Boise State (which, I have it on good authority, is not pronounced Boy-zee, but Boy-see) looked briefly like it was going to undergo a fairly extensive turnover in offensive coaches this offseason, possibly complicating its coronation as the new Mountain West hegemon.
Brent Pease, who coached receivers and was Chris Petersen's assistant head coach, left for the OC job at Indiana just as 2010 was coming to a close. Bronco OC and quarterbacks coach Bryan Harsin bolted for the OC job at Texas a week later. But in an unusual switcheroo, Pease returned to Boise in January, and assumed Harsin's old job, leaving coaching of receivers (a critical issue currently at BSU) to Robert Prince, from Colorado. Prince coached at Boise for a few years almost a decade ago.
Pease's job as quarterbacks coach and OC is to keep his fourth-year starter All-American QB Kellen Moore happy. Needing only to replace only a few starters, Boise State’s questions going into spring were few and relatively minor. At quarterback, the only question was whether or not Grant Hedrick would narrow the distance between himself and the backup, Joe Southwick. Hedrick, the offensive player of the year for the scout team during his redshirt year did his first work with Boise’s offense this spring. Head coach Chris Petersen says, "Now we have to develop his thinking to be as fast as his throwing and his running. And if we can do that, we’ll have something good going for us."
Hedrick (6-foot, 191 pounds) is a coach’s son. "He is such an athlete," senior nickel Hunter White said. "He’s got a great arm, he’s fast and he’s not afraid to take off and run. … He really impressed me a lot (last year), especially with his feet." Hedrick and Joe Southwick are the leading contenders to replace Kellen Moore in 2012. Athletically, Hedrick is more like the mobile Southwick. Hedrick scrambled often in scrimmages, but made a couple nice throws to freshman tight end Holden Huff.
Boise State’s defensive line is stout. "That’s a huge challenge," offensive line coach Chris Strausser said at the open of spring drills. "We spent the entire offseason trying to match ourselves up against the D-line in the weight room ... out here running, and we’re not going to hide from a darn good defensive line." The offensive line lost both starters on the right side, but returns an all-WAC left tackle and guard (now moved to center). "We feel it’s the most experienced group we’ve had in a long time," Strausser said.
The first team was set from the get-go, and was never altered (except for an injury): senior All-WAC LT Nate Potter, junior LG Joe Kellogg, senior All-WAC C Thomas Byrd, soph RG Jake Broyles (6-4, 278), sophomore RT Charles Leno (6-3, 278). Byrd was out much of the spring with injuries, and Matt Paradis, a walk-on, emerged as a reliable backup. Senior Chuck Hayes is pushing for first-team snaps at guard.
Doug Martin returns at runningback. Martin, the first-team all-WAC rusher last season, tallied 1,260 yards on the ground, and 338 receiving. He scored 14 touchdowns last year. That’s not enough for his coach. "I would expect Doug to be more productive (this year) than he’s been," offensive coordinator Brent Pease said.
D. J. Harper wants a third try to be a go-to back for the Broncos. Harper tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the third week of 2009 and that same week in 2010 — ending two promising seasons prematurely. Harper averaged 7.2 yards per carry those seasons. "There’s been a lot of jokes — am I going to sit out game three?" Harper said. "That’d be playing scared. I felt great when I came back," he said. "I wasn’t hesitant at all. I was really surprised when it tore again."
"Everyone who has watched him in the past realizes how good a running back he is," Kellen Moore said. Between the two injuries, Harper reports "I was stronger than I was before... I was like, ‘All right. I came back from it once. I’ll just come back from it again.’ " Harper took a different approach to the second surgery. He and his family performed more research, and elected to replaces the ACL with pieces from his own body, instead of from a cadaver, like he used the first time. He also had the surgery performed back home in Texas. "His attitude," Petersen said, "has been phenomenal."
