Idaho defense rules the field in first padded football practice

Mar. 30—MOSCOW — Spring practices have gotten off to an unconventional start for the Idaho football team.

The Vandals' first scheduled practice on Tuesday was postponed due to a delay in field preparation. The pushback made Idaho begin its offseason workouts at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, before the team's Pro Day.

Thursday was another early wakeup call for the Vandals, and they wrapped up Week 1 of camp in full pads Friday afternoon.

"We kind of bunched these in getting three (practices) in a row," Idaho coach Jason Eck said. "But I was really happy with how guys responded. I didn't notice anyone tapering off — I think guys were practicing with great energy and great effort; a lot of guys are flying around, trying to get the tempo of the drills and I like where we're at through three."

On Idaho's first day in pads, the defense ruled the day.

Marshall wins the Battle Axe

Vandals sophomore defensive back Andrew Marshall hoisted the Battle Axe player of the practice award on Friday.

The cornerback intercepted a Jack Layne pass and took it the opposite way for what would've been a score.

Marshall did a good job of anticipating the wide receiver screen while sitting back in zone coverage.

The Eastvale, Calif., native played all 13 games for the Vandals as a true freshman in 2023, recording 22 tackles and five pass deflections. But Idaho brought in several transfers at corner including KJ Trujillo (North Alabama) and Corry Thomas Jr. (Northern Iowa), who seemingly jumped Marshall in the depth chart.

That hasn't deterred the sophomore from making plays.

"I got a lot of respect for Marshall," Eck said. "Because we brought in some transfers at his position and he didn't pout about it or whatever, he just got better. I think he's playing at as high of a level as any of our corners, so I think he'll be right in the thick of it and be really good for us next year. He played well for us last year, and I think he has the ability to keep getting better.

D-line gets the edge in the trenches

The defensive line got the better of its offensive counterparts for most of Friday's practice.

The D-line recorded a couple of would-be sacks during team — redshirt junior Sam Brown even took Layne to the ground by accident and got a stern talking to by Eck after the play.

The Vandals' front four maintained consistent pressure despite sack leader Keyshawn James-Newby being sidelined.

The absence of the Montana Tech transfer allowed the group to demonstrate its biggest strength: depth.

Idaho used a platoon of substitutions last season along its D-line and the group went through some growing pains.

A majority of the Vandals who played valuable snaps last season are back and look better.

Redshirt junior Malakai Williams, redshirt junior Amarii Notice, sophomore Dallas Afalava and Brown were among the starters.

There are some quality pieces underneath them, like senior Jahkari Larmond, redshirt junior Zach Krotzer, redshirt freshman Julian Lee and redshirt sophomore Xavier Slayton.

"Dallas Afalava, I think, has really shown up," Eck said. "He's tough to block. ... You look at the recipe for an FCS national championship over the last 10 years, (and) it's your O-line and D-line being the strengths of your team."

Quick hits

The offensive line unit that got the most reps for the Vandals were sophomore Charlie Vliem (right tackle), redshirt freshman Kaden Robnett (right guard), sophomore Layton Vining (center), redshirt junior Nate Azzopardi (left guard) and redshirt sophomore Jack Foster (left tackle).

Idaho's usual starting left tackle, Ayden Knapik, was sidelined with a knee injury. He is not expected to return until the summer.

Linebacker Syrr Barnes is dealing with an eligibility issue. He hasn't used four years of eligibility and is more of a "clock issue," according to Eck.

The Vandals submitted a waiver to see if the Lake Forest, Calif., native can play this season.

Lewiston native Cruz Hepburn is practicing with the No. 2s at linebacker.

Lake City of Coeur d'Alene product Zach Johnson is getting reps with the starters at weakside linebacker. He's also working with the pass rushers.

Running backs Deshaun Buchanan and Nate Thomas had a handful of breakout runs throughout Friday's practice.

Freshman kicker Owen Forsman converted a 52-yard field goal at the beginning of practice.

Pixley may be contacted at (208) 848-2290, or on Twitter @TreebTalks