Boise State football spring preview: Position previews, projected starters

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

I previewed the Boise State football team by position throughout spring ball. Here are all of those previews in one file. I’ve made a few updates, but keep in mind that some of these were written in early to mid-March.

I also have added links to related stories that ran in the newspaper.

Also, here is our comprehensive recap of the Spring Game and here is our recap of the other scrimmage open to the media.

And here are Brian Murphy’s spring columns on Harsin and the Spring Game.Practice players of the day
Bronco All Access videos
Boise State spring prospectus

QUARTERBACK

‘Unflappable’ Hedrick
Finley emerges

Harsin will be involved with the QBs

Boise State coach Bryan Harsin, who was an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for seven years at Boise State (2006-10) and Texas (2011-12) and the play caller for the first half of last season at Arkansas State, has not completely removed himself from the offense.

At practice, offensive coordinator Mike Sanford calls the plays from the sideline. Harsin watches from behind the offense and has a quick conversation between snaps with the quarterback about what he saw.

“They’re getting a play and answering my questions at the same time,” Harsin said. “I’m trying to gauge what they’re thinking so I can relay that to Mike. … At the same time, my job for the quarterback is to make sure the operation is right.”

Harsin also attends the offensive staff meetings and shares his opinions on the scheme.

PERSONNEL AT A GLANCE

Roster
9 Grant Hedrick, 6-0, 202, R-Sr.
8 Tommy Stuart, 6-0, 190, So.
15 Ryan Finley, 6-3, 186, R-Fr.
13 Richard Hoppe, 5-10, 153, R-Fr.

Signee:
Alex Ogle, 6-3, 205, Fr.

Returning starters (0 of 1): None.

Key loss: The Broncos were 17-4 over the past two seasons when Joe Southwick started. They were 2-3 when he didn’t. Southwick completed 72.6 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions last season.

Key returner: Hedrick completed 69 percent of his passes for 1,825 yards and 16 touchdowns with five interceptions last season. He also rushed for 277 yards and six touchdowns, both second on the team, while playing most of the final seven games (five starts). His efficiency rating of 150.04 nearly matched Southwick’s 153.62.

Projected starter: Hedrick.

Other players to watch: The Broncos only have two other scholarship quarterbacks in spring ball — sophomore transfer Tommy Stuart, of Butte College, and redshirt freshman Ryan Finley, who missed most of last fall to have shoulder surgery to repair a pre-existing injury. That made Stuart a rare JC transfer who walked into camp as the backup quarterback. Finley, however, took over that role as the spring progressed.

Out for spring: None.

Incoming signees: Alex Ogle, who might not have signed with anyone if the Broncos hadn’t offered him late in the recruiting process, becomes a key figure in Harsin’s rebuilding effort. “He’s obviously a big part of what we’re trying to build and Alex needs to come in here and be prepared,” Harsin said.

Notes/quotes:

— Hedrick on his spring priorities: “Taking care of the football is probably No. 1. No. 2 is the leadership role. I need to be a big leader to this team and just have fun and believe in what we’re doing.”

—Sanford on Hedrick: “The biggest thing is his desire to be great. He’s a talented athlete. I think he’s a really unflappable individual. The ups and downs of going through what he did last year, that hardened him, in a good way. He can throw the ball, too. He’s a guy that can spin it.”

— Sanford on Stuart: “He is a gym rat. That dude, it seems like you can’t walk by the facility without seeing him doing something football-related. He loves working, too.”

— Harsin on what he wants to see from Hedrick this spring: “I want to see him execute. He’s got good technique. He throws the ball well. His arm is plenty strong. He runs well. It all comes down to execution. … ‘Did you see this? Did you see that?’ I’m talking more football with him — scheme, defenses and how to beat it. For Grant, it comes down to execution. … You start to hear him coach himself back to you, basically. As a senior quarterback, that’s where you get to be. ‘I saw this, I saw that, so I checked it down.’ He’s not there yet, but that’s really what you hope to come out of spring with.”

— Harsin won’t hesitate to use Hedrick’s running ability: “We’ll run him because he’s got the ability to do that. That’s part of who we are. We utilize our quarterback in different ways. It also depends on how we develop up front … to maybe not have to do those things, but if we have to, we will. … One thing about Grant, Grant’s a tough guy.”

— Finley has progressed to an “as tolerated” throwing program, Harsin said. “We held him back out of team. He tried to insert himself. We’ve basically taken the training wheels off. We’ll let him get some team reps now. The more he throws, the better he feels.”

— Stuart has shown a playmaking knack. Harsin laughed at one play. Stuart didn’t know the tight end’s name or the call to alert him to a certain adjustment, so he just yelled “tight end, tight end.” It worked — and the throw to the tight end went for a touchdown. “Tommy’s done a real good job,” Harsin said. “We don’t over-coach Tommy. Just let him go out and play football. He finds the guys and throws them open. … He doesn’t have all the concepts right now.” But Stuart spends as much time as anyone studying, Harsin said, “trying to figure it out.” “One thing I can guarantee you is he will (figure it out),” he said. “I like the way he’s operating out there. I like the way he’s seeing certain things.”

— Harsin on Hedrick after the Spring Game: “I thought he did well for being for the most part in a new system. I think his preparation habits are good. … Like everybody else, Grant is going to have to work the details. There are so many different wrinkles and details that guys can use to their advantage and that just takes a lot of work to get that done. But Grant’s a guy who works. To me, he’s proven he’s a worker and proven that he’ll do the work to get it done and he’s also proven he has the tools to do it.”

