MOSCOW — Who’ll pop a runner in open space, and which runners persist through the pops — it’s what seventh-year Idaho coach Paul Petrino has pinned the upcoming season on.
So naturally, when the pads go live, contested position groups tend to get sorted out.
On Friday at the Kibbie Dome, the Vandals ran about 90 plays of live tackle, and likely did something similar in the second scrimmage Saturday.
In the past scrimmage-and-a-half, it’s been an 18-year-old Idahoan who’s turned heads. Running back Nick Romano, the State 5A MVP from Rocky Mountain High, procured big chunks twice on wheel routes Friday. Throughout the week (and camp) he has steadily risen on the depth chart, owing to his advanced size, speed, cuts and never-shy-from-contact attitude.
“There’s no question that Nick will be playing, and there’s good competition at that position,” Petrino said, soon after referencing freshman Kiahn Martinez, who shares many of Romano’s traits.
Both have performed how Petrino desires in the flats, with open space.
Unexpectedly, the starting running back spot is far from solved. Sophomore Roshaun Johnson and freshman Aundre Carter were the Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the spring. Both are bruisers, and based on reps it appears Petrino seeks an added layer of versatility in the offense, with a big-bodied back for short-yardage situations.
“I think we’ll wait until the end of this week (to name an early-stage starter),” Petrino said. “I don’t think anyone’s leading right now. If you had to say somebody was, it’d probably be the two freshmen, and then the way Aundre ran in live tackle the other day.”
If Petrino were to name his offensive players of the week, they’d be Romano and Carter.
From an overall offensive standpoint, Petrino wants the group to continue where it left off Friday — creating 15-plus-yard gains in space. Quarterback Mason Petrino, the coach’s son, fared the best of everyone, oftentimes selling the run before flicking a ball out to a back for the rest, or reading edge pressure, stepping up and tossing one over the middle to standout receiver Jeff Cotton, who then creates yardage with a sideline race.
“We’ve done some different things with the ability to use your tight ends, use those receivers,” said Paul Petrino, hinting at the trickeration in his scheme designed to fashion easy completions. “We’ve gotten some more big plays in this camp than we have in the past.”
There’s no “perfect world in a scrimmage,” but if Petrino had to name it, it’d see the offense continue to play safe and fluidly, establishing pass-catchers in space, and the defense continuing to flow well, gang-tackle and, when needed, make one-on-one stops.
When asked what new defenders are picking things up quickly, Petrino went to Sully Shannon, a hard-nosed, 200-pound true freshman linebacker with precocious lateral movement who’ll likely be Jalan Jenkins’ backup at will. Juco transfer Robert Miller was switched to sam, where he’ll play behind Christian Elliss.
Petino also noted brisk headway made by defensive tackles Noah Elliss and Jonah Kim, both of whom have bulldozed in spurts of play during their first week in full pads.
Kim, Noah Elliss and Christian Elliss combined for a trio of goal-line, power-versus-power stops Friday.