But, with Harper still rehabbing, and Doug Martin taking limited snaps, first team tailback snaps have fallen mostly to junior walk-on Drew Wright. "This is a huge chance for Drew," Kellen Moore said. "I’m going to get a lot of reps with the ones during the scrimmages," Wright said. "It will be a chance for me to go out and prove what I can do. … I’ve always wanted to play here. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid." Wright has been on the coaches’ radar since last August, when he caught their attention with a breakout fall camp. He played extensively on kickoff and kickoff return last season but only received mop-up duty in the crowded backfield. He rushed 12 times for 38 yards. Coach Chris Petersen said "When you lose guys, you get excited for guys like Drew Wright that have been working hard for the last couple years," Petersen said. "Now he’s going to get a very good opportunity not only at running back but on a lot of our special teams. He’s done a nice job this spring taking a step forward."
Fullback Dan Paul has shone well in the spring, both as a blocker and a receiver.
With so many starters returning in the backfield, on the line, and on defense, the only real question facing the Broncos that could be answered in the spring is at wide receiver. Cue coaching carousel here-- Boise's recent receivers coach is now working with the QBs and calling plays for the offense, and basking in his star pupils' legacies-- Titus Young and Austin Pettis were the two most productive receivers in school history, Young being the deep threat. The duo hauled in about half of the team’s receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns last season. Replacing that production is perhaps the team’s highest priority this off-season, and primarily new receivers coach Robert Prince's headache. The obvious next big thing in Boise in Tyler Shoemaker. Brent Pease (apparently still weighing in on receivers) sees him as a deep threat. "Shoe can play everything because of his size and how he can run," Pease said.
After Shoemaker, the list of experienced receivers thins out considerably. Kirby Moore—Kellen’s brother—and Chris Potter excelled in the spring. "The guy, to me, who is going to be interesting is Kirby," Pease said. "He’s had a really good offseason. Obviously he’s incredibly smart. He’ll get in
the flow with his brother." "I noticed it in the offseason and noticed it out here his first three days," Pease said. "He’s really picked up a step. He’s playing the game faster." Kirby Moore redshirted his second year in the program, after an injury. Despite working on the scourt team, he continued to study the Broncos’ offense. "I know he’s on a mission," coach Chris Petersen said. "And we need him to be on a mission."
But the real headliner was a track standout player from Amsterdam who saw his first American football game at age 12, Geraldo Hiwat. Hiwat is tall—6-4 on the roster, but perhaps taller, and caught 5 passes last season. Clearly the receiver has more developing to do, however. "He’s so raw in football," senior quarterback Kellen Moore said. "He’s getting better every day." Peterson says, "If he can keep making strides like has last season and this spring ball, he’ll be a nice weapon for us." And the development is happening. "I used to kill (Hiwat) all the time," DB Jerrell Gavins said, "and now he’s figured out ways to get past me and get off my jam. So he’s watching film and getting better." Gavins is right—Hiwat has been studying up. "I always look at those films," Hiwat said. "We got tapes from when I wasn’t even here, from when I didn’t even know who the Broncos were." Brent Pease considers Hiwat "the best bet" for long passes. "We’re not going to find a guy that’s as fast a person as Titus was because he’s professionally fast," Pease said, "and those guys don’t just come along. You don’t just find them in the next recruiting class."
Chris Potter also impressed during spring ball. Troy Ware grayshirted from the 2010 class and did not stand out in spring, despite generating a little buzz during the offseason.
On defense, the line is in good shape. Three senior starters return, and seven of the top eight players, likely making it possible for BSU to redshirt incoming blue chip DT Jeff Worthy. The starters are Shea McClellin, Billy Winn and Chase Baker. The only spot up for grabs is one defensive end. Taylor Crawford appears more than ready. Backing up all-WAC Ryan Winterswyk last year, Crawford tallied 32 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, after arriving from junior college just weeks before the season started. "Just one word — he’s a beast," said senior end McClellin, also an all-WAC selection. "It’s good to have him over there because he’s so good." Crawford particularly noticed a difference in his pass rush this spring. "We’ve got all those dangers coming from each side," Crawford said. "We’re working on different things to make it harder for the O-line."
All of the linebackers return, although returning starter Byron Hout (famously drawing a punch at the end of the Oregon game in 2009 season) did not practice, due to an injury. Junior Tommy Smith played with the first team, and has cemented his spot as the fourth linebacker. Smith also took snaps at fullback.
