The one time Wayne Eades made a tackle in the backfield during an Idaho practice this week, it unleased a tirade from coach Paul Petrino directed at the offensive line.
These things aren’t supposed to happen. Typically, the most notice Eades should draw is when he jogs onto the field before a game. When the ball is snapped, he disappears into a maelstrom of large bodies across the line. As a nose guard, he locks up with an offensive guard, tries to push him back into the quarterback and is alert to stop any running plays between the center-guard gap. After a pass, he spins away from the guard and pursues the play.
For most people, this would all be an exercise in futility. Collapsing a pocket is hard. At nearly 280 pounds, trying to catch up with a pass play is impossible. The 25 quarterback sacks Eades managed as a high school senior in Memphis, Tennessee, may be the last he’ll ever get. In many Vandals games this fall, he may never make a tackle.
The whole business of playing nose guard conjures Frank Sinatra singing about a ram and a dam and high hopes.
But Eades relishes it: “It’s physical. I like that.”
For Idaho’s defense, the willingness of Eades and other Vandals nose guards to reduce football to a shoving contest and keep buttin’ that dam is essential. As an immovable object in the middle of the line, he helps prevent offensive linemen from reaching out to block the Vandals’ standout linebackers, allowing them to make tackles. The pass rush he applies up the middle lets the defensive tackles and end attack the edges of pass protection without being double-teamed. If they can get pressure on a quarterback, the Vandals don’t have to commit linebackers or safeties to the rush and can use them to cover receivers.
As with much of the defensive line, the Vandals at nose guard this spring are young and benefiting from on-the-job training. The most experienced nose guard, senior D.J. Henderson, is injured. His biggest contribution this week was taking snaps and simulating a quarterback during defensive line drills.
“It’s going to be nose guard by committee this fall,” defensive coordinator Mike Breske acknowledges. Eades, a redshirt sophomore; Rahsaan Crawford, a redshirt sophomore and Idaho’s largest nose guard at 330 pounds; Dylan Beeler, a redshirt sophomore from Clarkston; and Nate DeGraw, a redshirt freshman from Post Falls, are all expected to contribute as relative newcomers, “and we’ll be getting D.J. back,” Breske says.
“We’ve got a good nucleus this spring. Everybody’s new. But that’s OK.”
Idaho practices at a high tempo, which is helpful for the young defensive linemen trying to put theory into practice.
“From the meeting room to the grass carpet out here sometimes things are lost,” says Breske. “It’s great that they’re getting a lot of reps.”
Not large for a nose guard, Eades is notably quick. This is an asset, he says. Also, he believes his technique generally has improved from a year ago: “I’m working on keeping my hands tighter and getting a good turn and burst to the ball.” He takes work home with him, practicing a hand-cupping drill against walls to ensure he gets a tightly focused strike against an offensive lineman when he fires across the line.
Elsewhere on the defensive front, Breske calls the play of Cameron Townsend, a 282-pound junior college transfer from Moorpark (California) College, “outstanding,” and a transfer from East Mississippi Community College, Aarron Boatright, a 237-pound defensive end who helped the Lions to the 2017 National Junior College Athletic Association national championship, has arrived in Moscow for the final week of spring practice. “He’s starting to come along. He’s a baby now. He’s only had four practices,” says Breske.
“We’re expecting good things from him.”
As the Vandals look to the conclusion of spring practice with the Silver and Gold game Friday, Breske says his next task will be to develop a two-deep roster over the summer.
“Then August will come around, and we’ll start all over again.”
Eades and his teammates at nose guard will resume hammering at the middle of offensive lines – in obscurity but enthusiastically – and for the Vandals defense, crucially.
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