2010 Idaho Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Idaho Vandal Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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Idaho's defense is plucky and it tries really, really hard, but it hasn't stopped anyone in years and now has to hope that the same players who stunk last year will suddenly be better. Ten players with significant starting experience return, led by safety Shiloh Keo, who'd get All-America recognition and more of a spotlight if he played for Boise State. The key will be the line that needs to generate more of a pass rush. The Vandals finished 114th in the nation in sacks and 115th in tackles for loss, and the inability to get to the quarterback has been a killer for the try-hard corners over the last several seasons. The linebacking corps is athletic with several good veterans to do more against the run, but they could use stronger play from the line, too.
Star of the defense: Senior S Shiloh Keo
Tackles: Shiloh Keo, 113
Sacks: Aaron Lavarias, Jonah Sataraka, 4
Interceptions: Shiloh Keo, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DE Andre Ferguson
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Tre'Shawn Robinson, Jr.
Best pro prospect: Keo
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Keo, 2) LB JoJo Dickson, 3) DE Aaron Lavarias
Strength of the defense: Keo, Experience
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Pass Defense
Projected Starters: Back after being one of the few linemen who could get into the backfield, Aaron Lavarias is back after making 54 tackles with four sacks and eight tackles for loss as a regular starter on the outside. The team's most active lineman, he has the strength to slip inside as a tackle, which he was as a sophomore, and the quickness to be a playmaker on the outside. The senior is a linebacker-like 6-3 and 255 pounds, but he plays bigger than his size.
A linebacker by trade and by size, the 6-3, 225-pound Andre Ferguson made 34 tackles with four quarterback hurries and 3.5 tackles for loss, and now he'll be expected to become a key pass rusher on the Rush End. Extremely quick, he was okay as an outside linebacker and has the potential to be a dangerous playmaker.
Trying to do more on the inside is junior Michael Cosgrove , a 6-4, 289-pound veteran who got a little bit of work in his first year and started every game last season. While he's not going to engulf the run, he's quick enough to be a bigger factor after making 33 tackles with two sacks and three tackles for loss.
At 6-2 and 294 pounds, senior Jonah Sataraka is the biggest, strongest presence on the inside starting on the nose. The team captain over the last two years, he's the leader up front and has been a tough factor against the run. Now he needs to be even stronger as the anchor of the front seven after making 31 tackles with a team-tying four sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-2, 280-pound senior Fono Sekona is a beefed up former high school quarterback with excellent quickness. A career backup with 29 games of experience, he'll work at both tackle spots in a rotation after making nine tackles with 1.5 sacks.
6-6, 249-pound junior Charles Smith is a tall, rangy defender with phenomenal athleticism, but it hasn't translated to the field. He made five tackles in a limited role, but he has the skills to be a pass rusher in a rotation at both end spots. He has too much upside to not start to put up some decent numbers as a specialist.
Watch Out For … JUCO transfer Aaron Strumski, a 6-2, 303-pound run stopper from Ellsworth Community College. He's going to be the team's biggest presence on the inside with a chance to shine right away. Always working and always trying to make something happen, he could quickly jump into a starting spot.
Strength: Experience. With the starting foursome from last year back, and with two key JUCO transfers in Strumski and 6-2, 285-pound Ben Swarts, the Vandals have more than enough veterans to put together a line that knows what it's doing. There should be a good rotation on the inside for the first time in years.
Weakness: Production. The line was a disaster at getting into the backfield and struggled mightily to stop anyone's running game. You don't go from finishing 114th in the nation in sacks to a strength in a year.
Outlook: The Vandals haven't gotten to the quarterback in years generating a miserable 41 sacks over the last three seasons. The hope will be for experience to translate into production with the athletes in place and the veterans at all four spots to finally make some improvements.
Unit Rating: 4.5
Projected Starters: 6-2, 229-pound senior JoJo Dickson stepped into a starting role on the strongside and finished second on the team in tackles making 79 stops with two interceptions and a sack. A good veteran who hasn't been afraid to throw his body around, he's almost too tough with health being an issue before last year. He has the speed to get into the backfield more and he should be even stronger in pass coverage. He'd be better on the weakside, but he'll be one of the team's leading tacklers again on the other side.
Junior Tre'Shawn Robinson is a year removed from a knee injury that knocked him out of a promising true freshman season. After returning last season and making 49 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss, he showed he was back, but now he should be ready to blow up with a fully healthy knee, experience, and 5-11, 233-pound size and toughness to make plenty of plays in the middle. While he doesn't have the best range, he's a tough tackler.
6-2, 209-pound junior Robert Siavii is a corner-sized defender on the weakside with great ranged and tackling ability. He was third on the team with 58 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss. While he came up with three broken up passes, he has the quickness to do more when the ball is in the air. He needs to be a disruptive force getting the room to roam and seek out the play.
Projected Top Reserves: Working in a rotation in the middle, after starting most of last season, is Paul Senescall , a limited talent who's always going full tilt making 51 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss. Only 229 pounds on a 6-1 frame, he's not necessarily built for the middle, but he handles himself well and does a decent job of moving to the ball.
Possibly the team's most talented linebacker, 6-2, 215-pound Korey Toomer didn't show off his skills much making eight tackles with a recovered fumble in his limited time as a reserve. The 6-2, 215-pound former JUCO transfer has the athleticism and he has the motor, but he didn't make enough plays working on the weakside. After making 86 stops for Arizona Western College, most is expected.
Watch Out For … the middle. Robinson is the better option of the two, but he has to get back to his pre-injury form. Senescall isn't special, but he makes plays. The two will combine on the inside, but it would be nice if one took the job by the horns.
