Preview 2008 - Defense
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What you need to know: The line has been a major issue for
the last few years, wasting some great talent in the back seven.
Now the entire linebacking corps needs to be replaced, star CB
Stanley Franks is gone, and a lot more is needed from a woeful
pass rush. The 4-3 scheme will be used more, after going with a
3-4 at times last season by necessity, and it should free up
ends Josh Shaw and Taylor Rust a little bit. The linebackers
might be green, and they're very light, but they're athletic.
The safety tandem of Shiloh Keo and JUCO transfer Virdell
Larkins could be the best in the WAC, and now the corners need
to be better.
Tackles: Shiloh Keo,
Jonathan Faraimo, 4
Interceptions: Shiloh Keo, 4
Star of the defense: Junior SS Shiloh Keo
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Junior FS Virdell Larkins
Best pro prospect: Keo (as a punt returner)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Keo, 2) Larkins, 3) LB
Strength of the defense: Safety, tackle size
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush, linebacker
Projected Starters: Generating more of a pass rush will be job
one, and that's where senior Josh Shaw has to come through. The
6-5, 253-pound spot starter was a regular in the rotation for the second
year in a row and made 29 tackles, but didn't register a sack and didn't
do anything to get into the backfield. An undersized tackles or a big
end, he'll be used on the outside.
On the other side will be 6-2, 232-pound senior Taylor Rust after
a breakout year making 35 tackles with three sacks and six tackles for
loss. As close as the team had to pass rusher, he has to be more
consistent and even more of a disruptive force.
Ready to take over one of the inside spots is key JUCO transfer Oga
Faumui, a 6-0, 09-pound block for the run defense. He has good
interior pass rushing skills but will be mostly used to shore up the run
defense. He made 47 tackles in 2006 for Garden City CC in California.
Starting at the other tackle spot is 6-2, 293-pound Fonomanu Sekona,
a promising sophomore who got four starts but only finished with three
tackles. An athletic, beefed up former high school quarterback, he can
move. The more he can make things happen in the backfield, the better.
Projected Top Reserves: One of the nicer surprises
on the line was 6-3, 244-pound sophomore Aaron Lavarias who came
up with a good first season making 25 tackles and two tackles for loss
as an undersized tackle. Beaten on, he wasn't healthy through most of
the year and now he's being moved to a more natural end spot in the new
scheme where he'll work in a rotation with Rust.
Former JUCO transfer Marcus Pedro was supposed to step in and
be an immediate star. He was a good recruit for the program from
Fullerton College with 6-1, 270-pound size and a non-stop motor. It
didn't happen, He made just three tackles as a little used backup, and
now he'll push for time behind Faumui.
6-2, 242-pound sophomore Jonah Sataraka was used as a tackle and
is now able to play end after making eight tackles. A good recruit, he's
a strong tackler even though he's not much of a pass rusher. If he can
start getting to the quarterback, he might push Shaw out of a job.
Watch Out For ... more production. There weren't
enough live, able bodies to run a 4-3, and now with some decent depth
and a few options for each spot, the coaching staff can ditch the 3-4,
which didn't generate any pressure, and hope for the ends to be more
productive with more space to operate.
Strength: Size. The run defense wasn't all that
bad last season, and while that's mostly because teams did whatever they
wanted to through the air, there were times when the hard-working front
line came through. With Sekona, Faumui, and 280-pound redshirt freshman
Bryan Wilson inside, it should be harder to run inside.
Weakness: Sacks. This has been a problem for a few
years, and last season's scheme didn't help the cause. The Vandals
registered just 16 sacks, the secondary got roasted, and the team
finished 1-11. Simply put, you can't win in the WAC if you don't
generate defensive pressure.
Outlook: Awful for the last few seasons, the line
could make a decent improvement and go from scrappy to productive. From
time to time there were nice plays against the run, but there weren't
enough in key situations and there was no pressure into the backfield
whatsoever. With a four man front, and with options for each spot, this
should be one of the team's better surprises.
Projected Starters: All David Vobora did was make 148 tackles,
89 of them by himself, on the way to first-team All-WAC honors. Taking
over his spot on the weakside will be 6-3, 205-pound redshirt freshman
Andre Ferguson, a speedy defensive back-sized defender who'll has
good athleticism and should be decent against the pass. He was the
team's star recruit last season, and now he has to play like it.
The team's other excellent linebacker, JoArtis Ratti, has to be replaced
in the middle. Sophomore Jonathan Farimo is a decent 5-11,
220-pound prospect who stepped in and made 27 tackles as a true
freshman. Most importantly in his limited time, he made four sacks and
6.5 tackles for loss adding a desperately needed pass rushing element to
the mix. Now he has to prove he can hold up against the run with the
full-time inside gig.
Brandon Ogletree was second on the team with 87 tackles on the
strongside, and now it'll be up to 6-1, 202-pound sophomore JoJo
Dickson to pick up the slack. He made 34 tackles, one sack and four
tackles for loss as a true freshman getting two starts, and he was a
good special teamer. While he seems like a more natural weakside
defender, he's tough enough to handle the strongside.
Projected Top Reserves: Pushing for time on the
weakside, in an attempt to replace Vobora, will be sophomore Justin
Allen, a 5-11, 207-pound special teamer who made seven tackles.
Considered one of the team's top recruits a few years ago, he's not all
that big, but he's very active and very quick.
6-2, 234-pound sophomore Adam Shamion brings some desperately
needed size to the mix. A good backup so far, making 15 tackles with a
tackle for loss, he's a good athlete and a tough player who's built for
the job in the middle.
