Boise State football players and coaches raved about the potential of wide receivers Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson last summer.
A month into the season, everyone else saw it, too.
So while the Broncos enter the 2015 season without any known commodities at wide receiver beyond the three returning starters, it’s perhaps telling that those inside the program don’t seem concerned.
“They’re definitely ready,” Sperbeck said Saturday, the third day of fall camp. “Come the first game, you guys will see how hard they’ve been working in the offseason.”
Never miss a local story.
Candidates to fill out the depth chart include junior Rick Smith, the Arizona State transfer; sophomore Austin Cottrell, a junior college transfer who was a late addition to this recruiting class; redshirt freshman A.J. Richardson, the highly touted recruit who has waited two years to play; and sophomore D.J. Dean, the Eagle High product whose smarts, effort and versatility consistently impress. Plus, true freshman Akilian Butler flashed his talent the first two days of camp, Sperbeck said.
The group can learn from senior Shane Williams-Rhodes (170 career catches), Sperbeck (a team-high 877 receiving yards last year) and Anderson (six catches of 45-plus yards last year).
Anderson switched from cornerback to wide receiver at the beginning of fall camp in 2014, so he knows what it takes to adapt quickly and produce.
“It’s just an honor to be the one teaching instead of getting the lessons,” Anderson said.
Smith is the biggest name in the backup group because he is a former starter in the Pac-12, he was the Broncos’ Offensive Scout Player of the Year last fall while ineligible under transfer rules and he left the team for the spring after he was injured in a locker room incident. He returned to the Broncos this summer and was granted an eligibility exemption by the Mountain West because he missed a semester for medical reasons.
Smith is a “jack of all trades,” wide receivers coach Junior Adams said — able to complement Anderson as a deep threat but also handle intermediate work.
“It’s good to see him back out there playing football,” Adams said. “He came out there day one, day two, he’s back at it. He’s being Rick. He’s funny, he’s smiling, he’s running fast, he’s making plays.”
Dean is in the Sperbeck mold in that teammates have mentioned him often as an up-and-coming player. He was limited to four games last year because of injury.
“He understands what all the receivers are doing in the offense,” Adams said, “which makes him more valuable to this offense.”
Richardson, who was an injury and academic question mark when he signed with the Broncos in February 2013, is coming off a strong spring. Cottrell adds some size to the rotation at 6-foot-2 and 206 pounds. He had a meager 27 catches over the past two seasons — his last in high school and first at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College — but has generated a buzz among the Broncos.
“He’s got a bright upside,” Adams said.
Barring injury, the Broncos can afford for those players to develop at a modest rate, like Sperbeck and Anderson last season.
Sperbeck didn’t make his first catch until late September and was the Fiesta Bowl offensive MVP (12 catches, 199 yards). Anderson became a consistent playmaker in late October. And still, he didn’t feel settled until December. He made three catches for 80 yards and a touchdown in the bowl game.
“I felt very comfortable around the bowl game week,” he said. “I was confident. I knew the offense much, much better, and I guess it kind of showed.”
He and Sperbeck have built on their success this offseason. For Anderson, that means adding more routes to his repertoire. For Sperbeck, a former high school quarterback, that means refining the techniques that can make him even more effective.
Plus, they’ll have to deal with opponents’ attention.
“They’re not a secret,” Adams said.
And before long, the identity of the Broncos’ next wave of wide receivers won’t be either.
Adams is building a group that could be dynamic for a while. Williams-Rhodes is the only scholarship senior in the 14-man group.
“We play with a lot of speed,” Sperbeck said. “We have some deep threats, but we also know what we’re doing. We know the game plan. We know how to execute.”