— Hedrick after the Spring Game: “It’s been a smooth transition overall. … For me, it’s just managing things better. I’ve improved a lot over this spring so over this summer that’s going to be a big thing for me is just taking that leadership role and being vocal, getting guys lined up faster, getting guys in spots faster so we can go a little bit faster.”

— Hedrick on leadership: “I’m more comfortable doing that. Guys are kind of listening, looking for that. So going into this summer, that’s going to be a big thing for me, and I feel a lot more comfortable now.”

— Sanford after the Spring Game: “For (Finley) to go out there and not use his shoulder as a crutch and just battle through was really impressive. I like that that kid’s doing. And Tommy, you know, as long as Tommy takes care of the football, he made some progress, too. He’s a guy that moves the ball down the field a little bit. You kind of feel his energy at times.”

TAILBACK

Depth improving

Thomas relishes ‘fresh start’ after ‘self-inflicted’ struggles in 2013

Boise State senior tailback Derrick Thomas was supposed to provide immediate production as the backup tailback and some veteran leadership last year when he arrived from Butler Community College.

He did neither.

Thomas rushed 32 times for 95 yards (3.0 yards per carry) in nine games. Five tailbacks and two quarterbacks rushed for more yards.

Thomas was suspended for the first and last games of 2013 for violations of team rules. He did not have a carry in the first three games or the last three.

“I was (frustrated),” he said Wednesday, “but that was last year. I’m trying to lose memory of that. It was pretty hard, but it’s the past, so I just leave it in the past.”

Thomas admitted that some of what held him back last season was “self-inflicted.”

“Things that I should have overcame,” he said.

He may have benefited from the coaching change as much as any player on the team. So far this spring, Thomas has earned raves for his play. Twice, he has been the offensive player of the day in practice.

“His whole approach has been good,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “What he’s done in the film room, what he’s done in the weight room, in the classroom, just everything. As a senior, things start to click.”

Said offensive coordinator Mike Sanford: “Derrick Thomas had a monster of a first session (of spring ball).”

Thomas said he has tried to improve his approach to practice by using every day to improve. He also is more comfortable after more than a year on campus.

He received advice from former defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, who also came to Boise State from Butler and endured some disciplinary issues.

“He told me just work, just work every day — whatever you want, just work and you’ll get it,” Thomas said.

“… I feel like I can be a playmaker and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

And he’s enjoying the chance to prove that to a set of coaches who didn’t witness last year’s struggles.

“That’s exactly what I look at every day as — a fresh start to showcase my talent,” he said.

PERSONNEL AT A GLANCE

Roster
23 Derrick Thomas, 6-0, 225, R-Sr.
27 Jay Ajayi, 6-0, 216, R-Jr.
21 Jack Fields, 5-9, 197, Jr.
26 Devan Demas, 5-8, 172, R-So.
10 Jamel Hart, 5-10, 206, R-So.
35 Charles Bertoli, 5-11, 190, R-So.
37 Ryan Wolpin, 5-8, 191, R-Fr.
39 Skyler Seibold, 6-1, 188, Fr.

Signees:
Jeremy McNichols, 5-10, 190, Fr.
Cory Young, 5-10, 180, Fr.

Returning starters (1 of 1): Ajayi earned All-Mountain West honors last year and enters 2014 as one of the leading contenders for Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year. He rushed 249 times for 1,425 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and 18 touchdowns. “That guy is so patient,” Sanford said. “I just love his patience as a runner. He gets behind his pads and rolls.”

Key losses: Aaron Baltazar, who rushed for 234 yards in five games as a true freshman, tore an anterior cruciate ligament last season and left the program in December.

Key returners: Fields (139 yards), Demas (125), Bertoli (115) and Thomas (95) have game experience. At least one of them needs to step up and prove he can be a reliable backup and possible replacement for Ajayi given the physical nature of the position. “I like the running back group a lot,” Sanford said. “I think people are going to be surprised at how deep it is. Those guys are getting a chance to play and for us to see they have different skill sets. I think it’s going to be a strength of our offensive group.”

Projected starter: Ajayi.

Other players to watch: Thomas, Demas and Bertoli likely are jockeying for position behind Ajayi and Fields.

Out for spring: None

Incoming signees: McNichols, a former Utah commit, and Young give the Broncos some much-needed youth at the position after the loss of Baltazar and the decision to play Fields as a true freshman in 2012.

Notes/quotes:

— Thomas is up to about 230 pounds, an accident. “Just happened,” he said. He hopes to lose 10-15 pounds before the season.

— Thomas said the new scheme requires “physical, just downhill, runners — and that’s me all the way.”

— Fields on the new coaches: “I have an opportunity to compete once again and kind of have a second start, which you normally don’t have.”

— Fields on Ajayi: “He’s a hard worker. The thing a lot of people need to know about why he’s successful is he stays in the film room. He’s a student of the game and I respect that. That’s the thing I know I needed to work on, staying in the film room and making sure I understand all parts of the offense.”

— Fields on his role: “I know my time will come. I’m a hard worker. I just stay humble. I just keep on working. And I know it will come, because I’m taking the steps necessary.”

— Ajayi on the new offense: “I’m getting to do a lot more running the football from under the center, which is good. I get to do a lot more power running, which I like to do.”

