As Idaho exits spring drills, the Vandals realize questions remain about their ability to string together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in a decade.
Idaho does return 10 starters and 20 of the 22 players who were on last season's two-deep on the defensive side of the ball. And the Vandals also return a four-year starter in quarterback Nathan Enderle on offense. The 6-foot-5 Enderle also welcomes back six of his top seven receivers from last year and two of the top three running backs.
The biggest question for Idaho is the offensive line. A strength of last year's 8-5 squad that won a bowl game for the first time since 1998, the offensive line only has one starter back (left tackle Matt Cleveland) and lost four senior starters.
"I think we're gaining ground and there's a lot of good things happening there," Idaho coach Robb Akey said. "You'd have to have the O-line solidified right now and have everything be in place, but it's a process. That's not all bad either."
The Vandals also play a difficult schedule, one that sees them go four weeks without playing a game at home. Idaho also has the WAC's two best teams -- Boise State and Nevada -- in back-to-back weeks at home in November. The Vandals haven't won a football game in November since 2005.NOTES, QUOTES
--Nathan Enderle is entrenched as the starting quarterback, something that wasn't as secure last year. Enderle needed a good spring and fall to hold off transfer Brian Reader, which he managed to do and then have the most productive season of his career. Enderle, who was named the team's MVP last season, will need to have as good of a year or better as last season if the Vandals are going to duplicate their success.
--Safety Shiloh Keo is back for his fifth season. The strong safety was second in the conference in tackles last season, and he also led the Vandals in interceptions a year ago. He also is Idaho's top punt returner.
C Clell Hasenbank -- The senior took the majority of the reps with the first string as Idaho looks to replace four starters on the offensive line.
S Quin Ashley -- After experiments at quarterback and wide receiver, Ashley is firmly entrenched in the defensive backfield. He's listed as a backup to starter Shiloh Keo, but the junior Ashley will get the starting nod in some nickel packages.
MLBs TreShawn Robinson and Paul Senescall -- The duo shared the position last year, and the junior Robinson and senior Senescall likely will keep splitting the playing time this season.
WR Armauni Johnson -- The junior college transfer was a bright spot in his first semester with the team. He'll give quarterback Nathan Enderle another big target along with established returnees Maurice Shaw and Eric Greenwood.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If there is one thing I saw -- and I expected to see it -- is that our defense is starting to get a little swagger to it. They're performing better, and I can see the confidence growing there. I'm happy to see that." -- Idaho coach Robb Akey on the maturation of his squad's defense.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: If the Vandals are to produce a second consecutive winning season, they'll need to improve defensively and find an offensive line that can open holes for running backs and protect the quarterback. The schedule is difficult, with a four-week stretch that spans September and October where Idaho doesn't get to play a game at home. But if the defense improves as expected and the O-line becomes serviceable, Idaho could become bowl eligible for the second year in a row.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Enderle has as much experience as any quarterback in the country. He completed a career-best 61.5 percent of his throws last season and his touchdowns (22) more than doubled his interceptions (nine). With proven runners Princeton McCarty and Deonte Jackson in the backfield and six of the top seven receivers returning, the Vandals again have the potential to amass yards and points. The key will be plugging the holes on the offensive line. Four senior starters graduated, including first-round NFL pick Mike Iupati.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Vandals yielded 36 points and 433 yards per game last season, numbers that must improve if the team is going to experience success. The good news is defensive coordinator Mark Criner has 10 starters back and 20 of the 22 on last year's two-deep depth chart. That experience should help the unit take a step forward. The Vandals also have more numbers at linebacker and in the secondary, which should create competition in practice and also allow Idaho to play more sub-packages within the defensive system.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: The Vandals return all of their specialists -- kicker Trey Farquhar (13-of-19 on field goals last season), punter Bobby Cowan (43-yard average), holder Brandon Artz, long-snapper Christopher Ramos, punt returner Shiloh Keo (10.2-yard average) and the top three kickoff returners in Kama Bailey, Justin Veltung and Matthew Harvey, who all averaged 19.7 yards per return or better. Idaho is expecting similar and improved production in all phases of the special teams.
--Derek Wieting has switched positions, moving from defensive end to H-back. Position coach Al Pupunu likes the explosiveness that Wieting can bring as a blocker and his speed.
--Junior college transfer Sam Tupua is experimenting at center. Originally brought in as a guard, Tupua has been playing with the first string at that position. But coaches are considering him at center, too.
--Defensive tackle Jonah Sataraka did not participate in any contact drills this spring because of a knee injury. The senior is expected to be at full strength come fall camp.
Previous Report: 04/09/2010