BOISE — The Boise State football team's most star-crossed group in recent years has been the tight ends.
The personnel losses led to a 24-catch season in 2012 - the tight ends' lowest output since coach Chris Petersen arrived as offensive coordinator in 2001.
And they have left the depleted group with questionable depth going into 2013.
The Broncos, who like to use five tight ends in their game plan, have proven commodities in senior Gabe Linehan and sophomore Holden Huff, and up-and-comers in junior Connor Peters and sophomore walk-on Jake Hardee.
They may have to use a true freshman - Jake Roh or Alec Dhaenens - to fill the gaps.
"Depth is going to be an issue," tight ends coach Scott Huff said. "We've got to continue to develop guys."
Linehan, who made 23 catches in 2011 but missed nearly all of last season with a hamstring injury, could have a huge year. Huff, who made 17 grabs as a redshirt freshman largely because Linehan was hurt, should be a more complete player.
But for the tight ends to produce at their usual levels, they're also going to need significant contributions from Peters and Hardee.
"There's a good opportunity this year," said Hardee, who is from Bishop Kelly High. "We have a good group, but if I can keep showing up and improving, I think I can make an impact."
Hardee played sparingly on offense last season but also contributed on special teams. He is the hardest-working tight end, Scott Huff said, and capable of performing all of the various roles - from pass catcher to fullback.
"He's kind of a crowd favorite, if you will, amongst the players on our team," Huff said. "We're expecting some good things from him this year."
Peters was a last-minute addition to the 2012 recruiting class - and, in hindsight, a much-needed one.
The Broncos had been taking most of their injury hits at tight end to the senior classes, but last year they played without then-sophomore Kyle Sosnowski and Linehan. Plus, they lost true freshman Hayden Plinke mid-season to suspension and eventual dismissal.
Sosnowski (knee) is out again this year - leaving just five scholarship tight ends available, including Roh and Dhaenens.
"We're ready, absolutely," Linehan said. "Me and Holden and Connor and Hardee, those four guys are really going to be able to contribute for the full season. We are good athletes who are even smarter than how good we are, and we're going to be able to run this offense and do what we need to do."
Peters (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) could be a critical piece of that equation.
He played high school football with starting middle linebacker Blake Renaud at De La Salle High in the Bay Area but only had one scholarship offer - a partial from Humboldt State.
Peters weighed 215 pounds.
"He was a little bit of a tweener," Scott Huff said.
Peters got the message. He went to Laney College and put on 25 pounds by the end of his freshman season.
"I ate a whole bunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," he said.
That attracted a scholarship offer from San Diego State. Peters committed and was waiting for the letter of intent to arrive by FedEx when Boise State called with an offer of its own.
"It was a crazy day," he said. "Not what I expected, but it happened for the best, and I'm happy it did."
He joined the Broncos about a month later, in January 2012, and played every game last season. His lone catch was a two-point pass against New Mexico.
Now the heaviest tight end, Peters is one of the strongest players on the team - he benched 385 in the spring. He also was the only tight end to get through fall camp without a dropped pass.
"He was kind of a spot guy (last year)," Scott Huff said. "This year, we're seeing he's making progress. Hopefully, we can get some more production out of him."
Petersen often points out that tight ends need to know more of the offense than any players other than the quarterbacks. Peters found that out the hard way in his first year with the program.
Last year, he'd freeze for a second to digest the play call. Now he knows it like another language.
"It's a complicated position, but I wouldn't trade it for any other one," he said. "It's a fun one. It's fun to be able to do tons of different things."
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat