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ISU football notebook: Bengals to test revamped defense, youth at NAU

October 13, 2016 GMT

Mike Kramer and Idaho State used last week’s bye to regroup, refocus, heal and retool after a 45-20 loss Oct. 1 at Portland State.

The time off was needed after giving up 531 yards rushing to a team that didn’t complete a pass, and ISU was able to rest ailing players and heal those that had missed time.

Plus, Kramer said he and his coaching staff had the opportunity to take a closer look at some young talent in the program.

“We used the bye week to evaluate our really young players,” Kramer said Wednesday at his weekly press conference. “Got a number of walk-ons in our program that are pretty good players, and we want to watch them play a little more extensively so we can make some recruiting plans.”

ISU’s health, youth and defensive adjustments were among the main topics of Kramer’s press conference in preparation for Saturday’s game at Northern Arizona.

SIMPLIFIED DEFENSE

Kramer said he and the coaching staff simplified basic aspects of the defense, from tackling, to alignment, to footwork and reads.

The Bengals dropped to dead last in the Big Sky in rushing defense after the Portland State game, at which point Kramer said change was needed.

“We paid a hell of a price for not being well-coached, and that started with me,” Kramer said Wednesday.

Kramer didn’t specify whether any schematic changes were made. This season is ISU’s first with a 4-3 front in Kramer’s tenure.

ISU senior safety Taison Manu said Wednesday the defense plans to use more three-safety nickel packages and a new scheme for “unbalanced formations.”

Manu and sophomore safety Jayson Miller said the simplified defense requires less thinking, allowing defenders to play faster with less to account for.

“There were times (before the switch) when you might be on the field and you have so many different checks that you’re barely knowing what to do right before the snap of the ball,” Manu said.

Northern Arizona ranks fifth in the conference in scoring offense, second in total offense, fourth in rushing offense and third in passing offense.

“No matter how you mix the dough or throw in the filling, it’s still not pie until it comes out of the oven,” Kramer said. “So, we’ll wait until Saturday night afterwards to talk a little bit about some things we’ve done better.”

TEN TRUE FRESHMEN ON DEPTH CHART

Idaho State’s updated depth chart for Saturday’s matchup with Northern Arizona features 10 freshmen and eight redshirt freshmen.

Freshmen Mitch Gueller (wide receiver), Jacob Molenaar (left guard), Dallen Collins (center) and Austin Campbell (fullback) are listed as first-stringers, while Caleb Brown and Brandon Monroe (cornerbacks), Michael Dean (slot receiver) and Tavi Leuta-Ulu (right guard) are immediate backups.

Redshirt freshman Chance Salutregui is listed as a starter at defensive end with fellow second-year freshmen Mason Jackson and Braiden Beckman listed as his backups.

The Bengals have 46 freshmen and redshirt freshmen on the roster and more than a dozen have received significant playing time this season.

COLLINS, PHILLIPS RULED OUT FOR THE SEASON

Kramer announced Wednesday offensive linemen Chase Collins and Skyler Phillips are officially out for the remainder of 2016. Kramer said last week Phillips had an outside chance of returning.

Collins, a redshirt junior, suffered an injury early in fall camp and finally returned to action against Sacramento State. He didn’t play against Portland State.

Phillips, a senior, started the first four games at left tackle, left the Sacramento State game and didn’t play against Portland State. Phillips had drawn the eyes of NFL scouts and started 35 games in four seasons. It’s undecided whether Phillips will apply for a medical hardship waiver.

ABBOTT TO START, VAZORKA SHIFTS TO TACKLE

Redshirt senior Cody Abbott will make his first start of the season Saturday at right guard. Abbott got hurt in fall camp and made his season debut against Portland State.

Senior Thomas Vazorka, who started the last three games at right guard and the previous two at left guard, will start at right tackle. Redshirt sophomore Kyle Jones started at right guard in all five games this season and is listed as the backup at left tackle.

“Thomas has been just a warrior for us,” Kramer said.

Vazorka’s main assignment will be Northern Arizona defensive end Siupeli Anau, the reigning Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week who recorded six tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles in the Lumberjacks’ 20-14 win last week at Montana State.

“He’s got a severe challenge ahead of him,” Kramer said of Vazorka.