Boise State football coordinators Sanford, Yates discuss first spring scrimmage

By Chadd Cripe
© 2014 Idaho Statesman

The Boise State football team held its first scrimmage of the spring Thursday (closed, no stats). We talked to several players and coaches afterward. I’ll post notes as I transcribe. Included in this post are videos of offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, defensive coordinator Marcel Yates and wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes.

Mike Sanford, offensive coordinator

(Note: Not all of this is included in the video.)

On the scrimmage: “It went well. It was highly competitive. The intent of today’s scrimmage was for those guys to go out and play, to play free, to play without the coaches telling them exactly what to do every play — kind of take the training wheels off. … We wanted to make it less about a ton of scheme and more about the players and playing fast and having a chance to execute and seeing who our guys are. Overall, I was very pleased with the way they competed. There’s still a long way to go offensively. Any time you’re at spring practice and there’s give and take from scrimmage to scrimmage and practice to practice between the offense and defense, you feel pretty good about your football team. I think that’s where we’re at right now.”

On players who stood out: “A guy who just keeps making plays for us with the two group is (wide receiver) Thomas Sperbeck. He’s a good route-runner. I’ve been excited. Whenever you need a big play in a big situation — so far, and particularly today, he did a really nice job. The running back group, they had good day running the football today. Jay (Ajayi) was great. He didn’t get a ton of work but he was good. And then overall the quarterbacks, they’re still learning and still progressing and getting accustomed to having a larger menu of plays for them to operate with. We’ve really only installed five days — we’ve really been giving them the fire hose treatment, and it’s been good. I’m happy and pleased with the way they responded today. There was a little meat left on the bone out there. We missed a couple plays down the field, but we also hit a few for some touchdowns. Grant (Hedrick), I thought he really operated at a high level. Tommy (Stuart), he had a really nice drive and threw a great red-zone touchdown. And then (Ryan) Finley, for as little football as he played in the last two years, I’m really impressed with the way he’s progressing. He hasn’t allowed his arm situation and getting back from that to be a crutch whatsoever.”

Add on Sperbeck: “He has spatial awareness, great feel for leverage and how to attack defenders and get open. He did that today for two touchdowns.”

On Hedrick: “That Grant, he’s a talented kid. He throws it as well as anybody I’ve been around. He really does. That ball comes out of his hand and goes where he wants it to go and it spins and cuts the wind. And when he takes off and runs it, too, it’s something to be seen.”

On other standouts: “(Wide receiver) Matt Miller has made some really incredible, acrobatic catches and utilized his best attribute, which is his size and his strength. He’s done some really nice things. (Tailback) Jay (Ajayi), that guy is so patient. I just love his patience as a runner. He gets behind his pads and rolls. (Tailback) Derrick Thomas is a guy that has had some really nice moments through the spring.”

On the running backs: “I really like that running back group. I think people are going to be surprised at how deep it is.”

On installing the offense: “If day two and day three those guys feel like they have it down pat, then I think we’re not doing something right. … You want to have a loaded gun. You want to go in with enough bullets in the holster so you can get through a game.” Early in camp, he said, he wants to “just really tax these guys mentally and see how they respond. And I’ve been very pleased with how they’ve responded. There have been times they’ve been completely overwhelmed and they’ve fought through it.”

On “predictable” run plays: “You don’t want to run a bad play into a bad look. That’s where some of the tempo stuff does come into play. You watch a team like Oregon and at times they run bad plays into bad looks but because they’re going so fast a lot of them pop at times. But also I think there’s got to be a check system in place so you don’t consistently run bad plays into a bad look. That will be part of what we do because we want to be an efficient offense. We don’t want to waste plays. But there also is going to be a semblance of predictability in short yardage and goal-line situations. Today, when we had our goal-line period in the scrimmage, I want the defense to know exactly what we’re running, I want our offensive guys to know that they know exactly what we’re running, and we’re just going to beat you — man to man, 1-on-1, our double teams are going to move your guys and we’re going to go ahead and beat you … knowing that you have faith in a football play so much so that it doesn’t matter what the heck they call that you could run that play and convert a third-and-1 or a fourth-and-goal from the 1.”