— Demas was terrific in the Spring Game. He took a short throw 82 yards for a touchdown and rushed for 20 yards. “Devan Demas has speed and he can catch the ball out of the backfield,” offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said. “If that guy gets a crease, he’s got a chance. So that’s a guy that we have to utilize. … He’s going to earn himself a role if he just continues on the current trajectory and doing things the right way. He can be a home-run threat for us.”

WIDE RECEIVER

Sperbeck gets a boost from early playing time

Thomas Sperbeck didn’t play much as a true freshman, but it was still enough to help him, he said.

Sperbeck made five catches for 40 yards last season. He was inserted into the rotation after the season began, because of injuries to his teammates, and missed several games with a high ankle sprain of his own.

He has been a top performer in spring ball as the No. 2 slot receiver, behind junior Shane Williams-Rhodes.

“I think it helped me a lot this year,” Sperbeck said of last year, “because of the experience and going with the older guys on the trips. … The more games you play, the less nervous you’ll get and all the butterflies are out.”

Sperbeck, whose dad Marshall is the coach at Sacramento State, came to the Broncos as an athlete. He played quarterback and safety in high school.

The Broncos slotted him as a safety, but they told him when he arrived on campus in late June that he would play wide receiver instead.

“I kind of wanted to play offense, actually,” he said. “… It was really difficult at first just because I really haven’t done much of it till now, but the coaches helped me out a lot with it.”

He’s competing with a bunch of young receivers to fill in the rotation behind senior Matt Miller and Williams-Rhodes, two of the top playmakers in the Mountain West.

“There is a lot of opportunity,” Sperbeck said. “We’ll see what happens.”

So far this spring, Sperbeck has looked like he’s ready to seize that opportunity.

“He’s deceiving — deceptively fast,” wide receivers coach Junior Adams said. “He’s understanding how to create separation in tight spaces.”

That showed up in the team’s first scrimmage of spring ball with two touchdown catches.

“A guy who just keeps making plays for us with the two group is Thomas Sperbeck,” offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said after the scrimmage. “He’s a good route-runner. I’ve been excited. Whenever you need a big play in a big situation … particularly today, he did a really nice job.”

PERSONNEL AT A GLANCE

Roster
2 Matt Miller, 6-3, 220, R-Sr.
81 Dallas Burroughs, 5-8, 171, Sr.
20 Terrell Johnson, 5-9, 172, R-Jr.
14 Troy Ware, 6-2, 183, R-Jr.
11 Shane Williams-Rhodes, 5-6, 160, Jr.
19 Taylor Pope, 6-0, 180, R-So.
82 Thomas Sperbeck, 6-0, 174, So.
80 D.J. Dean, 6-1, 195, R-Fr.
83 Tanner Shipley, 6-1, 183, R-Fr.
39 David McKinzie, 6-0, 169, R-Fr.
87 Dusty Fisher, 6-2, 181, R-Fr.
86 A.J. Richardson, 6-0, 196, Fr.

Signee:
Sean Modster, 6-0, 185, Fr.
(The Broncos also have a commitment from Arizona State transfer Richard Smith, who can’t play until 2015.)

Returning starters (2 of 3): Miller set a school record with 88 catches for 1,140 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, including a crazy final five games. He made 41 catches for 636 yards and 10 touchdowns beginning Nov. 2 at Colorado State. He made 11 catches for 206 yards and a TD in the Hawaii Bowl. Williams-Rhodes, the slot receiver, made 77 catches for 702 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games with just eight starts.

Key losses: Starter Geraldo Boldewijn (39 catches, 528 yards, two TDs), starter-when-healthy Kirby Moore (36, 280, two) and Aaron Burks (18, 309, three) graduated and left a gaping void in the wide receiver rotation.

Key returners: After Miller and Williams-Rhodes, there isn’t much experience in the group. Ware made 10 catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns last season. Sperbeck made five catches. Burroughs, whose playing time has dwindled as his career has progressed, made two catches.

Projected starters: Miller, Williams-Rhodes, Sperbeck.

Other players to watch: Johnson, a walk-on transfer who redshirted last year, looked talented in fall camp. And the freshman class should produce a playmaker or two, out of a group that includes redshirts Dean and Shipley and grayshirt Richardson.

Out for spring: Pope

Incoming signees: Richardson, who sat out last season as he recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, joined the team in January. Modster arrives this summer. Smith also will get here this summer, but he can’t play this year.

Notes/quotes:

— Miller needs 14 catches, 476 yards and 14 touchdowns to break the career school records in those categories. He has 216 catches, 2,588 yards and 26 touchdowns so far. Coach Bryan Harsin was the offensive coordinator in 2010, Miller’s redshirt year. He said he thought Miller was going to play that year before he tore an Achilles tendon. That would have put Miller on the field with Austin Pettis (most catches in school history), Titus Young (most yards in school history) and Tyler Shoemaker (most TD catches in a season in school history). “I don’t necessarily think we were in a situation where we had to have a guy come in and play,” Harsin said. “He was a guy who kept showing up in practice as a young guy before he got injured. That’s carried over. Yesterday, he had a great catch at practice and ripped it off for a big run. It wasn’t just good; it was great. He’s a guy who has that talent, but he works extremely hard.”

— Williams-Rhodes likely would have beaten Miller for the school record for single-season receptions last season if not for an ankle injury that required surgery. But he got close in large part because of a heavy dose of screens and quick hitches at the line of scrimmage. His role likely will be more conventional now. “That’s one thing we did talk about when I first got here,” Adams said. “ ‘I understand your stature and you’re small and people always say that this is your role.’ For him, it’s take that next step and understand how to play the position and separate vs. man coverage and running vertical routes.” Williams-Rhodes still isn’t fully recovered. He said before spring break he was about 75 percent but needed to be on the practice field. “We’ve got a new offense,” he said. “I don’t want to wait and be lost.”

