Questions abound on the defensive side of the ball, particularly about whether or not the Vandals will be able to pressure opposing passers after UI ranked second-to-last in the Sun Belt in sack rate last season.

Petrino said that having defensive coordinator Mike Breske, cornerbacks coach Aric Williams and defensive line coach Kenny Holmes should yield a defense with a little more teeth. That, plus improved depth along the defensive line.

“You always want to put pressure on the quarterback and get after him. That’s not just the d-line, that’s everybody,” Petrino said. “But it starts up front and I think they’ll improve. There’s a lot of depth and there was a lot of competition this spring, and I think they’ll get after each other.”

The Vandals, who went 4-8 last year, were picked to finish eighth in their 11-team conference in the Sun Belt preseason media poll. But the Vandals were just a couple of fourth quarters away from the third bowl game in program history last year, and have high hopes for this season.

“We had a great summer,” Petrino said. “We worked really hard and I think there’s a lot of excitement and our expectations are high. Now we have to go make it happen.”

Wyoming cancels date with Vandals

The UI’s decision to drop down to the FCS after next season is already causing problems for the Vandals’ schedule makers, who have to find a new 2018 opponent after Wyoming announced on Wednesday that it will not play its previously scheduled game in Moscow.

The Cowboys are not the first team to pull the plug on a game with the Vandals this offseason; Nevada recently announced that it no longer plans to play its scheduled 2017 game against UI.