Wednesday, February 3, 2010

New Recruiting Crop Heavy on Immediate Help

As befitting a football team that has struggled recently, Idaho State went heavy on what Bengal coach John Zamberlin (right) and staff hope will be immediate assistance in the recruiting class announced today. That class includes eight junior college players and two transfers with significant playing experience from the defunct Hofstra program. The experience was all focused towards areas of persistent need for the Bengals: some beef on the defensive front and some speed on the offensive side of the football.

Before I give you my off-the-cuff impressions of this collection of new Bengals, let me give me you my standard disclaimer: Other than some highlight videos, I haven't seen any of these kids play so I have no idea who among them will be impact players; if history is any indication, some of these kids will never see the field for Idaho State; and there will more than likely be later additions to the roster who make an impact (a punter, for example?). One other disclaimer: I haven't been able to verify who on the current ISU roster may not be returning, so my analysis is admittedly based on old data. We'll hopefully update that as spring ball approaches.

Okay, now to the "instant analysis":

Anybody Need a Quarterback?

By my count, new Bengal offensive coordinator Phil Earley will have at least six signal-callers to work with next fall, including returning starter Russel Hill and incoming junior college transfer Grayson Galloway. Behind them will be a slew of redshirt, greyshirt and true freshmen, including Justin Level, Riley Sessions, Jake Lammers and Kyle Morris. And what of returning missionary Mike Davenport, who is scheduled back in town next fall? It will be difficult for anybody to beat out Hill, who has three years experience as a part-time starter, even though he'll be learning a new system under Earley in the spring. Galloway presumably will be given the best shot at unseating Hill, but he won't have the benefit of spring practice to learn the new system.

History tells us that a deep quarterback depth chart has a way of thinning itself out. With very few reps available beyond the No. 2 quarterback once the season begins, frustration will set in and you can bet some of those players won't be in Pocatello this time next year. In the meantime, Earley, who has coached quarterbacks in the "big time," will have plenty of raw material with which to work.

Do Numbers Equate to Quality?

If everyone with eligibility returns, Idaho State will have 12 defensive linemen on the roster next year who have been recruited over the past two seasons. And that doesn't include regulars like Sean Rutten and Jeff Tuua, or Mihn Williams, who played on both sides of the football last year. That's a huge investment in one position -- will it finally pay off in productivity?

ISU had only eight sacks last year, and the Bengals are hoping the two junior college linemen they are bringing in, all of whom appear to be tackles, will create pressure from the inside. The guys who may be counted on to bring pressure off the edge may be players who were originally signed as linebackers: senior Jared Nash, who played both end and LB last year and led ISU with 3 sacks; and Setaleki Fuapau, who had 5 sacks as a JC linebacker last fall.

Whoever lines up in the trenches for the Bengals will have to do it without the guidance of Joe Cullen, last year's line coach who has apparently returned to the National Football League with Jacksonville.

Potential Over Proven Production

The Bengals have clearly needed help in the running game the last couple of years, and speed has definitely been a missing ingredient. ISU signed two junior college players to add to a deep, but unproven stable of runners: Tavoy Moore, who may be more of a slot receiver than a running back; and Jahmel Rover, a 5-10, 205-pounder. Injuries slowed both last year-- Moore caught only 10 passes and had nine carries; Rover was limited to 498 yards rushing in 111 carries. The ISU coaching staff is gambling that Rover and Moore will not repeat the experience of Jordan Scott, last year's junior college running back addition who missed a significant amount of time in JC, then couldn't get healthy enough to play at all last year.

Linebacker Should Rock

With all-conference AJ Storms and No. 2 tackler Phillip Arias returning, the Bengals have added Basim Hudeen, who piled up 111 tackles in his Hostra career; the aforementioned Fuapau; and Gregory Melendez, who plays like a linebacker/strong safety hybrid. If I didn't know better, I'd say ISU was building the roster for a 3-4 defense. No matter how they line up, if everyone stays healthy, linebacker should be a strength for the Bengals. And when it comes to special teams play, you can never have too many athletic linebackers on your roster.

O-Line? No Worries

While Idaho State's offensive line was much-maligned last year, the Bengals apparently feel comfortable enough with the experienced returnees that they recruited only one player likely to see the field immediately -- huge Elijah Rule, who could plug the hole left by departed center Ryan Henry, or switch to tackle, allowing Mark Clampitt to move inside. Either way, the coaching staff is making a big commitment to the four returning starters and their immediate backups, bringing in a bunch of freshmen who are unlikely to contribute next season rather than JC or four-year transfers.

Georgraphy Class

While the Bengals flirted with a lot of Eastern Idahoans and may eventually convince a few of those kids to walk on, they wound up signing only three players from this end of the state: Salmon quarterback Sessions; "legacy" Kole Krosch of Mackay, who hopes to follow in his older brother Kris' footsteps at linebacker; and a surprise signing, Pocatello fullback Wes Howard, who could wind up at linebacker or defensive end. The Bengals did tap the Boise Valley for four offensive linemen (including the McElwain twins, who signed last year and greyshirted); and defensive end Beaugh Meyer, who had 13 sacks while playing on a broken fibula last year, and may be one of ISU's more intriguing signings. ISU added eight in-state players, seven from California.

The immediate need for JC help meant Zamberlin pretty much abandoned his traditional recruiting ground of Washington state: only Rule, who was recruited out of a California JC, played his high school football in the Evergeen State. Montana, by comparison, signed seven players from Washington this year, compared to only three Montanans.

--Brad B.

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