— Adams on Richardson: “A.J.’s doing good. We’re just trying to get him going every day. Every snap you have to come off the ball. We’re trying to knock the rust off of him. But A.J. has made plays. He made a play in the scrimmage.”

— Adams on Ware: “Troy did make some plays last year. He’s got a good skill set. The next step for him is being able to make the moment-of-truth plays, as we call it — be able to go up and climb the ladder on guys and go take it out of the air and be a guy we can rely on on those money-down situations.”

— Adams said the receiver group was not as sharp after spring break as before. “The last two days I thought we took a few steps back, but they’re young and they’re progressing,” he said. Added Sperbeck: “We had huge momentum going into the break. We’re still doing all right, but it was a little slow these last few days.”

— Adams emphasizes three skills: “The three basic fundamentals of football at that position are explode off the ball, catch it and run after the catch.”

TIGHT END

Hungry to contribute

A bounce-back year

The Broncos did not have a tight end with 10 catches or 100 yards or a touchdown last season — the first time any of those things happened in the 13-year WAC/Mountain West era.

That is expected to change this year with a coaching staff that believes in the tight end — coach Bryan Harsin and offensive line coach Scott Huff are former Boise State tight ends coaches and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford comes from tight end-friendly Stanford.

Plus, the Broncos have stocked the position in the last two recruiting classes. Redshirt freshman Jake Roh and Alec Dhaenens and incoming freshmen Chase Blakley and David Lucero give the position a bright future.

“I’ve got whatever I need in my room,” tight ends coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. “I couldn’t be any happier. I think there’s a lot of places in the country that wish they had the tight ends I’ve got right now.”

PERSONNEL AT A GLANCE

Roster
89 Connor Peters, 6-4, 242, Sr.
84 Jake Hardee, 6-3, 237, R-Jr.
85 Holden Huff, 6-6, 223, R-Jr.
93 Brennyn Dunn, 6-3, 215, R-So.
91 Jackson Reed, 6-4, 246, R-So.
98 Alec Dhaenens, 6-3, 243, R-Fr.
88 Jake Roh, 6-3, 226, R-Fr.

Signees:
Chase Blakley, 6-4, 235, Fr.
David Lucero, 6-5, 220, Fr.

Returning starters (0 of 1): The Broncos didn’t have a true starter at tight end last season. The starts were spread among Gabe Linehan (three), Huff (three) and Peters (three). In the other four games, an extra running back or wide receiver started instead of a tight end.

Key losses: Linehan’s injury-ravaged career ended last season. When healthy, he was one of the best tight ends the Broncos had in recent years. But he rarely was the last two years.

Key returners: Peters (seven catches, 58 yards), Huff (six, 32) and Hardee (five, 73) have quality experience. Huff was a much bigger factor in 2012, when he made 17 catches for 250 yards and four touchdowns. He’ll miss the season opener this year because of a suspension for violating team rules.

Projected starter: Roh. He was outstanding throughout spring ball and started the Spring Game. He is a former high school receiver with the athleticism to become a 30-catches-a-year type of tight end.

Other players to watch: Dhaenens is limited this spring because of injury but also is expected to contribute this year.

Out for spring: None

Incoming signees: Blakley and Lucero were two of the jewels of the 2014 recruiting class. Blakley was more hyped — he was a three/four-star recruit — but Lucero drew significant late interest that Boise State had to hold off. “(Lucero) is what you call a diamond in the rough — an unbelievable kid and family,” said linebackers coach Andy Avalos, the primary recruiter on Lucero. “… He was getting heated up pretty good toward the end. It was awesome the job coach Drinkwitz did going down there and solidifying him and making him a Bronco.”

Notes/quotes:

— Drinkwitz: “We want to contribute to winning. Whatever that takes, to do that, whether we’re called on to block or called on to catch an important third down or whether we’re called on to catch the game-winning pass, we don’t care. We want to contribute to winning and we want to be consistent.”

— Peters on 2013 vs. 2014 at tight end: “We’re not as much thinking about this last year as thinking about getting better right now. Whatever happened last year, happened. We’re going to do all we can now.”

— Peters on the group: “It’s a special group. We’re a lot of hard workers. Everyone is kind of on each other, trying to get better.”

— Peters on Roh/Dhaenens: “Seeing their work ethic, and they’re very smart … they’re going to be really good players.”

— Roh on the tight ends contributing more this year: “That’s the goal. We want that responsibility, so we’re working hard to catch every ball that’s thrown to us, make our blocks and let them know they can trust us.”

— Roh on the coaches: “We’re ecstatic to have them here. We’re super pumped to see what the offense can do.”

— Peters on the staff hires with tight end ties: “It was exciting. I think we were all kind of talking about that when we found out the staff.”

— Sanford: “I think that’s going to be a feared group. … We want this place to be a great home, a great destination, for the tight end position. Multiplicity is something you want to use. I like where the tight end position is at here, with what we have in-house and what we have coming in.”

— Drinkwitz on the tight end role: “The reason why a tight end is such an important position is if he creates a matchup problem for the defense. … If we feel like putting two on the field is going to give us an advantage, we will. If not, we’ll put one on the field. And guess what? If they’re not an advantage, then we’ll play with a (one-back, four-receiver) set.”

