Our three Boise State players to watch in Thursday's game against Ole Miss include two offensive players in new roles.
Shane Williams-Rhodes, slot receiver
The most intriguing cog in the Boise State football team’s new offense could be the new Shane Williams-Rhodes.
The junior wide receiver is thrilled that coaches want to expand his game beyond the “get it to him” role he has played the past two years. He made 77 catches (for 702 yards and six touchdowns) in 11 games last season, but the majority of those were on throws at or behind the line of scrimmage.
He’ll still get some of those passes — the 5-foot-6, 158-pounder’s elusiveness demands it — but he also will be used as a downfield threat. And as he has shown as far back as the offseason in 2013, he can make difficult catches all over the field.
“His radius to catch the football is a lot more than you would think when you look at that height/weight number,” offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said. “He’s got the ability to go make a play.”
It’s up to the coaches to find creative ways to get him the ball — and creativity is one of coach Bryan Harsin’s specialties. Williams-Rhodes could line up at any of the receiver positions or in the backfield. He had 10 carries last season and 21 in 2012.
Williams-Rhodes has the ability to quickly visualize the concepts coaches present to him, Harsin said.
“He’s very easy to coach from the standpoint of new ideas and thoughts,” Harsin said. “And so right now we’ve got some ways I think that are pretty good to get it to him and because of the type of player he is, that’s going to grow and give him more opportunities down the road.”
Williams-Rhodes says he wasn’t a good enough route-runner to play a more traditional role last season. That has changed this year, coaches say.
“I actually like it more than the old role,” Williams-Rhodes said, “even if it means I won’t be getting as many catches because it means I’ll get more downfield opportunities.”
Corey Bell, nickel
From the first days of spring ball, coaches have raved about Bell’s play. And he’s the defense’s answer to Shane Williams-Rhodes — a utility player whose role has changed slightly in the new scheme. Bell will be asked to blitz, stop the run and cover man to man. He has trained with the defensive backs instead of the linebackers this year.
In its glory days from 2008 to 2010, the nickel was a tone-setting, playmaking position for the Broncos defense. Bell, the defensive captain, possesses the toughness, smarts and physicality to make it a marquee spot again.
“He’s athletic, he moves, he runs, he’s strong,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “He’s a symbol for us.”
Jake Roh, tight end
Roh is the Broncos’ only freshman starter going into Thursday’s game and one of only a handful of freshmen expected to play meaningful snaps. He plays a position that will be in the spotlight, too, after the tight ends vanished from last year’s attack, failing to score a touchdown.
Roh impressed throughout spring ball and fall camp. He played wide receiver in high school — he made 30 touchdown catches in his final two seasons — and could develop into a Kyle Efaw-type of tight end.
“Jake will do a great job,” said offensive line coach Scott Huff, who recruited Roh and coached him last year. “We’ve got complete confidence in him and good things to come.”
Email Chadd Cripe at email@example.com