New scheme has D-line poised for bounce-back year
Forget tackling — defensive players aren’t even allowed to touch the quarterbacks during practice.
This is a rule that trumps all, and while it serves as a good purpose to protect the often fragile quarterbacks, it makes it tough to gauge what is and isn’t a sack.
Despite the limitations, 18 of these “sacks” were credited to the Vandal defense during last Saturday’s scrimmage, a number equal to Idaho’s real-sack total from all of last season.
This non-violent thrashing of Vandal quarterbacks started up front with an impressive showing from the defensive line, which tallied 12 of the 18 “sacks.”
“I think they’ve really stepped up,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said of the defensive line. “They’re definitely using their quickness and I think it’s been really good for them.”
Gone are the familiar faces of defensive end Maxx Forde and defensive tackle Quayshawne Buckley, but it’s not just new players who will look different for the Vandals’ defense this year. After defensive coordinator Ronnie Lee and his 4-3 defense departed in the offseason, Petrino brought in Mike Breske, the former Washington State defensive coordinator, to implement his 3-4 defense.
“It’s going great,” senior defensive end Quinton Bradley said of learning the new scheme. “Coming from a 4-3 to a 3-4, it’s a changeup, but everybody is embracing it.”
With 10 tackles and five sacks last scrimmage, Bradley appears to be excelling at his new role on the defensive front. However, the San Antonio native said there is one big difference he’s still trying to get used to.
“You gotta deal with a fat person before you get to get out there,” Bradley said. “Usually, in a 4-3, I can just rush one person on the outside, but now I gotta handle a 350-pound person and then go out there. So it’s a little changeup, but I got stronger for it.”
After spending the majority of his college career at the five-technique in the 4-3 defense, where the defensive end is lined up on the offensive tackle’s outside shoulder, Bradley’s new role is on the inside.
“Now I’m head up,” Bradley said. “I gotta learn how to still use my speed and get outside while also playing the B-gap. It’s an adjustment … I ain’t outside no more, so I just got to work on it and get better.”
Even though Petrino always preaches competition and no player is a lock to start, the defensive line might be as close as it gets to having its starters set.
The first team defensive line has stayed mostly consistent throughout spring. Opposite of Bradley at the other defensive end spot has been the 6-foot-1, 301-pound junior Tueni Lupeamanu, and fitting snug between those two at nose tackle has been the 6-foot-3, 320-pound senior Ryan Edwards.
While it appears the starters are set, it doesn’t mean others won’t have their fair share of opportunities.
New defensive line coach Kenny Holmes said he hopes to have a rotation of eight or nine players on the defensive line alone.
“We want to be interchangeable,” Holmes said. “We have guys playing multiple positions … We want to have different combinations if we need it for different situations.”
In the short time he’s been with the program, Holmes said the group of defensive linemen started to impress him from the moment he arrived at Idaho.
“Tough group that always wants to get better,” he said. “Whether its coming in and watching film extra, them doing extra stuff on the field, asking me what they can do to better their game — as a coach, you love that.”
It goes both ways, as well. Bradley said Holmes is a guy players can look up to.
“He had that experience in the NFL, and you know he’s a great mentor to us,” Bradley said of Holmes, who played seven seasons as a defensive end in the NFL. “We got somebody that knows exactly what he wants out of his d-line, and knows exactly how to do it.”
Bradley said the new defense allows them to be more aggressive than they were in years past.
“We really wanna stop the run this year,” Bradley said. “That’s why we brought in coach Breske. I believe you’re going to see a lot of aggressiveness and hard hits.”
The hard hits on a quarterback will have to wait until Sept. 3, when the Vandals play their first game in the Kibbie Dome against Ohio.
Korbin McDonald can be reached at email@example.com