It was the defining play of Idaho’s first half against LSU. Down 14-0 the Tigers were on the doorstep, threatening to go up three scores, that is until Idaho safety Gary Walker jumped in front of a Zach Mettenberger pass and took it 94 yards the other way. One play later Idaho found the endzone and it was a 14-7 game.
That play leads of Walker’s highlight tape as he tries to get the attention of NFL scouts. The senior will be one of the bigger names at Idaho’s pro day on March 7, but that also means Idaho has a big playmaker to replace.
(Gary Walker’s 94-yard INT against LSU)
Departing players: Gary Walker, Thaad Thomspon, Ma’ne Manaea*
Returning players: Trey Williams (Sr.), Bradley Njoku (Jr.), D’Mario Carter (Sr.), Tom Hennessey (Jr.), Russell Siavii (RFr.)
Coming in for spring: None
Coming in the fall: Jordan Grabski (Fr.), Desmond Banks (Fr.)**
*= Not confirmed, but not on official roster.
** = Could play cornerback
At first glance, the lack of depth and experience is startling with this unit. Trey Williams figures to be a key returnee at strong safety, as he alternated starts and playing time with Thaad Thompson at the spot last season. Bradley Njoku figures to be in play for the starting free safety job, both because of his experience and because he was listed on the two-deep there last season behind Gary Walker. D’Mario Carter provides a solid tackling ability, and could provide depth at both safety spots.
The status of Ma’Ne Manaea is up in the air considering he’s not on the official roster. Though there are a number of players not listed on the official roster who are still enrolled with hopes of re-joining the team. Manaea, one of the biggest signees for the class of 2012, suffered a season ending foot injury early in fall camp last season and redshirted.
Without Manaea the Vandals will have four, maybe five, safeties competing in the spring. There is always the possibility of corners moving to safety, or receivers or running backs switching to the other side of the ball, though there would be little indications of that happening until spring practice begins.
In the fall Idaho will get Jordan Grabski, a defensive back signee from Brandenton, Fla. who we alluded to in the cornerback preview. He played safety in high school and could provide immediate depth.
Also an option in the fall is Desmond Banks, the 6-3 DB from Salt Lake City. Petrino said he could play corner or safety, but with his 6-3 frame and solid tackling ability it wouldn’t be surprising to see defensive coaches get a look at him with the corners.
With Patrick Libey moving from coaching safeties to coaching the defensive line, it will be new defensive coordinator Ronnie Lee taking control of the defensive secondary. So, basically, we’re just saying that this group could play out in a number of ways with so little on-field experience returning.
Update – Feb. 26 – 9:53 a.m.
One reader reminded us of a name we forgot to include in the mix, which is that of Russell Siavii, a redshirt freshman. Last year during fall practices we observed him working with the safety unit while redshirting. His frame, along with the fact he played safety in high school, would lend to the idea safety may be a better spot for him regardless. Idaho brought in five linebackers in its 2013 class and all of them figure to clog the top of the linebacker depth chart. Meanwhile, Siavii could be a welcome presence to a safety group much in need of depth.
Way-too-early depth chart projection for Spring