Working in a rotation on the strongside is 5-11, 222-pound senior
Andrew Blevins, a good scout teamer who made 17 tackles on defense
and special teams. He's a bigger option than Dickson, but he's now where
near the same athlete.
Watch Out For ... the corps to be surprisingly
decent. It's not like the linebackers were lights-out last year even
with all the numbers and all the production, and while Vobora, Ogletree
and Ratti will be missed, this group will at least replace the
Strength: Depth. That might seem strange
considering there's no real experience among the three new starters,
much less the backups, but in the 4-3 scheme, which will be used more
this year, that's one fewer linebacker who needs to be on the field.
There should be a good rotation to make up for the overall inexperience.
Weakness: Size. Vobora was 240 pounds and Ratti
and Ogletree were around 225. While they weren't huge, they were far
bigger than this group. There's more speed, but these are safeties
playing linebacker on the outside.
Outlook: The linebackers were the strength of the
defense last year, and while they made a ton of tackles, they weren't
disruptive enough. This year's group doesn't have much in the way of
experience, but it's a faster, more athletic bunch with good upside.
Ferguson is a talent. Thin, but he's a talent. The defense will have to
live with all the underclassmen growing into their jobs.
Projected Starters: The secondary got picked apart last season,
but it got a whale of a season from junior Shiloh Keo, the team's
third leading tackler, second-team All-WAC performer, and the team's
MVP. Only 5-10 and 175 pounds, he's not all that big, but he's a
fantastic tackler and pound-for-pound the biggest hitter in the WAC
making 153 stops over the last two years (and 81 last year) and he did
more against the pass making five picks. He'll be the leader at strong
While Keo is the star of the defense, JUCO transfer Virdell Larkins
could change that. The 6-0, 195-pound junior started out his career
at California before going to Laney JC where he blossomed. The cousin of
Buffalo Bill RB Marshawn Lynch, Larkins is a tremendous talent who
looked like a major-league playmaker this spring at free safety.
5-9, 183-pound senior Breyon Williams returns to his starting
corner spot after making 44 tackles with an interception. The former
JUCO transfer is a good tackler and can be physical, but he hasn't done
too much, both last year and at Pasadena CC, when the ball is in the
Trying to take over for all-star corner Stanley Franks is T.J. Taylor,
a 5-11, 187-pound junior who redshirted last year after coming over from
Diablo Valley CC. He has decent size and was a good ball-hawker at the
JUCO level, but he has a lot to live up to if he's going to replace
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Eric Hunter
is only 5-6 and 154 pounds, but he can move. The team's top
special teamer, he also had a good year as a reserve corner
making 19 tackles with two picks. He's a smart, quick defender
who'll see plenty of time in a rotation with Williams.
While Larkins appears to be a blossoming star at free
safety, sophomore Isaac Butts is decent enough to see
tome time. He saw time as a true freshman making nine tackles,
and while he'll mostly be a special teamer, he'll see time in
nickel and dime packages.
Bringing more size to the secondary is 6-2, 195-pound sophomore
Cary Jensen-Madison, a wide receiver who moved to the
secondary and saw most of his action on special teams making
four tackles. He'll work behind Keo at strong safety, but he has
to prove he can be a consistent hitter.
Watch Out For ... Larkins. With his range,
athleticism and hitting ability, he should be an upgrade for the
secondary from day one.
Strength: The safeties. If Larkins is really as
good as he was this off-season, and if Keo does what he did his
first two years, Idaho will have a pair of safeties who can play
Weakness: Production. To be fair, the corners
didn't get any help from a pass rush, but they didn't do nearly
enough to make big plays. The team only came up with 11
interceptions, and the corners only got a few of them. Too many
passes are flying around in the WAC to not come up with more
Outlook: Idaho only allowed three, 300-yard and
two 400-yard passing days, which weren't that bad considering
the pass-happy teams it faced, but it got shredded deep and got
dinked and dunked on to death. 97th in the nation in pass
defense, but second-to-last (only Navy was worse) in pass
efficiency D. The safeties will be excellent, and the corners
aren't that bad, but there needs to be a pass rush to help out
the cause. This isn't a good enough group to be a blanket if
there isn't any help up front.
Projected Starters: Back as one of the team's biggest weapons is
senior PK Tino Amancino after hitting 14 of 18 field goals and
showing enough range to nail a 51-yarder. Three of his four misses came
from beyond 40 yards; he can be counted on from anywhere.
The punting game wasn't great, but it wasn't horrible. Senior T.J.
Conley suffered a broken leg in 2005, was decent in 2006, and was
solid last year averaging 40.7 yards per kick and putting 20 inside the
20. He had a few too many touchbacks, putting eight in the end zone, but
he's still a good one.
Star safety Shiloh Keo is one of the nation's top punt returners
averaging 16.8 yards per try last season, leading the third best punt
return game in the country, while sophomore Dewey Hale averaged
21.5 yards per kickoff return.
Watch Out For ... teams to stay away from Keo. The
Idaho offense isn't anything special, so the last thing opposing teams
want to do is give away good field position. Keo isn't going to get many
shots to make a big return.
Strength: The return game and Amancino. Keo is
fantastic, the kickoff returns are more than fine, and Amancino is a
good veteran with fantastic range.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The Vandals have to win
the field position battle, and they allowed 10 yards per punt return and
a whopping 23.3 yards per kickoff return.
Outlook: The special teams could be the best in
the WAC, and will certainly be the most experienced, if the coverage
teams improve. The kicking and return games are great, and now they have
to be terrific with all the veterans returning to key spots.