|It's game week!|
Robb Akey knows one thing for certain - competition within the ranks will make any football team better.
After nearly four weeks of fall practices, he's certain that applies to the Idaho Vandals, who are showing signs of marked improvement on the offensive and defensive fronts as well as stability in the backfields and among the receiving corps. Battles still are being waged in the secondary but Akey is confident those competitions only will serve to strengthen the unit.
"We're giving them the opportunity right now to find out if they'll write a depth chart for us," Akey said. "We're giving them the opportunity. That's the best part. These guys are going out and competing. When you have jobs on the line, that adds to the competitive level of things."
Akey talks a bit in intangibles when assessing the 2011 Vandals - like their competitiveness, having a sense of urgency, and washing away the bitter taste of a 2010 that didn't meet their expectations. But he also can talk in specifics - such as increased size, depth and knowledge of the Idaho systems.
He's the first to acknowledge Idaho goes into the season with a first-time full-time starter at quarterback. He's equally quick to note that Brian Reader has started for the Vandals, has led them to a comeback victory and has been in the system for two full seasons.
"His leadership is very, very strong," Akey said. "It's not like you're throwing a guy out there to the wolves that hasn't done it before.
"He's a great competitor. He knows what he's doing. The kid's got a great way about him."
Reader's 'way' is such that he, along with tackle Tyrone Novikoff, was voted an offensive captain by his teammates. Joining Reader and Novikoff as captains are defensive tackle Mike Cosgrove and linebacker Tre'Shawn Robinson for the defense and Tyrone Brooks, a linebacker, for special teams.
The line in front of Reader is big, quick, and, for the most part, experienced. His weapons at receiver, tight end and running back are a mix of established talent and promising newcomers. The line, which averages 309 pounds and 6 feet, 3.5 inches, returns Novikoff, Matt Cleveland (tackle) and Sam Tupua (guard). Mike Marboe (center) and Jordan Johnson (guard) are the leading contenders for the other two starting positions.
In the backfield, Princeton McCarty has the greatest amount of game experience in a prominent role - at Idaho. Transfer Ryan Bass (out of Arizona State) is touted highly after sitting out the mandatory season as a Division I transfer and veteran Kama Bailey has had strong spring and fall camps. Veterans Preston Davis, Armauni Johnson and Justin Veltung return to the receiving corps with Mike Scott an eye-popping addition in fall camp. The tight ends all are game-experienced with Taylor Elmo, Mike LaGrone and Clayton Homme in the traditional role and Henry Asuega as a hybrid back/tight end.
Defensively, the line averages about 275 pounds and 6-4 - numbers that bring a smile to Akey's face. While, there are gaps to fill - particularly with the graduation of end Aaron Lavarias, Akey has a good feeling about the ability of this year's crop to do so successfully. At the tackle, Cosgrove weighs in at a fit 6-4, 300 pounds and as the unit's leader. On the ends are veterans Benson Mayowa and Charles Smith Jr., with promising redshirt freshman Karel Kearney at the nose.
The linebackers, while thinned a bit with the injury to Robert Siavii last spring that is forcing him to redshirt this fall, has found depth through experience and competition. Robinson is holding down the middle with Homer Mauga at the SAM and Conrad Scheidt at the WIL. Understudies Jeffrey Bediako, John McKinley, Korey Toomer and Brooks drew praise from defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Mark Criner.
The secondary has familiar faces at all positions with Matthew Harvey, Kenny Patten, Aaron Grymes and Tracy Carter at the corners and Quin Ashley, Trey Williams, Gary Walker and James Randall at the safeties.
Back for their third seasons are standout specialists Trey Farquhar (kicker) and Bobby Cowan (punter). Getting the ball to them is newcomer Marius Burgsmueller, whose playing experience was with a club team in his native Germany. Bailey and Veltung are two of the best kick returners in school history.
What it all comes down to, Akey said, is fundamental football - and ignoring preseason predictions that they wouldn't be a factor in the Western Athletic Conference race this year.
"I want to see the discipline factor - do what you're supposed to do when you're supposed to do it," Akey said. "Last year's team was one play away from back-to-back bowl games.
"We need accountability - the expectation and desire to be 13th-game ready. We need to have a chip on our shoulder and do what they say we can't do."