Boise State tight ends plan to contribute after dismal year

The position group gets a boost with Harsin, Sanford on the staff.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comMarch 22, 2014 

Redshirt freshman Jake Roh, right, grew up playing wide receiver but is expected to make an impact at tight end this season. Boise State will have four tight ends - also redshirt freshman Alec Dhaenens (Fruitland High) and true freshmen Chase Blakley and David Lucero - with four years of eligibility who could be in the rotation at the position this season.


— The worst year in recent memory for the Boise State football team's tight ends ended with a ray of hope.

The Broncos hired former tight ends coach Bryan Harsin, who featured the position when he was the offensive coordinator, as head coach in December.

And Harsin hired Mike Sanford, who worked in one of the nation's most tight end-friendly offenses at Stanford, as his offensive coordinator.

"It was exciting," said senior tight end Connor Peters, who led the group with seven catches last season. "I think we were all kind of talking about that when we found out the staff."

The Broncos did not have a tight end with 10 catches or 100 yards or a touchdown last season - the first time none of those things happened in the 13-year WAC/Mountain West era.

It was a stunning drop-off for a program that placed Jeb Putzier, Derek Schouman, Richie Brockel and Tommy Gallarda on NFL active rosters during that same timeframe, and a couple of others in NFL training camps.

And it's a trend likely to be reversed in 2014.

"We like to utilize that position," Harsin said.

The tight end was marginalized last year partly because of injuries and partly because of the switch to an up-tempo offense that lacked the shifts and motions that were so important in the Broncos' previous scheme. Much of that pre-snap movement involved the tight ends.

Harsin and Sanford have reinstalled the movement piece of the offense. They also invested heavily in the position in recruiting, landing former Washington commit Chase Blakley of Coeur d'Alene and fending off Pac-12 suitors for David Lucero of California.

The newcomers will join last year's promising additions, redshirt freshmen Alec Dhaenens of Fruitland and Jake Roh of Arizona. The Broncos also return Peters, junior Holden Huff and junior Jake Hardee, who were responsible for 18 of the position's 20 catches last season.

"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."

Added Sanford: "I think that's going to be a feared group."

The Broncos expect Roh, who has been a spring standout, and Dhaenens, who has been limited by injury, to make an impact this season. It's possible Blakley or Lucero could carve out a spot in the rotation, too. All have four years of eligibility in front of them.

"The reason why a tight end is such an important position is if he creates a matchup problem for the defense," Drinkwitz said. "… 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."

Huff (6-foot-6, 223 pounds) and Roh (6-3, 226) give Drinkwitz a pair of potential mismatches in the pass game. Huff made 17 catches for 250 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman in 2012. Roh, who grew up playing wide receiver, has caused problems for defenders in practice.

"We've got to get this group into making plays, becoming people that (the quarterbacks) can count on," Drinkwitz said.

Historically, the Broncos' tight ends have been some of the most trusted players on the team - not only as receivers, but as blockers and as the players who needed to know the most about the offense other than the quarterbacks.

Past playmakers include Kyle Efaw, Schouman and Putzier. Others, like Brockel, Gallarda and Ryan Putnam, specialized in the dirty work of punching holes in the defense for the tailbacks.

It's a tradition that's valued in the tight ends room and in the stands, where fans grumbled the past two years as the tight ends became less and less visible.

Last year's tight ends combined for 201 receiving yards - just 15 yards per game.

"We're trying to change that this year," Roh said.

And if Sanford has his way, the tight end will be a fixture again.

"We want this place to be a great home, a great destination, for the tight end position," Sanford said. "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."

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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