Between all the energy exerted to cement the Broncos’ recruiting class and hire three new coaches in a six-week span after last season ended, Bryan Harsin is more than ready for spring practices to start Monday.
“Absolutely. ... That was a busy time,” said Harsin, entering his third spring as Boise State’s football coach.
Hoping to maintain momentum from a dominant 55-7 win in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23, the Broncos bring back some offensive firepower but have some key holes to fill, especially on defense.
“We have something to look at and say, ‘This formula really worked,’ ” Harsin said. “We want to continue to build on that as we go, but that (gave) us a foundation to start somewhere going into the offseason.”
Here’s a look at some of the key questions the Broncos hope to address over the 15 practices, which conclude April 11.
FINDING THE INSIDE MEN: Boise State graduated its top four defensive tackles, plus defensive end Tyler Horn, who also had extensive time on the inside. Sophomore Dereck Boles was dismissed from the team Feb. 27, and JC commitment Josh Fatu flipped to USC on Signing Day.
That leaves the Broncos with senior Elliot Hoyte (42 tackles in 31 career games) and sophomore David Moa (three tackles in five games last season) as the only players on the interior defensive line with game experience. Redshirt freshmen Matt Locher and Sam Whitney should see plenty of reps this spring, too. Harsin said he expects plenty of newcomers that arrive this summer to play in the fall.
“Interior-wise, on the D-line, that’s always the hardest position to go recruit,” Harsin said. “... We’re going to have to figure out who our inside guys are.”
The Broncos also need to find a center on the offensive line to replace three-year starter Marcus Henry. Junior Mason Hampton (Meridian High) has been a solid backup, while redshirt freshman Garrett Larson (Fruitland High) gained praise for his work last year on scout team.
GET THE COACHES CLOSE, TOO: Just as the spring is a prime opportunity to build a base understanding of the playbook, expectations and chemistry for the players, it’s no different for the coaches. Three new faces are on the sidelines in quarterbacks coach/co-offensive coordinator Zak Hill, defensive backs coach Ashley Ambrose and safeties coach Gabe Franklin. Linebackers coach Andy Avalos was promoted to defensive coordinator, and Harsin will take over play-calling duties.
“They’re starting to build that relationship and that bond. It’s been real good. I feel really good where we are,” Harsin said. “Breaking them in, establishing what we do, how we do it, that’s going to be part of their development.”
RECEIVERS, RUNNING BACK HELP WANTED: The Broncos return record-setting rushers and receivers in junior Jeremy McNichols and senior Thomas Sperbeck. McNichols’ 26 touchdowns tied for the national lead, and Sperbeck’s 1,412 receiving yards were 197 more than any other receiver in school history. But there is still plenty to go around.
Senior Devan Demas was the No. 3 rusher last season but fell out of favor with zero carries in the final six games. Junior walk-on Ryan Wolpin had 87 yards in the Poinsettia Bowl. Sperbeck has an established co-starter in senior Chaz Anderson, but the rest of the returning receivers had 16 catches last season. Six-foot-3 JC transfer Cedrick Wilson enrolled in January to provide some size, and Harsin hopes to see growth from sophomores A.J. Richardson and Akilian Butler, and redshirt freshman Bryan Jefferson.
“That running back position, along with Jeremy, what does it look like? What’s our depth?” Harsin said were questions he hopes to address the next month. “... We’ve seen Thomas, we’ve seen Chaz. Where do those other guys fit in? Who’s that next speed guy?”
TACKLING TWEAKS: Harsin said he hopes to use some new techniques to improve the Broncos’ tackling, which at times resulted in big plays for opposing offenses last season. The Broncos allowed 20 plays of 40 yards or more in 2015. Though there won’t be a ton of contact in the spring, Harsin said a primary focus is making sure movement to the ball is solid, as is taking the right angles.
“It’s a matter of what are we going to be able to implement, get done throughout the spring,” Harsin said. “I know we’re going to get our base in, know we’ll get the wrinkles we want to have in there. ... Is our tackling going to improve, or do we believe it’s going to improve?”
QUARTERBACKS FINDING A ROLE: Last month, Harsin wanted an open competition despite sophomore Brett Rypien’s strong freshman season seeming to lock down the No. 1 role at quarterback. On Friday, he said Rypien will go into the spring as the starter but added he will use juniors Ryan Finley and Tommy Stuart with the first team at times, or even put Rypien with the third unit to give him a new perspective.
Boise State has at times found ways to get multiple quarterbacks involved even with an entrenched starter, such as with Mike Coughlin in 2010 or Grant Hedrick in 2013. Harsin hopes to begin to figure out those sorts of opportunities this spring.
“We want to push to see where we can go, because they’re all a little different,” Harsin said. “The way we do things, we need to figure out how everybody fits in,” Harsin said.
- Monday: first of 15 practices begins
- March 18-28: no practices (spring break)
- April 2: first spring scrimmage, 5 p.m.
- April 9: Spring Game, 5 p.m.
- April 11: final spring practice