Tanner Conner fall camp 2019

Idaho State wide receiver Tanner Conner (80) runs through a drill with graduate assistant coach Hagen Graves during Aug. 7's fall camp opener at the ICCU Practice Field.

POCATELLO — After a long summer, the click of pads returned to the ICCU Practice Field on Friday, as the Idaho State Bengals had their first padded practice of fall camp.

With the pads on, the intensity went up, and head coach Rob Phenicie couldn't have been happier.

"The best thing about getting in pads is you can start to wrap up, do some tackling aspects, a little bit of contact, you don't have to worry about someone banging up their shoulder, stuff like that," Phenicie said. "We'd still like to be in full (pads), so you can be a little bit more fierce, but it teaches guys to stay up, get in position, wrap, stuff like that. ... So it's good to get out there, and the receivers need to get banged around a little bit, the running backs need to get banged around a little bit, and the line can pass protect and the D-line can rush with a little bit more aggressiveness than you do in a non-padded situation."

After two practices in jerseys and shorts to start the fall, the players were just as excited.

"I think it felt really good," senior tight end Austin Campbell said. "It kind of helps get the rust off when we're out there actually playing real football. Like coach Phen says, we're not in pajamas anymore, so it feels good to put the big-boy pads on. I think we were able to get real looks, especially blocking-wise for us. Even running routes, it's different when they're trying to put their hands on you and stuff."

The receivers stood out on Friday, a good day for a position that was expected to be the most talented one on the team coming into the season.

In one sequence midway through practice, Michael Dean outwrestled a defensive back to come up with a deep ball, before Mitch Gueller snagged a jawdropping one-handed catch on the far sideline and Tanner Conner jumped over a defender to haul in another deep ball.

That's three highlights from the players who have been getting most of the reps as the top three receivers this fall.

Here are some more highlights and observations from Friday's session.

- Being back in pads meant that ball security was once again a priority for the offense, as defenders, although not going all out, tried to punch, pry and otherwise force the ball out of the hands of running backs and receivers. Drop it, and a player has to take a lap around the outside of the field, holding tightly to a football the whole way. "You can start stripping the ballcarriers of the ball and forcing ball security, which we treat as a religion around here," Phenicie said. "That's our rule, and it's at any time. So we tell those defensive guys, if a guy is walking around with it, pop it out, so we're always thinking about ball security. It's fun. We tell them, want to see them run, knock the ball out."

- The pads also gave the offensive and defensive lines a chance to go at each other in one-on-one drills, and the offensive line, as would be expected from such an experienced unit, looked to be a little bit ahead of its counterparts. Returning right tackle Dakota Wilson seemed to once again be spending most of his time on that side of the line, instead of switching with Jack Eli-Tufono at left tackle, which was likely the only question concerning the starters. The most-common second-string offensive line appeared to consist of Hunter Smith at left tackle, Jake Wilkerson at left guard, Terron Carey at center, Zion Dixon at right guard and Garrett Smith at right tackle, although that situation will be a great deal more fluid than the one with the first string. On the D-line, Garrett Crane was picking up some first-string reps and looked good, with a high motor.

- Matt Struck and Gunnar Amos both had good days throwing the ball again, and both seem to be embracing the competition. On one sequence, Struck hit Dean with a perfect deep ball, before Amos came back the next series with an even better throw, a bomb while under pressure and moving left in the pocket that hit Isaiah Walter in stride for a score. Struck came back by showing off his touch, placing the ball just over a leaping defensive back on a corner route for a big gain to tight end Jake Johnson. "They're doing some good things," Phenicie said about his quarterbacks. "It's fun watching them pick things up, progressing from where they were in the spring. And that's the biggest thing, they didn't take any steps back and they're both doing a lot of good stuff. It's fun to watch them, and (offensive coordinator) Mike Ferriter's doing a great job with them."