BSU must replace its starting nickel and strong safety this year. Senior Hunter White is in the lead at nickel. Although he backed up at nickel last season, White felt like he needed to gain some speed to lock down the starting spot in ’11, so he shed 25 pounds since Christmas. Coach Jeff Choate said, "That tells you that his mind’s in the right spot for his senior year and he’s poised to take over that position. And thus far, two very, very good practices and we’re excited about what he’s doing." White began at linebacker and moved to nickel last year and rotated into games behind Venable. White is intrigued by the possibilities at nickel. The responsibilities include blitzing, stuffing the run and dropping into pass coverage. "You’re involved in so much," White said. "My strength is definitely in the pass game. I’m working on blitzing and pass rush. I feel I do bring a lot to the table."
JUCO transfer Dextrell Simmons is also in the mix at nickel. Simmons helped Blinn College win the junior college national title in 2009, with Cam Newton at quarterback. He watched Venable on video "and I realized that he plays just like me," Simmons said. "It’s less thinking and more just go get it," Simmons said.
At strong safety, freshman Jeremy Ioane got lots of snaps with the first team, due to injury to senior Cedric Febis. Senior Travis Stanaway is also in the mix. Ioane, a redshirt freshman from Hawaii, turned down a scholarship offer from Notre Dame. He wasn’t needed last season with All-WAC safeties Jeron Johnson and George Iloka in the lineup. "I’m really hoping to see a big jump and big things out of Jeremy this spring," defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. "We knew what he did and can do from high school, how athletic and what kind of playmaker he was in high school."
At corner, Jerrell Gavins played extensively the past two seasons and is expected to start this fall. "We asked a lot of him (last year) because he played dime and also corner," Kwiatkowski said. "He did a really, really good job. We’re always striving for that consistency. He’s a really aggressive guy and so sometimes that gets him trouble. It’s about not losing that aggressiveness but being able to play with a little more discipline."
At the other corner, returning starter junior Jamar Taylor looked good in the spring. "Going from Kyle Wilson to Jamar, I don’t think we’re missing a beat there," defensive backs coach Marcel Yates said.
Finally, the Broncos need to replace Kyle Brotzman, the all-time leading scoring kicker in NCAA history. The hotshot recruit is Jake Van Ginkel, who arrived in Boise expecting to take over the field-goal duties right away. But redshirt freshman Dan Goodale is the one everybody is talking about after spring. Goodale hit field goals from 37, 37, 42 and 52 yards to continue his outstanding spring. "He’s turned a lot of heads here," Petersen said of Goodale. "(Goodale) might be the most improved guy out there from where he was last season. If he can take another step — and he needs to take another step — between now and when we play in the fall, he can do some things for us."
2011 will be the Year of Moore, as long as Kellen stays healthy. If he doesn't, all predictions about the Broncos are immediately invalid, and BSU's fortunes take a dramatic turn for the worse. Worse, of course, merely means losing a few regular season games, possibly even one on the blue turf. Horror!
The Broncos start 2011 with another ESPN-created season-opening prime-time bonzanza, this year a rematch with Georgia in Atlanta. The Bulldogs got the better of the Broncos the last time these teams met, one year before Boise's breakout in 2006. The Wimple guesses the line will favor the blue and orange this time.
And likewise that line will favor Boise throughout the season. BSU takes a bye in week two, before a game at Toledo, and then finishes September on the smurf turf against Tulsa. BSU meets Nevada and Fresno State as non-conference foes (this year only; those are again conference games beginning 2012) next. No doubt Nevada, this year without Colin Kaepernick, won't be in such a sing-song mood afterwards. Then come the new conference-mates, to welcome their new Smurf-Turf Overlords. Two of the four potentially-tricky games are in Boise (Air Force and TCU). Maybe the Broncos' trips to Colorado Springs to face the Rams and to San Diego to face the Aztecs will be competitive; certainly UNLV (in Las Vegas), Wyoming and New Mexico (in Boise) won't be. Air Force, especially to an unfamiliar foe (see, Oklahoma 2010) can be a challenge. TCU will be a challenge, but given the site (a Mountain West parting middle finger to the Frogs) and the disparity between the two quarterbacks' experience, the line will favor Boise.
Once again, it's 12-0 or bust in Boise, and this year there're no other BCS-busters on the road that Boise can't dispatch en route with a head-to-head matchup. (Sorry, BYU; maybe next year.)