As the Idaho football team enters the second week of spring practices, the Vandals will look to develop a strong receiving core to improve the aerial attack of sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan.
With the loss of senior running back Elijhaa Penny, Idaho will likely rely on moving the ball on offense through the air.
When Idaho head coach Paul Petrino dismissed standout wide receiver Dezmon Epps from the program last year, many analysts wondered how the Vandal passing game would be affected.
Callen Hightower responded by stringing together a standoutÂ season at wide receiver. The junior had 57 receptions for 749 yards and averaged 68.1 yards per game.
Hightowerâ€™s best performance came against SEC powerhouse Auburn, as the receiver caught eight passes for 161 yards and a touchdown in the 56-34 loss.
In addition, tight end Trent Cowan became a primary option for Linehan. The junior caught 48 passes for 624 yards, a mark that earned Cowan a fourth place ranking among Football Bowl Subdivision tight ends.
Junior Deon Watson also emerged as a viable receiving threat for the Vandals. Both Watson and Cowan saw time at the position, but Watson occasionally lined up outside the offensive line.
Idaho head coach Paul Petrino said he expects both tight ends to play a key role in the Vandal offense next season.
â€œI think with both Trent and Deon being seniors and having another year of experience â€” theyâ€™ve gotten bigger, gotten stronger, and gotten faster â€” I think theyâ€™ll be better players next year than they were this year,â€ Petrino said.
The head coach said he has seen several receivers during the spring that could join Hightower as part of the primary receiving core.
â€œComing out of fall camp last year, Jacob Sannon and Dave Ungerer were actually two of the top guys,â€ Petrino said. â€œAnd then Alfonso (Onunwor) has been making plays all overt the place, and Reuban (Mwehla) has really improved his speed. So there is a good little group.â€
Sophomore Alfonso Onunwor joined the Vandals as a transfer from Coffeyville Community College. The wide receiver led the Red Ravens with 75 receptions and 906 receiving yards and was listed as a two-star recruit by Scout.com.
The 6-foot-2-inch recruit received 2015 All-Jayhawk Conference Honorable Mention honors after leading the Kansas Jayhawk Community College League in receptions.
Mwehla saw the gridiron in 12 games for the Vandals last year, catching 19 passes for 150 yards.
Petrino said he was disappointed in the number of dropped passes during Mondayâ€™s practice.
â€œThere were a couple too many drops today,â€ Petrino said. â€œWith that group, we donâ€™t expect them to have many at all. But that was the first day weâ€™ve had a couple.â€
The receiving core will likely become more clear when the team scrimmages this weekend.
Idaho will travel to Lewiston Saturday to hold a scrimmage at 10 a.m. at Lewiston High School.
Josh Grissom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GoshJrissom