Senior middle linebacker JO ARTIS RATTI, sporting a new jersey number (now wearing #1), and the rest of the Vandals ushered in the Robb Akey era with the start of spring drills this weekend. Idaho practiced Friday and Saturday in helmets only, and Monday afternoon hit the practice fields in full gear.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS... An extremely spirited full contact practice session took place Monday as the team put on full gear for the first time this spring. Without a doubt, the defense is WAY ahead of the offense, which is to be expected considering a new offensive philosophy is being installed with several new faces (including a battle for starting quarterback), while the defense returns largely intact and loaded with upperclassmen. Offensively the quarterback race appears to be largely wide open, which means the passing game is going to take time to get rolling. Defensively, backfield depth will be a focus throughout spring and fall camp behind a linebacker unit that is loaded and a defensive line that is showing continued development.
SHOTS DELIVERED... It became apparent early this afternoon that the team was looking forward to contact this spring. In a full contact 11-on-11 scrimmage, sophomore Shiloh Keo (a Freshman All-American last fall) nabbed an interception and was returning it when he took a decent shot from junior wide receiver Tracy Ford. On the next play, Ford caught a pass and immediately took a return shot from senior cornerback Stanley Franks, a First Team All-WAC selection last fall who also earned All-American recognition as the nation's leader in interceptions on the season.
SORTING OUT THE HOSSES... Idaho lost two 4-year starters on the left side of the line to graduation. But what their replacements lack in experience is offset by tremendous size and athletic ability. The left side certainly is not finalized, but at the top of the list is mountainous sophomore left guard Mike Iupati (6-6, 330) and junior left tackle Billy Bates (6-5, 285). Bates, the #6 prospect in the state of Oregon as a senior in high school, is a true-junior, having started three games as a true- freshman when starter Nate VanderPol went down with an injury against Washington. He brings experience to the position and is filling out his 6-5 frame nicely. At left guard appears to be Iupati, who transferred to Idaho as a sophomore and came out of highschool as a touted prospect with offers from UTEP and Arizona.
Sophomore left guard Mike Iupati (6-6, 330)
The right side of the line is loaded with experience. At center is 3-year starter Adam Korby, named to the 2006 Outland Trophy watch list. At right tackle is Kris Anderson, a starter on the Idaho line since his redshirt freshman year. Right guard again looks to be split between senior Marcis Fennell (played as a true freshman) and redshirt sophomore Adam Juratovac. The split worked well in 2006, and there is no reason to think it won't work again in 2007. Top backups who will be pressing this unit throughout spring and fall are Bryce Sinclair (6-5, 345, RS-So) at right tackle, Irvin Stevens (6-3, 275, RS-So) at center, and Kellen Beam (6-7, 270, RS-Fr) at left tackle, among others.
Junior left tackle Billy Bates (6-5, 285)
JUST FOR KICKS... At the end of practice the kickers were centerstage and looked pretty good. Of particular note, senior Tino Amancio connected on attempts from 42 and 48 yards in live action.
TRIUMPHANT RETURN... Senior defensive end George Fa'avae (6-2, 258) missed the first couple practices as he sorted his academic situation out. We had been informed that several of the six Vandals who are missing spring drills to focus on academics (defensively Fa'avae, Alex Toaloa and Adam Shamion; offensively Tariq Ikharo, Marlon Haynes, and Brian Flowers) could rejoin the team this spring for spring camp. Fa'avae is the first of the group to get back on the field, and we will continue to monitor the situation and report updates as they happen.
Senior defensive end George Fa'avae.
Senior tightend / H-Back Rolly Lumbala lines up next to junior right tackle Kris Anderson.
Classic Palouse spring, with snow showers between sun bursts. Linemen Kellen Beam (75) and Irvin Stevens (69) run drills.
The Vandal defense, led by middle linebacker Joartis Ratti, weak inside linebacker David Vobora, and cornerback Stanley Franks.