| March 22, 2018

Football: Plenty of competition for Vandals this spring

March 26, 2015

Basketball season is over and the upcoming football season is on the horizon. While some fans might not be ready for the sudden change of sports, the Kibbie Dome certainly is.

Field turf has replaced the hardwood and bleachers that made up the Cowan Spectrum and football players took to the Kibbie Dome field Wednesday for the first of 15 practices this spring.

“It was a lot of fun,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said. “There was a bunch of competition. It was good to see a lot of guys making plays.”

The nearly three-hour practice consisted of warm-ups, position drills, 7-on-7 drills and offense versus defense scrimmages in addition to other activities.

With four springs already under his belt, defensive end Quinton Bradley said the time from the end of the season to now felt long to him.

“If you’ve been here for five years, the wait starts to add up,” Bradley said. “Spring ball is about running, running, running, reps, reps, reps — we going to be gassed right now, but as the weeks go on we’re going to be good.”

A player who showed no signs of being tired was senior wide receiver Dezmon Epps, who returned to the program after being dismissed from the team last summer.

“The kid is back,” sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan said of Epps. “He brings energy to practice, he brings a lot of fire, a lot of intensity, he wants to be out here and goes 100 percent every play he’s in. I’m surprised he isn’t fainting after practice, that kid is just a constant nonstop.”

Both Linehan and redshirt freshman Jake Luton, who are competing against each other for the role starting quarterback, connected with Epps on multiple occasions and he appeared to be their favorite target throughout the day.

“He had a great day,” Petrino said of Epps. “He made plays all over the place. He’s just so competitive and he just loves getting after it and competing.”

As far as the quarterback competition, Petrino said both Linehan and Luton had some good and bad moments, but he expected that kind of play for the first day back.

“I think they both did some really good things, and then they both did some things they got to learn from,” he said. “Obviously, you can see that Matt has been in it a little bit longer and understands it all a little bit better … Jake made some really good throws, then missed a couple things mentally.”

Linehan, who is no stranger to quarterback competition as he beat out Chad Chalich last season for the starting job, said he and Luton haven’t let the on-field battle affect their relationship off it.

“We’re really good friends,” Linehan said. “He’s going to make me better and I’m going to make him better … (Luton) has got a cannon. That kids arm is one of the best I’ve ever seen … kids’ like that don’t come around a lot. He’s got a lot of talent and there’s a bright future for him.”

Whoever wins the starting job will have an old face at a new position to throw to as junior Deon Watson has made the switch from wide receiver to tight end.

Linehan said the 6-foot-4 and 210-pound Watson has made a seamless transition to his new position.

“He’s got a natural feel for the position,” Linehan said. “I’m sure it will be a bit of a learning curve once he puts the pads on, but I have the upmost confidence in him and I think he’s going to continue to get better.”

Another player who has changed positions from last year is Chris Edwards. The senior from Detroit, Michigan, came to Idaho last year as a junior college transfer from Butte College, but after starting in the team’s first five games at safety, Edwards left the program for unknown reasons.

He has since returned and the 6-foot-2, 217-pound Edwards is now lining up at linebacker for the Vandals’ first-team defense.

Petrino said all the position changes have been for mainly one reason.

“What I’m really trying to do on both sides of the ball is get faster,” he said. “That’s why you see some guys move from one position to another.”

Petrino said he was happy with the overall performance on both sides of the ball for the first practice.

“I thought our intensity was very good,” he said. “It was kind of really what you want — kind of back and forth, so I thought it was a really good first day.”

Korbin McDonald can be reached at vandalnation@uidaho.edu

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