— Sanford after the Spring Game: “I really like Jake Roh, just his versatility. … We’ve got to involve the tight end position because once they all get here, once they’re all healthy, once the incoming freshmen arrive, that group is going to be one to be reckoned with.”

OFFENSIVE LINE

Archie Lewis pushes for a job

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 Yakoo, C Henry, RG Averill, RT Lewis

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.”

— Sanford, after the Spring Game, on the offensive line: “We’ve got to get back to just knowing that we can move people off the football. That was the one thing that at times lacked today. We weren’t moving people. That needs to become our identity, everything else will open up with that.”

DEFENSIVE LINE

Young D-ends on the rise
Veteran Caldwell brings energy, wisdom to staff

Perez, Correa step into key roles

True sophomores Gabe Perez, at stud end, and Kamalei Correa, at end, have been taking first-team reps this spring and will be counted on for heavy contributions this fall.

“They work really hard. Both want to be good,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “They’ve hit the weight room with a purpose. They’re trying to catch up from missing that (training) as they played and really in their minds take advantage of spring practice and go as hard as they can. But they’re going to be better off from their experience.

“Physically, both those guys look really good and they’re going to get better.”

PERSONNEL AT A GLANCE

Roster
End
53 Beau Martin, 6-2, 254, R-Sr.
94 Sam McCaskill, 6-3, 249, R-So.
92 Kamalei Correa, 6-3, 247, So.

Signee:
Rondell McNair, 6-4, 250, R-Jr.

Stud
33 Gabe Perez, 6-4, 235, So.
54 Mat Boesen, 6-4, 229, R-Fr.
97 Austin Silsby, 6-3, 227, R-Fr.

Signees:
Jabril Frazier, 6-4, 225, Fr.
Kaleb Hill, 6-1, 215, Fr.

On mission:
Durrant Miles, 6-4, 220, Fr.

Tackle
69 Tyler Horn, 6-5, 276, Sr.
90 Justin Taimatuia, 6-0, 294, Sr. (nose tackle)
58 Robert Ash, 6-3, 282, R-Jr. (nose tackle)
40 Armand Nance, 6-0, 311, Jr. (nose tackle)
96 Elliot Hoyte, 6-4, 276, R-So.
50 Nick Terry, 6-3, 276, R-Fr.
55 Tutulupeatau Mataele, 6-3, 290, R-Jr. (ineligible this year)

Signees:
Antoine Turner, 6-3, 280, R-Jr.
Dereck Boles, 6-2, 275, Fr.
David Moa, 6-3, 235, Fr.

Returning starters (1 of 4): Nance started seven games and Horn started six, so they’re returning co-starters. Nance finished tied for eighth on the team with 51 tackles. He also made four tackles for loss and two sacks. Horn tied for 11th with 44 tackles. He had 5.5 tackles for loss and one sack.

Key losses: All-Mountain West end Demarcus Lawrence (10.5 sacks, 20.5 TFLs) left early for the NFL. Stud Kharyee Marshall (32 tackles, 6.5 TFLs) and tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe (52 tackles, four TFLs) completed their careers.

Other key returners: Martin (seven TFLs, four sacks), Perez (seven TFLs, 2.5 sacks), Correa (12 tackles) and Taimatuia (29 tackles) will step into larger roles this season.

Projected starters: DE Martin, DT Horn, NT Nance, STUD Perez.

Other players to watch: The Broncos lack depth behind Horn at tackle. Sophomore Elliot Hoyte and redshirt freshman Nick Terry need to step up. There is immediate help on the way with incoming recruits Antoine Turner and Dereck Boles. JC transfer Rondell McNair, an end, also could play inside if needed. Meanwhile, Boesen was recruited to play the old nickel linebacker spot because of his combination of length and athleticism. That fits at stud, too, and that’s the spot he has played this spring.

Out for spring: None.

Incoming signees: Turner and McNair are considered instant impact guys out of junior colleges. Both are versatile and likely will slide into whatever holes the team has. Boles and stud Frazier seem like the best bets to play among the true freshmen.

Notes/quotes:

— Defensive line coach Steve Caldwell likes what he sees from ends Martin, McCaskill, Correa, Perez and Boesen. “You’ve got five pretty good guys there on the edge,” he said. “That’s really exciting to me.”

— Caldwell also is pleased with the nose tackle depth, particularly Nance and Taimatuia. He’s concerned at the tackle spot. “Tyler (Horn) is doing well,” he said, “and I love the way he works. He tries to do what you say. The two young guys, Nick (Terry) and Elliot (Hoyte), they’ve just got to get better. … I’ve just got to get someone behind (Horn) that I really know we can trust right now and we don’t have that yet and our kids know that and they’re pushing themselves to get better.”

— Caldwell expects to play about 10 linemen per game.

— Caldwell on Nance: “He’s doing well. He’s focused. I’m teaching things just a little different than what they were taught. The most exciting thing for me about this group of guys is they’re all buying into it. They don’t question a lot of things. I probably coach them a little different than they’ve been coached — not just technique-wise. I’ve still got some of that old coaching blood in me that tries to get after them a little bit. He’s doing a good job in trying to be a leader.”

— Perez on playing last year: “I told my parents, ‘I’m probably going to redshirt.’ The chance of me playing was slim. It blew my mind when we had 1-on-1 meetings with our position coaches and he told me I was going to suit up. I was so happy then.”

— Correa on playing last year: “That was a big jump for me. I had to suck it up and go.”

— Correa on Caldwell: “He’s looking for us to be playmakers. And don’t think and don’t hesitate. Attack as D-linemen and make plays and cause havoc.”

