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Bigger, faster Idaho Vandals hold back-to-back scrimmages

UPDATED: Sat., Aug. 17, 2019, 8:39 p.m.

With head coach Paul Petrino watching in the background, Vandals defensive back Mujeeb Rufai, right, breaks up a pass to wide reciever Sean McCormick (10) on Saturday afternoon, Aug. 17, 2109, at the Kibbie Dome. (Kai Eiselein / University of Idaho)
With head coach Paul Petrino watching in the background, Vandals defensive back Mujeeb Rufai, right, breaks up a pass to wide reciever Sean McCormick (10) on Saturday afternoon, Aug. 17, 2109, at the Kibbie Dome. (Kai Eiselein / University of Idaho)

With two weeks to go before the season opener, Idaho’s practices will begin to focus heavily on its plan for Penn State, according to head coach Paul Petrino.

The first half of preseason camp, however, has shown Petrino that the Vandals have some advantages over last year’s 4-7 squad.

“We’re bigger up front on defense. We’re faster at the skill positions,” Petrino said after a Saturday practice that prioritized special teams. It followed a Friday session that featured 130 plays of live tackling.

It would be hard for the Vandals not to be bigger on defense, with 350-pounders Jonah Kim and Noah Elliss lining up for them. So far, Kim has been primarily working at nose tackle, where he absorbs the block of the center and a guard, and Elliss as a 3-technique tackle, providing an interior pass rush.

“But we’re exposing them to both positions,” according to defensive coordinator Mike Breske. As they learn both jobs, Kim and Elliss could become interchangeable. “We might go left and right,” defensive line coach Luther Elliss said.

Friday, a pair of offensive linemen were rising to the challenge of blocking those giants. Logan Floyd was a freshman All-America at tackle last year. In addition to playing there, he is getting a long look at center this preseason. Friday he teamed with guard Darius Archie as an effective double-team blocking duo, and though they each gave up about 40 pounds to Kim and Elliss, they won their share of battles in the interior line.

“We’ve got to stay low, emphasize pad level,” said Floyd.

“Noah Elliss is strong. He’s a big, strong guy. I have to get on him. I can’t be passive with him. Jonah is big, and he’s fast for his size,” Archie added. He said the challenge for he and Floyd is “we’ve got to beat them to the punch. But it’s fun.”

Neither Colton Richardson nor Mason Petrino at quarterback has taken a definitive step to claim a starter’s role. Each threw for touchdowns Friday, and Richardson served as a lead blocker for Roshaun Johnson’s score on a goal line run. But Richardson also fumbled a snap, and defenders were trying to jump Petrino’s throws.

The two alternated at quarterback much of last season, and Paul Petrino said that will continue through the early season, although he might give each a more extended opportunity to run the team, perhaps play for a quarter at a time. But Saturday he reiterated what he said when Idaho began preseason practices. After the Vandals’ third game, against Wyoming, he wants to name a starter.

“That’s still my plan,” he said.

One of the hardest-working players for the Vandals is All-America Cade Coffey, who is handling kickoffs, field goals and punts again. He was sweating profusely following Saturday’s special teams practice, but he said paying attention to small details has allowed him to add distance to his punts this year. One ball jumped off his foot and traveled nearly 70 yards.

Coffey said he is eager for the season to get under way “I’m ready to go,” and his Vandals teammates are bringing the same enthusiasm to preseason practices.

“Definitely, I can tell the energy every single day,” he said.

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