'So many unknowns' as Boise State opens camp

Several skill players return, but how will the new attack look?

ccripe@idahostatesman.comAugust 4, 2013 

Junior Matt Miller was Boise State’s leading receiver in 2012 with 66 catches for 769 yards and five touchdowns. The Broncos return three of their four most prolific receivers from last season — Miller, senior Kirby Moore and sophomore Shane Williams-Rhodes.

IDAHO STATESMAN FILE

  • BSU key dates

    Monday: First day of fall camp (split veteran/newcomer practices)

    Friday: First day of full pads; first day of combined practice

    Aug. 12: First scrimmage (closed to media/public)

    Aug. 18: Fall scrimmage (open to public), 7 p.m., Bronco Stadium

    Aug. 31: Boise State at Washington, 8 p.m. MDT, Fox Sports 1

— The Boise State football team opens fall camp Monday — 26 days before the season begins.

The Broncos return just 10-of-25 starters, so there’s a lot of work to do in fewer than four weeks.

“Questions across the board,” coach Chris Petersen said. “I think we’re really excited because there are so many unknowns.”

THREE POSITIONS TO WATCH

Wide receiver: The Broncos should be loaded at receiver with seniors Kirby Moore (36 receptions last year), Geraldo Boldewijn (18) and Aaron Burks (17) and junior Matt Miller (66) returning to form a veteran core. Moore and Miller are consistent possession receivers. The key for this group, though, might be Boldewijn and Burks. The two tall, athletic, fast receivers have performed well this offseason and shown signs of a breakthrough.

“This summer has been outstanding for both of them,” senior quarterback Joe Southwick said. “They’re working their butts off. They’re doing a great job. Their heads are in the right place. I’m excited for them. I think they’re going to do a tremendous job.”

Shane Williams-Rhodes, who contributed 142 receiving and 97 rushing yards last season as a true freshman, is the X-factor. He steps into a larger role as a slot receiver and was impressive in spring ball.

“He’s not just having to be a specialty type of guy,” offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Robert Prince said. “He’s going to be in true receiver-type sets.”

Defensive line: Excellent line play has provided the backbone for Boise State’s defensive dominance the past five seasons. And it’s not just about the starters. The group has been eight to 10 deep.

This year, depth is a major question mark. All-Mountain West end Demarcus Lawrence and senior tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe are returning starters. Junior Tyler Horn has experience at end and tackle and will play where he’s needed. Senior Kharyee Marshall and junior Beau Martin add some experience at end.

But the rest of the depth chart likely will feature players in their first or second year in the program. Junior college tackles Tutulupeatau Mataele, a spring standout, and Justin Taimatuia, a summer arrival, need to deliver on their potential.

“We might have to play with some young guys, and as long as they play hard, with the relentless type of attitude that we want, and keep working to get better, we can live with it,” defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said.

Tailback: Fans are understandably excited about sophomore Jay Ajayi, who returned from a torn anterior cruciate ligament to average 6.7 yards per carry in a backup role last year.

The rest of the group is young and talent-packed. Junior college transfer Derrick Thomas created some buzz in spring ball, and coach Chris Petersen is high on true sophomore Jack Fields. Shifty redshirt freshman Devan Demas provides a change of pace, and true freshman Aaron Baltazar was one of the top gets of the 2013 recruiting class.

“It will be a good mix,” Prince said. “We’re going to play the guys who are most effective.”

THREE UNKNOWNS

The offense: Coaches have tiptoed around what exactly they have done to tweak the offense after last year’s unusual dip in scoring. The Broncos averaged 30.2 points per game, their worst output in Petersen’s 12 years with the program.

That prompted talk of streamlining the playbook and stripping the underperforming concepts. But what the refurbished attack will look like won’t be clear until the opener at Washington.

“The kids have responded,” Petersen said. “Things are a little simpler than they have been in the past. The spring was good for both sides, but on offense it was good. We’ll see if we can take another step through fall camp.”

Added Prince: “We came out of the spring feeling pretty good and feeling like we’re heading in the right direction.”

The kicking game: The Broncos need to identify a kicker — junior Dan Goodale or sophomore Tyler Rausa — and may change punters, with redshirt freshman Sean Wale pushing incumbent senior Trevor Harman. The return game will look different, too — featuring the slippery Williams-Rhodes as a punt and kickoff returner. And the Broncos’ renowned cover and return units face a new reality with the crackdown on targeting. They must be careful not to take too big of shots at their opponents because the penalty carries with it an automatic ejection.

Tight end: The position has been one of the underappreciated secrets of Boise State’s offensive success — and also, for several years now, one of the hardest hit by injuries. If senior Gabe Linehan, who missed most of last season with a hamstring injury, returns to form, the group should be strong. But sophomore Holden Huff is the only other experienced receiver in the group. True freshman Jake Roh is an intriguing candidate to play this year.

FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH

Southwick: This is his offense now. He has a chance to purge the memories of last year’s early struggles and, like many Boise State senior quarterbacks before him, go out in style.

He has matched his improved skills with better maturity. He led the offense through player-run practices all summer.

“He’s always around,” Prince said. “It seems like we need to get him an office around here as often as he’s here.”

Southwick has honed in on some specific skills — he wouldn’t detail them — and is eager to gauge his progress in camp.

“It is hard to tell (how you’re doing),” he said. “You can’t watch yourself and you don’t have film to go watch after.”

CBs Bryan Douglas and Donte Deayon: Douglas, a junior, was in the middle of a breakout season when he tore an anterior cruciate ligament in late October. He is back to full strength entering camp, coaches say, but the test for his knee and his confidence will be how he performs in pads.

“He was playing the best he’s ever played and really made huge strides last year,” Kwiatkowski said.

Deayon, who played five games as a true freshman after Douglas was injured, is the leading candidate for the other starting spot. At least three more players out of a young group need to emerge to round out the rotation.

Deayon’s mental approach got him on the field last year and has kept him in position to start.

“As quick and fast as he is,” Kwiatkowski said, “his knowledge and his ability to pick things up quick ... is really good.”

RT Rees Odhiambo: The Broncos’ history of developing outstanding offensive tackles could continue with Odhiambo, a sophomore who has drawn rave reviews throughout the offseason. Odhiambo (right tackle) and seniors Charles Leno Jr. (left tackle) and Matt Paradis (center) are locks for the starting lineup.

“(Odhiambo) might even be our best run blocker,” Prince said.

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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