Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know: There's experience and all-star
talent to work with, so why was the Vandal defense so miserable
last season? The line. The front four has to find tackles that
can stop the run, and ends that can get into the backfield. If
that happens, there could be a night-and-day improvement as the
coaching staff looks to attack, attack, and attack some more.
With MLB JoArtis Ratti back and healthy, he should combine with
David Vobora to create the WAC's most dangerous linebacking duo.
Corner Stanley Franks is an interception machine, and safety
Shiloh Keo is an undersized hitter. Now everything has to start
working around those four.
Tackles: David Vobora,
JoArtis Ratti, 3
Interceptions: Stanley Franks, 9
Star of the defense: Senior CB Stanley Franks
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DT
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Marcus Pedro
Best pro prospect: Senior LB David Vobora
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Franks, 2) Vobora, 3)
LB JoArtis Ratti
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Franks
Weakness of the defense:
Projected Starters: While finding more of a pass rush will be
the main goal for the line, getting more out of the tackles will be even
more important. 293-pound senior Siua Musika came back from a
knee injury to make 24 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. While he's a
good athlete and should do more against the run, he hasn't proven to be
a true anchor yet.
Next to Musika will be 299-pound junior Alex Toailoa,
who made 12 tackles as a part time starter. Now he's one of the main
defenders on the inside, and he needs to play like it from day one, once
he's back from spending spring ball working on his studies, or everyone
will be running up the gut.
258-pound senior George Fa'avae will likely rotate for one of the
starting end jobs, but he has to show he can get into the backfield on a
regular basis. A pass rushing star at LA Harbor College, he struggled to
make big plays last year finishing with no sacks and just 14 tackles.
JUCO transfer Marcus Pedro has all but cemented himself as the
new star up front. He's 270 pounds with a tremendous motor and the type
of pass rushing ability Shaw and Fa'avae haven't shown enough of.
Projected Top Reserves: Considering the issues at
tackle this year, with Toailoa out in spring ball due to academic
issues, and rising star Marvin Jones arrested and booted off the
team for allegedly selling cocaine to an undercover cop, 275-pound
redshirt freshman Jonah Sataraka should play a big role on the
inside. He got stronger this off-season and should be a regular at both
On the end, 254-pound junior Josh Shaw has seen
time as an undersized tackle, but played better on the outside where he
made 24 tackles. However, he's not a pure pass rusher, at least has
hasn't shown he can be one.
Watch Out For ... this to be the team's Achilles'
heel. The secondary is decent enough to come up with a big season if
opposing quarterbacks don't have ten days to throw, and the front four
hasn't proven they can apply any pressure. They have to be far stronger
against the run, too.
Strength: There's good size on the end. While it
might be more beneficial to move a few smaller, quicker players to the
outside, there's enough beef to potentially be better against the run,
at least at end, not at tackle.
Weakness: Tackle size. Thanks to Jones being a
knucklehead, the size on the defensive interior has now gotten a whole
bunch smaller. The tackles haven't shown they can stop the run, and the
ends haven't proven they can get into the backfield. That's a bad
Outlook: Simply put, this group has to be far
better if Idaho is going to have any shot of improving. This was a
decent line at times in spring ball, but that was against the mediocre
Vandal offensive line. One guy has to start to stand out to revolve the
rest of the line around, whether that's a pass rusher or a run stopper.
Projected Starters: The hope is for a big improvement in the
linebacking corps with the emergence of senior JoArtis Ratti, who
made 32 tackles, three sacks and an interception in just six games due
to shoulder and foot problems. He's a 6-1, 220-pound guided missile who
should blow up in the attacking style of defense the coaching staff
wants to run.
At one outside spot will be senior David Vobora,
who at 240 pounds packs a huge wallop and is the tackling machine in the
back seven with 134 stops last season with 15.5 tackles for loss and two
sacks. His 101 solo tackles alone would've made him the team's leading
tackler by 29 stops. While he's a weakside linebacker because of his
quickness and range, he's more suited to the strongside.
On the other
side will be
senior Brandon Ogletree, who
saw plenty of action last season finishing third on the team with 48
tackles to go along with two sacks and five tackles for loss. Speedy
enough to have played safety and tough enough to have played end, he's
perfect at strongside linebacker.
Projected Top Reserves: Part of the starting mix
will be 228-pound senior, Josh Bousman, who made 44 tackles
in nine games. He can be deadly when turned loose and gets room to roam,
and now he has to be stronger against the run while doing more in the
While top recruit Andre
Ferguson might not be ready to roll right away, it'll be tempting to
find a spot for him on the field, maybe in "Okie" situations, or
when Idaho goes to the 3-4. He's only 205 pounds, but he's 6-3 and has
plenty of room to grow. He's one of the team's faster players and he
packs a wallop when he gets to a ball-carrier.
