Areas where ISU has really been hurting for capable bodies the last few seasons appear to have more than enough players to create a competitive atmosphere come August. For example, at running back, where the Bengals had a hard time finding a healthy body to put on the field at times last season, there now appears to be at least seven legitimate candidates for playing time. They include newly-announced JC transfers Jahmel Rover (above) and Tavoy Moore, as well as holdovers Jordan Scott, Ben Laporta, Skylar Morgan, Darrius Coleman and Stew Tracy. None are sure things, mind you. Rover and Moore both had JC injury issues; Scott never got healthy enough to take a snap at ISU last year; Morgan and Laporta missed time last year, as well, Tracy had fumblitis and Coleman is unproven as a redshirt who may switch to the secondary.
But at least there are enough candidates, as the roster stands today, to present new Bengal offensive coordinator Phil Earley some options.
Same deal on the defensive side of the football. As I noted in my signing day evaluation, the Bengals have invested at least a dozen scholarships in the defensive line over the past two seasons. The result, if everyone stays healthy and they all return to the program, would be a defensive line that is three deep at every position. At defensive end, for example, you'd have returning starters Sean Rutten and Jeff Tuua; situational pass rusher Jarrid Nash; Rustin Phillips and Jake Rouser, who both started to come on last year before injuries intervened; and redshirt freshmen Jake Pele, Justin Vae'ena, and James Bergren.
At tackle, you have the two new JC transfers, Marcus Austin and Jordan Monga; returnees Chad O'Donnell and David Tyler; and redshirts Rob Tramonte, Tuiasosopo Niusulu and Isaiah Walker.
So you can almost predict improvement through sheer numbers in the two areas where Idaho State struggled the most recently, in the running game and up front defensively. Here's a quick look at the rest of the pre-spring football depth chart, by position.
One of the thinnest positions on the team by experience, but one of the deepest in pure numbers. Russel Hill, a part-time starter for the past three seasons, will likely be the man to beat come fall camp. He'll have the benefit of spring ball to learn Earley's new offensive system, while JC transfer Grayson Galloway will have to start picking things up during summer 7-on-7s. Behind those two will be a pack of youngsters: redshirt freshmen Kyle Morris and Jake Lammers; greyshirts Justin Level and Mike Davenport; and true freshman Riley Sessions, if the later doesn't go on an LDS mission first.
Some folks were surprised the Bengals didn't go for a junior college player to help fill out this position, but Moore, the running back, can line up in the slot, and they did sign a promising freshman athlete in Demetrius Cowherd who could wind up at receiver. Even if those two don't contribute right away, the Bengals still have decent depth here: Kelvin Krosch really came on at the end of last season; Isaiah Burel is a deep threat when healthy; and Roderick Rumble and Shaquille Senegal both got meaningful reps at the end of their true freshmen seasons.
Then there is the case of Andrew Benavides, who was on his way to an outstanding freshman campaign when he suffered a career-threatening injury vs. Northern Arizona last year. It will be interesting to see if Andrew came come back from that scare and play with the same reckless abandon that made him so effective before the injury.
Another injured freshman, Tubotein Taylor, also returns at receiver. Taylor suffered a broken ankle in a pre-season scrimmage and it may take him awhile to regain his explosiveness, as well.
This is another position where a new JC transfer (Andrew Zamora) will add depth to a group of youngsters who all got significant playing time last year: Bryant Ward, Josh Hill and John Van Vliet. In addition, Tyler Hjelseth, who missed all of last year with injury, has two years of playing time under his belt at the position.
The Bengals' offensive line took a lot of criticism last year, but when push came to shove, the ISU coaching staff opted for young depth rather than several JC transfers at this position. Four starters return: Mark Clampitt, who could play any position along the line; guards Mitch Rudder and Braedon Clayson; and tackle Travis Nua. Junior college transfer Elijah Rule, at 6-5, 335, played center in JC, but his frame may dictate a move outside to tackle.
Experienced depth will come from among Demetrius Grant (if he's healthy), Brad Shedd, Nick Tranmer and, if he stays on the offensive side of the football, Minh Williams.
The Bengals are bringing in three greyshirt freshmen here: Dave Frederickson, who originally signed with Hofstra; and the McElwain twins, Sean and Ryan, out of Eagle. The greyshirts will have the benefit of spring football, meaning they may be more ready to contribute in the fall than normal first-year linemen. Capital High's Nick Beckman will likely redshirt. Returning missionary Stetzon Bair, who is listed at 6-7, 245, reportedly has packed on another 30 pounds on his mission. Whether that means he'll contribute immediately or go on a crash conditioning program remains to be seen.
This is a position where I think Idaho State may be as deep and talented as most teams in the Big Sky Conference. AJ Storms, an all-conference performer as a sophomore, and Phil Arias, ISU's No. 2 tackler last year, both return here. Add Basim Hudeen, who was Hofstra's second-leading tackler last year, JC transfer Setaleki Fuapau, who at 240 pounds could be a situational pass rusher like Nash; Jeremy Gibson, who likely would have started last fall at OLB before academics bit him; and J.T. Albers, who saw significant time on special teams and at backup MLB.
If all of those players return and remain healthy, the Bengals will have plenty of fresh legs to put on the field late in the game, and their special teams will get a big boost.
This is a position where I think the Bengal coaching staff may still be a bit concerned, particularly at the corners. The safety spots look fairly stable, with returners Chris Holmsley and Dustin Tew, Hofstra transfer Greg Melendez and Phil Pleasant, who saw significant action last fall. The corner spots, however, are iffy, as in, "if they get eligible," Kelvin Miller and Kenny Viser may be the starters; if not, then you're looking at Keith McGowen, Cameron Gupton and Brenan Ghassemieh. Cowherd could also be a candidate here.
This one is a real "TBD." With both their starting place kicker and punter departing, the Bengals looked hard for a punter and a place kicker to challenge redshirt freshman Brendan Garcia, but they came up empty by signing day. I would expect at least one, maybe two late additions here.
Return to Hillsboro
About ten years or so ago, Idaho State played Portland State in Hillsboro Stadium, a high school facility located in the Portland suburbs, while the city's PG&E Park was being renovated. ISU will get the same experience this fall, with PG&E undergoing another renovation, this to accommodate Portland's new MSL soccer franchise. While Hillsboro Stadium usually accommodates high school teams, it's not a bad facility and they are installing a new field turf playing surface there in anticipation of the extra use it will get this fall.
While we're on the subject of Portland State, the Vikings are joining the ranks of FCS teams who are scheduling two big "money games" this season against FBS opponents. The Vikings, under new head coach Nigel Burton, will play Arizona State and Oregon of the PAC 10. Last year, Idaho State played both ASU and Oklahoma, Weber took on Wyoming and Colorado State and Northern Arizona played at Arizona and Mississippi. The Bengals will play two FBS opponents again next season: at Utah State and Georgia.
It's always fun to take a look at how early signing basketball recruits are doing during their senior season. Here's an update on Idaho State women's recruits:
PG Sheryl Bitter: Is averaging 12.5 points, 5 assists and 2.6 steals a game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range for the 11-10, 6-2 Shelley Russets.
2G Kara Jenkins: Averaging 4 points a game on an undefeated Auburn Riverside team that is ranked 30th in the nation by ESPN. Has to share the ball with a University of Washington recruit and several other talented teammates.
F Cydney Horton: The 6-foot post player is averaging 10.7 points and 7.8 rebounds a game for her Cherokee Trails, Colo. high school which has already more than doubled its win total of five from last season.