One of the first things Paul Petrino said he would do when he was introduced as the new coach in December is immediately break down film from 2012 to better understand where the strengths and holes on his team were.
One of those holes he felt compelled to fill was the linebacker position.
Petrino signed four junior college linebackers in the early signing period and brought in one more high school student athlete on National Letter of Intent Day. His inaugural signing class had more linebackers than any other position.
What we’re saying is that you’re probably not going to recognize many guys, if any, in this linebacking core.
James Randall (Jr.), Addison Palomino (RFr.), Matthew Willis (Sr.), Spencer Killman (RFr.), Skyler Nielson (RFr.), Ringo Robinson (RFr.)
Conrad Scheidt, Homer Mauga, Rob Siavii, Su’a Tuala, Elan Richard, Corey Sandberg, Kerey Kuheana, Jeremiah Walters, Nik Landdeck
Coming in for spring:
Brock Westlake (So.), Eric Tuipulotu (Jr.), Marc Millan (Jr.), Juan Martinez (Jr.)
Junior college players have their pros and their cons. For cons, they were in junior college for a reason, whether it be grades, attitude or talent. Relying on too many junior college players can have an effect on the chemistry of your program.
But in a meeting with the media during the early signing period, Petrino said what he likes about this group is that they bring good character, along with the immediate experience a junior college player brings.
Whether or not that is the case remains to be seen, but at the very least the group adds much-needed depth to a position group that lost four starters whose eligibility ran out.
Petrino alluded a little bit to where the junior college signees might play during his signing day press conference. He referred to Broc Westlake as a “Mike,” meaning playing in the middle. Juan Martinez played inside linebacker at City College of San Francisco, and both him and Westlake have the taller, bulky build compared to the rest of the linebacking unit. So it appears those two could compete for the starting middle linebacker job.
Marc Millan, Petrino said, “we’ll pass rush with a lot.” The 6-foot-1, 215-pound outside linebacker could see some time competing for the starting weak side linebacker spot
Eric Tuipulotu, the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder from the College of San Mateo will “run around and knock you,” Petrino said.
Sounds like he’d be a good strong side linebacker. Martinez and Westlake could try and get in on the strong side action too.
Of the returning group of linebackers, James Randall and Matthew Willis are the only experienced ones. Randall was competing for the starting middle linebacker job last fall before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in practice. Willis played a reserve role, and fits in well at middle linebacker.
It remains to see how all of the redshirt freshmen play into new defensive
coordinator Ronnie Lee’s plans, but it is telling how compelled Petrino and Lee were to get so many linebackers right away.
In the fall Idaho will add Tony Lashley, who played at outside linebacker at Rockhurst High School, but has the build to grow into any of the spots.
Way-too-early spring depth chart projections
Strong side OLB
1. Eric Tuipulotu
2. Juan Martinez
3. James Randall
1. Broc Westlake
2. Juan Martinez
3. Matthew Willis
Weak side OLB
1. Marc Millan
2. James Randall
3. Juan Martinez
Sean Kramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org