Boise State football spring preview: Tight ends hope to increase production

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

Above, you can watch highlights from today’s Boise State football practice — the first since the team scrimmaged March 20. The Broncos were on spring break last week. (A reminder: the sound from practice has been removed at coaches’ request.)

Below, I continued my spring preview series with a look at the tight ends.

At 5 p.m., Boise State releases the latest All Access video. I’ll put that in a separate blog post.

And tomorrow, I’ll have a profile of new defensive line coach Steve Caldwell — one of the more intriguing hires by coach Bryan Harsin. Caldwell is the oldest member of the new staff, but also one of its most energetic coaches. I talked to former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, Caldwell’s former boss. Fulmer said he was happy to see Caldwell land at Boise State because he’s a coach who belongs with a “high level” program. “He has great enthusiasm and great work ethic and has fun — has fun on the practice field, has fun in the office,” Fulmer said. “He’s excitable, and that’s a good part of what makes him special to the kids. I just like his demeanor about life. He’s fun to be around.”

•••

The Broncos scrimmage at 5 p.m. Saturday. The scrimmage is open to the media and Boise State students, staff and faculty only. However, the Boise State invitees can bring a guest.

The football program is calling the event “Boise State Day on The Blue.” Students, faculty and staff can arrive at the student entrance with ID at 2:30 p.m. They’ll walk through the new Bleymaier Football Center at 2:45 and participate in photos and contests on the blue turf at 3. Pregame entertainment begins at 4:15 and the scrimmage begins at 5.

The event is free.

•••

Through the spring, I’ll preview each position.

Today: Tight ends.

Previously: Offensive line, quarterbacks, defensive line

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.”

I wrote a full story on the tight ends before spring break. You can read that here.

PERSONNEL AT A GLANCE

Roster
Tight end
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: This likely will be a rotation all year. Huff, Peters and Roh seem like the top candidates, but Hardee, Dhaenens and possibly a true freshman likely will be involved.

Other players to watch: Roh — like Huff, a former high school wide receiver — put together an outstanding first half of spring ball. He was a guy who was considered a possible contributor as a true freshman, so the talent is there. 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.”


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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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