— Former defensive line coach Andy Avalos on Perez: “Even for guys redshirting, you generally see a big jump in the way guys are playing at the end of October. That’s when Gabe kind of took off as well. When he got healthy and he felt more comfortable with what he was doing, that’s when you saw him take off.”

— The defensive line had a good spring. Harsin, after the Spring Game: “Our D-line has been more consistent just against the run than we have been up front on the O-line.”

LINEBACKERS

Avalos takes over at his old position

Experience creates depth at linebacker

The Broncos return four linebackers who started at least six games last season — junior Tyler Gray with seven starts and sophomore Tanner Vallejo, senior Blake Renaud and sophomore Ben Weaver with six each. Plus, sophomores Darren Lee and Chris Santini received some quality playing time.

Weaver led the team with 89 tackles despite an injury that hampered him late in the year and has kept him out of spring ball. Vallejo tied for eighth with 51 despite starting the season as a redshirt and easing into the rotation. Gray was 13th with 43 and Renaud, who missed three games, was 18th with 25.

“There’s some depth that I’ve never seen at Boise State before,” defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said. “We may have been better as far as the guys who are actually starters, but you look at the guys behind them and I don’t know if we’ve had as much depth. We’ve got some guys who can play.”

Not surprisingly, the linebackers have won the position group of the day award three times this spring — the most on the team.

“There is a lot of competition at the position, which creates a lot of energy at practice,” linebackers coach Andy Avalos said. “Guys have got to be on top of their game every day because they all want to play. We’ll find ways to get them all on the field. Unfortunately, obviously, some will have bigger roles than others, but as long as they’re competing and they’re working hard and preparing — they deserve to be on the field — we’ll find a way to get them out there.”

Said Gray: “It’s good. Everyone is fighting every day. No one wants to stay at a lower position on the depth chart, so if you’re not doing your best out there you’re going to get bumped down.”

Vallejo and Renaud are competing for the starting job at middle linebacker. Vallejo was with the first team to begin last week’s scrimmage.

“(Vallejo) is a very smart football player and is having a really good spring,” Avalos said. “He’s building off the things he learned from last year. I feel really good about our (middle) linebackers. Our two guys that have had game experience, they’re doing a great job out there.”

The competition on the weak side won’t play out until fall camp. Gray has done a good job this spring but Weaver, who was one of the team’s best defensive players when healthy last year, is in a walking boot and unable to practice.

“We know what (Weaver) is capable of doing,” Avalos said. “All you have to do is turn on the film and watch it from last year. The thing I’m most fired up about with him is even though he hasn’t gotten to participate, he is into it 100 percent mentally. He might be into it mentally better than any other linebacker in that room, and that shows his maturity and being able to handle the situation and still get himself better. He’s on point in those meetings, he’s asking questions and out there on the field he knows when someone messes up. The same with Travis Saxton, who’s out and unable to participate right now.”

PERSONNEL AT A GLANCE

Roster
45 Travis Saxton, 6-1, 233, R-Sr.
13 Blake Renaud, 6-2, 247, Sr.
36 Tyler Gray, 6-4, 224, Jr.
31 Andrew Pint, 6-1, 232, R-So.
51 Ben Weaver, 6-0, 240, R-So.
25 Chris Santini, 6-0, 215, R-So.
44 Darren Lee, 6-1, 226, So.
20 Tanner Vallejo, 6-1, 227, So.
7 Joe Martarano, 6-3, 241, R-Fr.

Returning starters (2 of 2): Gray and Weaver on the weak side and Vallejo and Renaud in the middle split the jobs about evenly last year.

Key losses: None.

Key returners: In addition to the four guys who started games, Lee and Santini received some quality playing time last year. Strong-side linebacker Corey Bell, who finished second on the team with 76 tackles last year, is back, too, but his job has been moved to the secondary.

Projected starters: Vallejo, Weaver

Other players to watch: It likely will take an injury or two for him to get on the field on defense this year, but redshirt freshman Joe Martarano of Fruitland High should be a factor on special teams. And Eagle High’s Travis Saxton, a former walk-on who earned a spot in the rotation and a scholarship last year, returns from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost him most of the 2013 season.

Out for spring: Weaver, Saxton

Incoming signees: None. With the depth the Broncos have, they didn’t feel a need to recruit a linebacker.

Notes/quotes:

— Gray said Avalos has emphasized having a broader view of the defense to the linebackers. “He’s made us look at the whole game from a different perspective, which I really think has helped us as linebackers play better,” Gray said. “… Last year, it was more just know what you have to do and do it. This year, we still have to know what we have to do and do it, but knowing what everyone else around us is doing helps you do your job better.” Said Avalos: “Part of that is knowing where your help is so you can play fast or know you need to play a little slower. Playing defense is always knowing where your help is, so you know where to leverage the ball or where you’re dropping to. If they can understand the big picture, it’s going to help them understand the details of their position and what their responsibilities are.”

— Avalos on Martarano: “Joey’s made a huge leap in terms of understanding the defense. He was on scout team last year. He really got a chance to develop his body as a redshirt. Now it’s the mental aspect that he’s done a lot better job at. He’s playing (middle) linebacker. He’s got to run the show when he’s in there.”

— Gray on being a veteran now: “Sometimes guys will come up and ask, ‘What do I do on this play?’ and ask for some tips.”

— Gray on the linebackers’ role: “The linebackers should be the leaders on the defense. We know everything that’s going on and we need to show that.”

