Boise State football spring preview: Offensive line is young, thin

Boise State junior Marcus Henry played right guard last year. He could be the starting center this year. (Joe Jaszewski / Idaho Statesman)

Boise State junior Marcus Henry played right guard last year. He could be the starting center this year. (Joe Jaszewski / Idaho Statesman)

By Chadd Cripe
ccripe@idahostatesman.com
© 2014 Idaho Statesman

Through the spring, I’ll preview each position.

Today: Offensive line.

HENRY GETS FIRST CRACK AT CENTER

Junior Marcus Henry opened spring ball Monday as the first-team center for the Broncos — chosen by new offensive line coach Scott Huff, a former all-conference center for the Broncos.

Henry started 13 games at right guard last season. He replaces two-year starter and all-conference selection Matt Paradis.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way and he was into it, not to say any of the other guys weren’t into it,” Huff said of Henry. “It’s a work in progress, but we felt like he wanted to do it, he was into doing it, and body type-wise and how he moves and how he understands the offense, he was kind of a natural fit.”

The Broncos’ other centers in the spring are walk-ons Kellen Buhr and Mason Hampton. Travis Averill has practiced at that spot before, newcomer Jerhen Ertel could play there if needed and Andrew Tercek was recruited to play center but is out until the fall.

Averill is the only player in that group with any significant experience.

“I was excited for the opportunity to do that,” Henry said. “I’m kind of a veteran guy right now and I’m comfortable with the calls, so I’ll take it on.”

Henry (6-foot-3, 285 pounds) did some snapping last year and occasionally ran a play at center to provide additional depth but hasn’t played center since his freshman year of high school. The backup last year was starting guard Spencer Gerke, who also was a senior.

Averill trained as a center for a while but became one of the top backups at tackle. He started three games at right tackle when Rees Odhiambo was hurt. Averill now is playing guard.

Henry has fared well in the first two practices, Huff said, other than some ragged snaps.

“There’s a lot of stress on the center,” Henry said. “You’ve got a lot of things to worry about, reading the defense, making calls for the offensive line, snapping obviously, making a block. … (Snapping) is a pretty big adjustment. It’s a lot different when it’s a live, game situation.”

PERSONNEL AT A GLANCE

Roster
72 Marcus Henry, 6-3, 285, R-Jr.
71 Rees Odhiambo, 6-4, 307, R-Jr.
Jerhen Ertel, 6-5, 258, R-Jr.
73 Travis Averill, 6-3, 296, R-So.
70 Steven Baggett, 6-3, 285, R-So.
66 Mario Yakoo, 6-3, 323, R-So.
60 Kellen Buhr, 6-0, 285, R-So.
79 Avery Westendorf, 6-5, 292, R-So.
74 Archie Lewis, 6-3, 275, R-Fr.
75 Eli McCullough, 6-5, 271, R-Fr.
52 Andrew Tercek, 6-1, 279, R-Fr.
59 Mason Hampton, 6-2, 266, R-Fr.

Signees:
Troy Bacon, 6-3, 280, Fr.
Andres Preciado, 6-6, 255, Fr.
Tennessee Su’esu’e, 6-2, 295, Fr.

Returning starters (2 of 5): Henry (13 starts at right guard) and Odhiambo (eight at right tackle) played alongside three seniors last year.

Key losses: Three-year starting left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and Paradis were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. Gerke was the team’s most versatile lineman.

Projected starters: LT Odhiambo, LG Averill, C Henry, RG Yakoo, RT Lewis/Ertel

Other key returners: Averill (three, right tackle), Yakoo (one, right guard) and Baggett (two, right tackle) started games as redshirt freshmen last season. Averill filled in at tackle out of necessity but was considered an inside player long term.

Other players to watch: Ertel, a junior college transfer who arrived in January, was brought to town to compete for a starting job at tackle but he also could play guard or center. “That’s why it was such a good get for us, because he’s versatile and we’re already down to 10 guys,” Huff said.

Out for spring: Odhiambo and Tercek. Tercek was recruited with center in mind, so this spring is a big missed opportunity for him. He’ll start from scratch in the fall.

