The Boise State football team is getting healthier — and now coaches have some decisions to make.
Senior safety Jeremy Ioane and junior left tackle Rees Odhiambo — two of the team’s most-entrenched starters when the season began — returned from injuries in backup roles last week against Fresno State.
The Broncos shifted personnel on defense to compensate for Ioane’s absence and may not want to completely undo that.
And last week they gave their offensive lineman of the week award to redshirt freshman left tackle Archie Lewis, Odhiambo’s replacement.
Here’s a look at both situations going into Friday’s game against BYU (7:01 p.m., ESPN):
Ioane is a third-year starter with 29 career starts — the most by any current Bronco other than injured wide receiver Matt Miller. Ioane played about half of last week’s game.
While he was out, the Broncos moved sophomore middle linebacker Tanner Vallejo to nickel and senior nickel and defensive captain Corey Bell to Ioane’s spot. Senior Blake Renaud stepped in to the middle linebacker spot and has been a standout.
“It’s a game of chess,” defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said Sunday. “And I don’t quite have it figured out as to who’s going to be back and where we’re going to go with it.”
The Broncos likely won’t go back to their original alignment, because that would take either Vallejo (team-high 47 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss) or Renaud (25 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss) off the field.
“I think this year I’m sticking at that nickel spot,” Vallejo said. “I think that’s where I’ll be playing. I don’t know about next year or anything, but honestly I’m getting used to it. I like it a lot.”
If Vallejo remains at nickel, that leaves Ioane and Bell (third on the team with 33 tackles) to compete for playing time at safety. The Broncos also have been trying to find time for sophomore safety Chanceller James, who backs up junior starter Darian Thompson, and true freshman safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner.
The logjam is eased in passing situations because the Broncos like to play Bell at nickel and slide Vallejo back inside.
“We’ll be moving those guys around,” defensive backs coach Julius Brown said. “It will be two or three guys playing two or three different spots. We want to keep evolving as a defense, to keep doing different things.”
Odhiambo played half of the Fresno State game, too. There’s no doubt he’ll be the starting left tackle when he’s fully healthy.
“That was his spot,” offensive line coach Scott Huff said. “He’s a difference-maker when he’s in there.”
Said junior center Marcus Henry, the leader of the offensive line: “It’s awesome to have him back. He probably was a little bit rusty during the week, but in the game he looked good and got into a little groove.”
That doesn’t mean Lewis won’t play. He was in a three-way race for the two starting spots on the right side of the offensive line in fall camp before an injury set him back. Lewis likely could play any position except center.
Huff indicated the Broncos might not have all of their top six linemen available this week anyway.
“The best thing that can happen is you get some guys back that have been injured and let the competition make everybody better and try to figure out who the best five guys are,” Huff said. “ We’re still not fully healthy, so that will be something we’ll have to answer down the road.”
The Broncos prepared for potential lineup changes during fall camp. Three players rotated at the guard and tackle spots on the right side and three others on the left side.
“Coach Huff is probably struggling a bit to figure it out, but it’s a good thing,” Henry said. “It’s great because he did a great job in fall camp, this spring and even during the season of shaking things up, getting us ready at different spots, preparing for the worst-case scenario.”
Boise State has about 500 tickets remaining for Friday’s game. The students have picked up nearly all of their tickets.
BYU at Boise State
When: 7:01 p.m. Friday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)
TV: ESPN (Dave Flemming, David Diaz-Infante, Allison Williams)
Radio: KBOI (670AM), KKGL (96.9 FM); Bob Behler, Pete Cavender
Records: Boise State is 5-2 overall, 3-1 Mountain West; BYU is 4-3.
Series: Boise State leads 3-1 (BYU won 37-20 last year in Provo, Utah)
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