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Cornerback competition

Cornerback competition rolls on

The Broncos ranked 88th in the nation in passing yards allowed (249.2 per game) and 73rd in pass-efficiency defense (129.73 rating, 17 TDs, 16 interceptions) last season.

They had finished in the top 15 in pass-efficiency defense in four of the previous five seasons, including the top five three times.

“We’ve got to get better,” first-year coach Bryan Harsin said. “We need to get better in pass defense. That group naturally has been challenged, just based off of last year.”

Four of the returning starters seem safe. Senior safety Jeremy Ioane (59 tackles; All-Mountain West second-teamer), junior safety Darian Thompson (63 tackles, four interceptions) and senior nickel Corey Bell (76 tackles) bring veteran savvy to the defense and have performed like starters this spring. And junior cornerback Donte Deayon, an All-Mountain West second-teamer who led the team with six interceptions, is one of the top returning defenders in the league.

That leaves a massive competition for the second cornerback spot — a scrap that began in August of last year and will continue at least through August of this year.

“Competition brings out the best in everybody,” senior Bryan Douglas said. “It’s neck and neck right now. … It’s definitely hard, but it all comes back down to the details and who’s going to be more consistent.”

The contenders include Douglas, who started the first 10 games last season; senior Mercy Maston, who started the last three games in place of Douglas and one other as the nickel; sophomore Jonathan Moxey, who started one game as a true freshman; senior Cleshawn Page, who recorded an interception and three pass breakups in Saturday’s scrimmage; and sophomore Chaz Anderson, who has surprised this spring.

Maston also plays nickel, where he could spell Bell in certain situations. Defensive backs coach Julius Brown said he could play as many as seven defensive backs in certain situations.

“We have a really athletic group,” Brown said. “I think we’re pretty deep and we’re talented. The main thing for me is there is a lot of competition at a lot of different spots and those kids know that. The depth chart can change weekly. And they’re seeing it.”

PERSONNEL AT A GLANCE

Roster
Cornerback
1 Bryan Douglas, 5-9, 176, R-Sr.
3 Cleshawn Page, 5-9, 174, Sr.
19 Mercy Maston, 5-11, 195, Sr. (nickel)
34 Promise Amadi, 5-10, 190, R-Jr.
5 Donte Deayon, 5-9, 152, Jr.
6 Chaz Anderson, 5-10, 176, R-So.
30 Jonathan Moxey, 5-9, 179, So.
16 Dionza Blue, 5-11, 191, R-Fr. (nickel)
21 Cameron Hartsfield, 5-10, 181, R-Fr.

Signee:
Zavior Hoxie, 5-11, 190, Fr.

Safety
10 Jeremy Ioane, 5-10, 192, R-Sr.
38 Corey Bell, 5-11, 208, Sr. (nickel)
24 Taylor Loffler, 6-3, 211, R-Jr.
4 Darian Thompson, 6-2, 205, R-Jr.
28 Dillon Lukehart, 6-1, 207, R-Jr.
22 Chanceller James, 6-2, 211, R-So.
47 Brandon Brown, 5-11, 200, R-Fr.
29 Dylan Sumner-Gardner, 6-1, 201, Fr.

Signee:
Kekoa Nawahine, 6-3, 190, Fr. (expected to go on a mission)

Returning starters (5 of 5): Deayon was named to the All-Mountain West second team last season. He finished sixth on the team with 54 tackles, first with six interceptions and first with nine pass breakups. Safeties Thompson (63 tackles, four interceptions) and Ioane (59 tackles, second-team All-Mountain West) provide experience and reliability in the back end. Bell, who finished second on the team with 76 tackles last season, will play more pass coverage in the new defensive scheme but has fit in that role well in spring ball. The other returning starter technically is Douglas, who lost his job to Maston late last season. Douglas tied for second on the team with four interceptions.

Key losses: None.

Key returners: In addition to the returning starters, Maston (44 tackles) and Lukehart (46) played extensively last season and will challenge for time this season.

Projected starters: Deayon, Moxey, Ioane, Thompson, Bell

Other players to watch: Moxey played sparingly as a true freshman but the talent and maturity that got him on the field last fall should help him push for a bigger role in 2014. True freshman safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner has impressed in his first spring with the Broncos and likely will improve rapidly throughout the year as he gets more comfortable. Page recorded an interception and three pass breakups in last week’s scrimmage. And sophomore Chaz Anderson recently has pushed his way into the conversation at cornerback.

Out for spring: Hartsfield, James

Incoming signees: Hoxie is the only scholarship defensive back set to join the team this summer. He could be a factor at nickel if he impresses in fall camp.

Notes/quotes:

— Defensive backs coach Julius Brown said the cornerbacks have shown improvement since they returned from spring break. “We’re changing up things technique-wise and the way we’re playing some things, so it was an adjustment for them early and now they’re starting to play faster. I’ve been really encouraged over the past two weeks.”

— Brown: “We have a really athletic group. I think we’re pretty deep and we’re talented. The main thing for me is there is a lot of competition at a lot of different spots and those kids know that. The depth chart can change weekly. And they’re seeing it.”

— Brown on the cornerback depth chart: “It changes practice to practice. We’ve had about four different guys run with the ones at corner. So those kids are battling. We’ll see how it plays out here in the fall.”

— The defensive backs line up on the field or boundary sides. However, against up-tempo offense — and sometimes just for variety — they will switch to right and left assignments.

— The nickels are Bell, Maston and Blue.