Strength: Veterans. Both outside linebackers are back and Robinson and Senescall form a nice duo on the inside. There are two senior backups to go along with the dangerous options on the way from the recruiting class.
Weakness: Plays in the backfield. This isn't an active enough group. It doesn't gang tackle well enough and it doesn't disrupt anything. There needs to be more big hits at the point of attack and much better pass coverage.
Outlook: As always, the tackles and the statistics will be there, but will they mean anything? The line likely isn't going to be in the backfield on a regular basis, so the linebackers have to be turned loose to roam and make things happen. That will be easier said than done for this group.
Unit Rating: 4.5
Projected Starters: The pass defense might have been a disaster, but strong safety Shiloh Keo was one of the WAC's best playmakers and should be a fringe All-America candidate. The 5-11, 216-pound senior led the team with 113 tackles (and his 72 solo stops alone would've made him second on the team) with a team-leading three picks and five broken up passes. He has had past problems with a shoulder injury, but he's as tough as they come against the run and he's by far the team's best player when the ball is in the air. He'll move over from free safety to make more of an overall impact as the leader of the secondary.
With Keo moving from free safety to strong, sophomore Gary Walker will take over after being thrown to the wolves as a true freshman and making 29 tackles seeing time in every game and getting a start. At 6-0 and 187 pounds, he has good size and moves extremely well, but he has to prove he can do something against the pass. He didn't break up a pass or come up with a pick.
Senior Isaac Butts has been a starter at corner for the last two years, and while he tied for the team lead with five broken up passes and made 41 stops with two tackles for loss, he has yet to do much against the pass. He picked off three in 2008, but he was beaten way too much and needs to be more consistent. At 6-0 and 185 pounds he has the size to move to safety if needed, but he's a corner.
A nickel back early in his career, junior Kenneth Patten started every game last year at corner making 41 tackles with an interception and three broken up passes. The 5-9, 178-pounder is a good hitter for his size and has great range and smarts, but he needs to be more consistent to hold down the corner job. He could end up being a part of a rotation and be used in a variety of ways.
Projected Top Reserves: If it's not Patten at one corner, sophomore Aaron Grymes will take over a spot. One of the team's fastest players, he was put out there as a true freshman starting five times, including one start at free safety against Nevada, and making 43 tackles with two broken up passes. At 5-11 and 180 pounds he's bigger than Patten and with 10.8 speed in the 100, he's faster.
The Vandals need more speed in the secondary, and that's where JUCO transfer Matthew Harvey comes in. The junior will push Isaac Butts for time at corner after making 46 tackles with six picks for Ellsworth Junior College in Iowa, and with his tremendous speed he'll be used on kickoff returns.
Harvey's Ellsworth teammate, Thaad Thompson , also has tremendous speed with the potential to be a whale of a safety. At 6-3 and 215 pounds he's big and extremely physical, and he should be in the mix for the strong safety job next year when Shiloh Keo is gone.
Watch Out For … the second corner spot on the other side of Butts. Patten and Grymes will combine forces with the more consistent of the two getting the job, while the other will be a key in nickel and dime situations.
Strength: Keo and experience. Four players with significant starting experience return, and Keo is one of the WAC's best defenders to work around. There are enough veterans and enough good athletes to hope for a big improvement.
Weakness: The pass rush. Idaho hasn't hit a quarterback in years, and the trickle-down effect has killed the secondary. The defensive backs haven't been great, but they haven't had any help whatsoever being forced to pull extra duty to cover for way too long. There won't be much of a pass rush this year, either.
Outlook: The Vandals were destroyed last year allowing 278 yards per game and 34 touchdowns, and while there's good experience, decent options, and excellent speed, it'll be tough to do much without any help from the defensive front. Keo is a special defender and the corners should be fine with some more pressure on the quarterbacks, but don't expect a night-and-day improvement.
Unit Rating: 4.5
Projected Starters: Sophomore Trey Farquhar is coming off a second-team All-WAC season nailing 13-of-19 field goals with three of his misses coming from beyond 50 yards. He was expected to be good, but he turned out to be fantastic at times nailing a 54-yarder against Nevada and three field goals against both Washington and San Jose State. He only missed one kick under 42 yards.
The punting game could stand to use some more pop, but at least sophomore Bobby Cowan is experienced. While he averaged 43 yards per kick, he had two blocked and only forced six fair catches and put seven inside the 20. He was good, and he'll become fantastic over the course of his career, but he needs more time to work and he needs more help from the coverage team.
Star safety Shiloh Keo is also an elite punt returner averaging 10.2 yards per try. However, he needs more chances and more stops from the defense after getting a shot at just 13 returns.
The combination of Kama Bailey and Justin Veltung will work on kickoff returns after the unit did little last year. Veltung did his part averaging 25 yards per try, but the team averaged just 20.5 yards per attempt, 93rd in the nation. Bailey set the school record for kickoff return yards in 200 and is the school's all-time leader in kickoff yards.
Watch Out For … Cowan to start to get a bit of recognition. If he can just keep some of his touchbacks (there were seven) in play, and if he can get the ball off a wee quicker, he should be a threat for first-team All-WAC honors. He'll be an all-star at some point over the next three seasons.
Strength: Keo. Farquhar is a weapon who'll be an excellent producer, but Keo is the team's best player and a threat with the ball in his hands. He'll average well over ten yards per punt returner.
Weakness: Coverage teams. Dreadful, the Vandals allowed 24.5 yards per kickoff return and 12.2 yards per punt return. The team can't give away field position, even with a veteran defense.
Outlook: The kicking game should grow into a strength over the next three years with Farquhar and Cowan two terrific young players to build around. The return game will be fine, but the coverage teams have to be night-and-day better.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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