The O-line will likely determine if Idaho can return to the postseason.
By: Braden Gall | 6/3/11, 1:00 AM EDT
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HEAD COACH: Robb Akey, 17-33 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Steve Axman | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark Criner
For the first time since 2006, Nathan Enderle won’t be under center. The good news for Idaho is that his replacement — senior Brian Reader — has plenty of experience and a grasp on coordinator Steve Axman’s offense. He completed 59 percent of his throws with five touchdowns and one interception a year ago and started two games as a sophomore when Enderle was injured.
Reader will be throwing to a receiving corps that lost three of its top four producers, but there are enough playmakers returning to make Idaho’s passing game the strength of the offense once again. Preston Davis led the wideouts with 31 receptions last year, and deep threats Justin Veltung and Armauni Johnson will stretch the field. A corps of young, experienced tight ends also return. Running back Kama Bailey is also a weapon in the passing game.
Idaho needs to improve its rushing offense. After generating a paltry 88 yards per game last season, expect that to be a focal point this fall. Three of the top four ground gainers are back, and Arizona State transfer Ryan Bass should make an immediate impact. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry in limited duty at ASU in 2009.
The question, for the second year in a row, is the offensive line. Three starters are back, led by senior tackles Matt Cleveland and Tyrone Novikoff. In addition to struggling in run blocking a year ago, the Vandals yielded 45 sacks.
The biggest playmakers — end Aaron Lavarias (9.5 sacks) and safety Shiloh Keo (three interceptions) — are gone. But Idaho did play a lot of people last season and the overall depth, size and speed on the unit should be improved.
The linebacking corps will be the strength of coordinator Mark Criner’s defense as three players with starting experience return, though the status of senior Robert Siavii is unknown after he suffered a knee injury in the spring. He led the Vandals with 91 tackles and four forced fumbles.
Cornerback should be another area where Idaho should be capable. Three corners who started at some point last season — Aaron Grymes, Kenneth Patten and Matthew Harvey — are back and all have shown the ability to cover and tackle. Free safety Gary Walker is a returning starter, and the Vandals could play four safeties in the rotation and in a variety of packages.
Depth on the defensive line is a plus, but the Vandals will need big years out of tackle Michael Cosgrove and end Benson Mayowa if the front is going to do more than hold its own.
Junior Trey Farquhar returns for his third season as placekicker. He made 18-of-25 field goals a year ago. He has a strong leg, and coach Robb Akey won’t hesitate to let him try field goals longer than 55 yards. Punter Bobby Cowan is a talent. The junior led the WAC last season with an average of 45.1 yards and had 24 punts of more than 50 yards. He also is a candidate to hold extra points and field goals.
The Vandals hope to get back on the winning track after falling a game short of a bowl last season. The key could be the development of the offensive line. Idaho’s defense has improved each year in the Akey era, and if that trend continues, the Vandals are capable of being successful on that side of the ball.
The schedule is challenging with two games against BCS foes, but two open weeks should help the team stay healthy.