5-9, 190-pound sophomore Tyrone
Turner is way undersized, but he's scrappy enough to possible be in
the outside mix behind Vobora. He could be shoved out of the way by a
pair of redshirt freshmen, as Jonathan Farimo and Paul
Senescall are each playing well enough to see time in the rotation.
Farimo will likely backup Ratti in the middle, while Senescall is a
220-pound hitter on the weakside. He had a great spring and will see
time either in the middle or on the weakside.
Watch Out For ... Ratti and Vobora to combine to
become the WAC's best linebacking duo. These two will be all over the
field and should combine for over 200 tackles.
Strength: Hitting. Everyone is able to apply the
lumber in this group. It should be the intimidating tone-setter for the
Weakness: Backups. Ogletree is a player and can
step in and start any time, but that's about it as far as proven
reserves. If injuries his Ratti and Vobora, there will be bit problems.
Outlook: The edict has gone out: attack and make
plays. The linebackers will be the strength of the defense, and they'll
have to dictate the tempo and the action from the start. While there's
little in the way of depth and not enough overall production against the
run at the line, the top four in the rotation will be as good as any in
the league as long as they make more meaningful tackles.
Projected Starters: The star of the secondary is senior corner
Stanley Franks, a former JUCO transfer who cranked out an All-WAC
first season finishing third on the team with 48 tackles to go along
with nine interceptions and seven broken up passes. The former receiver
is a rail-thing 5-11 and 167 pounds, and he still covers like a wide
receiver far too often, but he's lightning fast and dangerous with the
ball in his hands averaging 24.4 yards per interception return.
other corner job is wide open, but for now, redshirt freshman General
Parnell has the job after a solid spring. He's not big at only 5-9
and 175 pounds, and he'll have to get used to everyone throwing his way.
The safeties are all but set let by sophomore Shiloh Keo, who's
pound-for-pound one of the biggest hitters in the WAC making 72 stops
despite only being 5-10 and 175 pounds. While he has the range of a free
safety, he hits like a strong safety, which he is, and is great at
getting into the backfield. He hurt his hamstring this spring making an
interception, but he's expected to be back this fall.
At free safety
will be senior Chris Smith, a part-time starter who made 42
tackles and three interceptions. While he's a good tackler, he has to do
even more when the ball is in the air and has to read short-to-midrange
passes far better.
Projected Top Reserves: The backup jobs will be
wide-open this fall when top redshirt freshman Terrance McCoy
returns after getting his schoolwork in order, and when JUCO transfer
T.J. Taylor is on the team. McCoy is one of the team's most athletic
players, and while he's still raw at corner, his speed and potential
might get him the nod over Parnell at some point. Taylor was a lock-down
JUCO defender who'll also get every shot to win the starting corner job
on the other side of Franks.
At safety, senior Lee Jones will be
the first in the mix behind Smith at free safety and could even see time
at strong safety. At 6-2 and 204 pounds, he brings some much-needed size
to the corps, but now he has to prove he cam play after making just two
tackles last season.
Sophomore Brandon Nystrom has the talent,
the size (6-1 and 208 pounds) and the measurables to become a starting
safety, but he'll start out behind Keo.
Watch Out For ... a far better season. The secondary
is too experienced and has too many good players to be so awful.
Strength: Franks and Keo. In the pass-happy WAC,
defenses need defensive backs they can rely on. Franks and Keo are
all-star talents who should be key leaders and playmakers to make
offensive coordinators worry.
Weakness: Production. Most of the parts are back
from a secondary that got torched was too often. The overall experience
has to mean more big plays and more stops.
Outlook: While the overall numbers were lousy, the
secondary improved over the second half of the year only allowing one
team, Hawaii, to throw for more than 200 yards in the final six games.
While they didn't get as many big plays, quarterbacks were still able to
dink and dunk at will. Franks will be great again, but now he has to
erase everyone's number one receiver, while the second corner has to
hold up. Good passing teams will still get their yards, but the Vandals
will get their share of picks.
Projected Starters: 6-3, 216-pound junior punter T.J. Conley
bounced back from a broken leg suffered in 2005 to average 39.4
yards per punt. While he didn't hit the 40-yard mark, he was
terrifically consistent at pinning teams deep with a mere one touchback
in 67 kicks with ten fair catches and 12 put inside the 20.
Returning at placekicker is junior Tino Amancio, who hit 12 of 17 field goals
and showed decent range nailing a 49-yard shot. He's solid from inside
the 40, and now he has to be consistent from midrange.
Watch Out For ... the kicking game to be a major
plus. If Amancio can be reasonably consistent from 40-45 yards, he'll be
Strength: Conley. With a defense that's going to
struggle at times, pinning teams deep is a must, not a luxury.
Weakness: The return game. Averaging a mere 5.5
yards per punt return and 17.8 yards on kickoff returns isn't going to
Outlook: Finding more pop to the return game will
be job one, making plays in coverage will be the next thing to work on.
With kickoffs starting at the 30, Idaho will give up several big returns
if it doesn't figure something out in fall practices.