On the offensive line: “You’re looking at a group of five offensive linemen who essentially have never played together. I’m really impressed with what coach (Scott) Huff has been able to do with that group in such a short amount of time.”

On the tight ends: “I think that’s going to be a feared group.”

Marcel Yates, defensive coordinator

On the scrimmage: “Played OK. It was up and down. They played hard and fast, I thought, but we made a couple busts out there.”

On physicality: “Our style is we want to be physical and at times I thought we were. One thing we have to clean up is the busts.”

On nickel safety Corey Bell in man coverage: “Corey’s done well. He’s always in here. He’s smart. He works hard. He wants to be able to do it. He’s a type of kid if you tell him he can’t do something, he’s going to strive to prove you wrong. He’s making a lot of plays on the ball. … If there’s ever a game where it’s a guy he can’t be out there (in coverage) with, that’s on me.”

He named Bell, linebackers Tanner Vallejo and Tyler Gray, defensive end Kamalei Correa, safety Darian Thompson and cornerback Donte Deayon as players who have impressed him. “(Thompson) is playing at another level right now,” Yates said. “He’s buying in, hitting people, and he’s playing fast as well.”

On defensive backs coach Julius Brown: “With me being a secondary guy, the one thing we can’t be bad at is the secondary. He’s feeling that pressure and I’m feeling that pressure, too. If there’s one position we’ve got to be good at, it’s the secondary.”

Safety Corey Bell

On the difference in his role: “Last year, instead of playing (the strong-side linebacker) on third down we would change the name to nickel and put a corner there and I would move to (weak-side linebacker). … This year, it’s just a lot more focus on me and my pass drop skills, my man skills. They’re trying to make it to where I can play that nickel position consistently on third down.”

On working with the defensive backs: “It’s something that I needed a little bit just because with the linebackers you’re working a lot of the hand placement, the strike and that stuff. I think it was important for me to get the footwork part of it this year. That’s been helping me with my pass drops.”

He expects to defend slot receivers: “It’s kind of something I’m excited for and anxious about at the same time. It’s fun, it’s a challenge — obviously guys like Shane (Williams-Rhodes) are great players and they make plays. My coaches are trying to give me different techniques to counteract those good slots in space.”

Other players competing at nickel: Mercy Maston, Dionza Blue, Dylan Sumner-Gardner.

On the coaches: “I like the way that they’re pushing us. It’s just a little bit of a different mentality. They’re kind of that mentality — there’s no excuses, no explanations, just a yes or no type idea. Did you make the play? Yes or no? It’s more black and white and it’s all about making plays.”

Wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes

Williams-Rhodes said the ankle injury he sustained last year at San Diego State included multiple torn ligaments. He’s about 75 percent now but a full participant in practice. “We’ve got a new offense,” he said. “I don’t want to wait and be lost.”

He said he’ll play more of a conventional receiver role this year with a dose of the specialty plays from last year.

On missing the last two games last year: “Even when I broke my hand at the beginning of fall camp, I still played in the Washington game. It was tough (sitting out), which is why I knew I had to do spring ball — even if it was going to hurt, I had to push through it.”

On the new offense: “It looks just like the old offense we used to have and I do think it’s going to work. This time last year, in the first scrimmage, the defense dominated. That’s usually how it is, but I feel like today it was pretty even. The offense would strike and the defense would strike back.”

Safety Darian Thompson

On the emphasis on physical/attacking play: “Our coaching staff this year has put more of an emphasis on those words. That’s something that we’re going to live by as a defense.”

On playing for Yates, who recruited him but left after his redshirt season: “It is cool. Now … I get to show him what I’ve got.”

On being a returning starter: “I look at it just as if I was an incoming freshman and I wanted to earn a starting spot. I’m not complacent about starting at free safety. I just know I’m going to go in and work and if somebody outworks me, so be it.”


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Chadd Cripe has spent the past 12 years as the Boise State football beat writer. You can follow him on Twitter @IDS_BroncoBeat.

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