There’s something about the Lewiston fan base that makes Palouse college football teams feel obligated to give them a personal viewing.
Washington State has been doing this for a few years now, moving their fall camp practices to Lewiston’s Sacajawea Junior High. The Idaho Vandals are following suit, holding their first scrimmage of the spring session at Lewiston High’s Bengal Field at 10 a.m. today.
It’s the sixth practice of camp for Idaho, which has had only two sessions open to the public. Since today’s session is open to everyone, here’s a viewer’s guide, highlighting the key positions to watch when the Vandals take the field.
Luton leading the way
This will be the first scrimmage in which quarterback Jake Luton will — presumably — have the first-team offense all to himself. Coach Paul Petrino expects starting quarterback Matt Linehan, who will miss all of camp with a foot injury, to be back in the fall, but the reps Luton receives in these scrimmages could help the incumbent close that gap.
The chemistry with the receivers will play a major role. Linehan has great relationships with guys like David Ungerer and Jacob Sannon, but since they both missed almost all of last season, Luton has an opportunity to establish a connection of his own. That’s important since Sannon and Ungerer are expected to be two of the top receivers this season along with Callen Hightower.
Projected first-team lineup: Luton. Backup: Gunnar Amos.
All eyes on Alfonso
Speaking of receivers, junior college transfer Alfonso Onuwar looks like he’ll be pretty good. Petrino noted his strong play after the first day of camp — he also mentioned him being lost on a few plays — and the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Coffeyville product continued to shine once the pads came on during the fourth practice. He wears the same No. 1 jersey as previous standout wideout Dezmon Epps, so he’s got some big shoes to fill at that spot. So far he’s looked like a sufficient replacement. It will be interesting to see how he performs — and how many reps he receives — in the closest thing this spring to a game-like situation.
Projected first-team lineup: Onuwar, Hightower, Sannon.
Party of three
Petrino indicated earlier in the week that scrimmages will present the best opportunity for the three running backs — Aaron Duckworth (5-8, 201 pounds), Isaiah Saunders (5-10, 228) and Denzal Brantley (6-0, 213) — to try to separate themselves. How the reps are divided up will be intriguing as well. Petrino said so far it’s been pretty even, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see someone like Duckworth receive a bulk of the touches out of the backfield.
But since Petrino also likes to ride the hot hand, if Saunders or Brantley break off a few long runs on their first few series, they may see more touches as the day goes on.
Projected first-team lineup: Duckworth, Saunders.
It often goes overlooked, but the linebacker group is replacing three seniors, including starting middle linebacker Broc Westlake. It has also added a new coach, Troy Purcell, into the mix, which means this might be the unit with the most uncertainty heading into the Sept. 1 season opener. Taking note of the first and second teams here will be key, as well as any observing any schematic chances Purcell has implemented. Tackling was a huge issue last season, which is why Idaho finished with the worst rushing defense in the Sun Belt Conference. That will be important to watch today as well.
Projected first-team lineup: Kaden Elliss, Ed Hall, Leonard Hazewood (BUCK), Khalin Smith (BUCK).
Michael-Shawn Dugar can be reached at (208) 883-4629, by email to email@example.com or on Twitter to @MikeDugar.