Incoming signees: The offensive line is one of the few spots where the Broncos have not played a true freshman in recent history. The physical and technical demands make the jump from high school a big one. If ever it was going to happen — and it’s still a long shot — this would be the year with the lack of depth and experience. Bacon is a center/guard, Su’esu’e is a guard/center and Preciado is a tackle.

Notes/quotes:

— The Broncos are three scholarship offensive linemen short of a full complement, Huff said. That’s because the group does not have a senior. He can get back to 15 scholarship players by recruiting three linemen in the class of 2015, since he doesn’t lose any. “The one thing that’s going to hurt us right now, and it’s going to be OK down the road, is we don’t have a senior class,” Huff said, “… which means you’ve got to develop the younger guys faster and means you’ve got to knock on wood and hope you don’t get hurt, but that’s going to happen at some point. Depth is the scariest thing for us right now.” For spring ball, he only has 10 linemen on the field.

— Lewis is one of the top under-the-radar prospects on the team. He was a late add to the 2012 recruiting class who grayshirted and joined the team in January 2013, a process that has been particularly beneficial to offensive linemen at Boise State (Daryn Colledge, Nate Potter and Gerke, for example). Lewis generated some buzz among teammates last year while redshirting. “Very raw. Very excited about him,” Huff said. “He’s got a lot of ability. If he develops the way we want him to develop, he could be a really good player for us.”

— The tackles on the roster are Odhiambo, Baggett, Lewis, McCullough and Ertel. Westendorf and Averill can play there. The guards are Averill, Yakoo, Westendorf and Tercek. The centers are Henry, Buhr and Hampton. All of the centers can play guard.

— Huff on developing toughness: “To me it’s mental and physical. When you’re a young guy and you get beat by an older guy, you’ve got to have the mental toughness to get back in there and forget about it and compete.”

— Henry on the line: “We’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of guys who played last year. It’s a good group.”

— Paradis, from last December, on the returning linemen: “Those guys are young and they’ve gotten thrown into the fire young — all those freshmen especially. Marcus Henry and Rees Odhiambo are going to have to step up their leadership because they’ll be the old guys next year. … Playing time is huge for those guys. I remember when I first started playing, it was Toledo. I was on the scout team against Billy Winn, Mike Atkinson and Chase Baker. I go into the Toledo game and I’m freaking out. I’m looking at these guys and they’re physical specimens, thinking, ‘Oh, geez, this is going to be bad.’ And I do one play and I’m like, ‘Wait, I’ve been going against the best in the country all year. This is nothing. I can do this.’ For them to get in and break the shock value of getting into a game is huge for them. We need them to step up for next year because they’re going to be important for the team.”

•••

A couple notes on the Spring Game, which is at 5 p.m. April 12:

— Coach Bryan Harsin has asked for a crowd of 20,000. The school record is 17,123 in 2012. It’s a ticketed event; tickets are included in the previous year’s season-ticket packages. “This will be a great opportunity for our fans to get a chance to see first-hand how hard our players have worked in winter conditioning and spring practice,” Harsin said in a press release issued Wednesday. “What we really want is to simulate a real game experience to wrap up spring ball for our guys. The best way to do that is to get at least 20,000 fans to help us set a Boise State spring game record.”

— The Beat Coach Pete run that benefited Boise State student scholarships has not been replaced yet. The school is working on other ideas but the new event won’t be included in this year’s Spring Game festivities.

— Other events in conjunction with the Spring Game: 1-4:30 p.m., Optimist Youth Football signups at the Caven-Williams Sports Complex; 1-2:20 p.m., Bronco Youth Experience (interactive stations for children kindergarten through eighth grade); 2:45 p.m., Harsin addresses Optimist players and parents in Caven-Williams; 3-4 p.m., player autographs in Caven-Williams; 3-5 p.m., family fun zone on the Allen Noble Hall of Fame Plaza.

•••

Boise State is producing weekly behind-the-scenes videos during spring ball. The first will be released at 6 p.m. today.


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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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