— Brown on Sumner-Gardner: “No. 1 is he’s a great kid. To be that highly recruited, to have that many people calling you all the time, he’s really humble. He’s in the office all the time. He doesn’t ask for anything. He works hard. So I’ve been really encouraged. For him, he just has to keep working, which he is. He’s doing a great job fitting in with his teammates. They all love him.”

— Thompson and Ioane are the top safeties still. Lukehart and Sumner-Gardner are the twos. “They’re pushing those guys,” Brown said of the backups. “(Thompson and Ioane) bring something to the table in terms of leadership. They’ve been through a lot of things. They’ve played a lot of football.”

— Brown on the corner competition: “You have guys moving from third team all the way to first team and you’ve got guys who are chipping away week by week.”

— Brown on the defense: “I do think we have some depth. For us, we have some kids who have played and played when they were young and now they’re starting to mature a little bit.”

— Brown on Bell: “I’ve been really pleased with Corey. … He’s being trained as a DB now, which was different for him, but he’s answered the bell. So he’s been a surprise to me, being gone and coming back and just seeing how much he’s changed in the last two years. He can definitely handle it.”

— Douglas on the corner competition: “Competition brings out the best in everybody. It’s neck and neck right now. … It’s definitely hard, but it all comes back down to the details and who’s going to be more consistent.”

— Douglas said he had some minor issues with his surgically repaired knee last season. “I definitely went into the season with high expectations,” he said. “… It was kind of hard because I’ve been here so long. You think you’ve put in the work and you’re supposed to be on the field.”

— Douglas on 2014: “This is my last season. I want to give this team all I’ve got. I’m putting everything on the line for my teammates. I want to make big plays for them and I’m trying to step up and do that.”

— Douglas on the 2013 defense: “As a whole defense, we didn’t play with that Bleed Blue mentality and the enthusiasm that past teams have, that I’ve seen with my own eyes. That’s what coaches are trying to emphasize from now throughout the fall. … I don’t think it was the youth. I got tired of hearing that, because it’s football at the end of the day and you’ve got to be ready to play. I don’t think it was an experience thing. It was just the willingness to play with enthusiasm and being happy for other players when somebody else makes a play. Last year, nobody would get as excited. … It all shows up on film. When the guy way on the other side of the field is rooting for you, it makes you feel so much more comfortable and makes you want to play harder.”

— Douglas on criticism last year from former players: “It made us mad, actually, that we weren’t where we want to be and we’re working twice as hard to get back. … It was pretty fair. We all made mistakes. We all gave up plays. We’re trying not to let that happen this year.”

— Moxey on playing as a true freshman: “It was exciting to get out there, playing vs. UW. It was nerve-racking. It was great to play, though, and see how the game went at the Division I level. … I was determined to play. I didn’t want to redshirt. ”

— Moxey on spring: “I’m just out there trying to get better, trying to position myself to play more this season.”

— Moxey on competition: “Now I feel like I’m getting older and the game is starting to slow down. The new coaching staff, it’s helped me out so much. Competing with three seniors and a junior, it pushes me every day.”

— Moxey on 2013 vs. 2014: “When you think about Boise State … we want (people) to think about the defense being the strong point of the team. We’ve taken that on ourselves to get better every day.”

— Coach Bryan Harsin on the secondary: “We’ve got to get better. We need to get better in pass defense. That group naturally has been challenged, just based off of last year.”

— The Broncos have played a lot of man coverage this spring but that won’t necessarily carry into the season. “The best way to evaluate who your cover guys are going to be is to put them in coverage,” Harsin said. “Sitting them in zone, I don’t think is fair to us to see what skills they have. Are we going to do that when we get into a game? Not necessarily. We’ll be smarter. But right now, in spring, we want to see guys compete and see them put on an island.”

— Deayon on 2013: “Last year I feel like we really just didn’t put our foot on the gas. Everyone was just kind of floating around trying to get a feel for this or that.”

SPECIAL TEAMS

PERSONNEL AT A GLANCE

Roster
Kicker
41 Dan Goodale, 5-10, 195, R-Sr.
28 Tyler Rausa, 5-9, 193, R-So.

Punter
26 Sean Wale, 6-2, 188, R-So.

Long snapper
46 Kevin Keane, 6-0, 215, Jr.
42 Matt Cota, 6-1, 199, R-Fr.

Returning starters (1 of 2): Goodale was 17-of-19 on field goals and 57-of-60 on PATs last season.

Key losses: Trevor Harman averaged 42.6 yards per punt last season with nine of 26 finishing inside the 20-yard line.

Key returners: Wale shared the punting job with Harman. He averaged 41.5 yards on 21 kicks, eight of which stopped inside the 20. Shane Williams-Rhodes, Donte Deayon and Bryan Douglas combined for a 15.7-yard average as punt returners. Douglas led the team with a 30.4-yard average on kickoff returns, including a touchdown.

Projected starters: Goodale, Wale, LS Keane, KR Douglas and Charles Bertoli, PR Williams-Rhodes

Other players to watch: Rausa redshirted last year, so he didn’t play. If Goodale stumbles this year, he could factor into the kicking game.

Out for spring: None

Incoming signees: None.

Notes:

— In the parts of practice that the media could see, Goodale was treated like the obvious starter. He did not rotate attempts with Rausa; he took all of the first-team attempts.

— Wale was inconsistent during the Spring Game but did show some power. He had a 63-yard punt last season.

— Douglas, a cornerback, returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the Spring Game against the scout team.

•••

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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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