This concludes the annual series of blog posts previewing the Boise State football team by position. The final story runs in tomorrow’s newspaper.
Today: Special teams
SPECIAL TEAMS ROSTER
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49 Tyler Rausa, 5-9, 183, R-Jr.
48 Blake Gonzalez, 5-9, 173, R-Fr.
93 Max O’Rourke, 6-1, 160, Fr.
19 Sean Wale, 6-2, 185, R-Jr.
46 Kevin Keane, 6-0, 207, Sr.
42 Matt Cota, 6-1, 179, R-So.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Tyler Rausa, 5-9, 183, R-Jr.: Made 19 of 21 field-goal attempts as a high school senior and 15 of 20 as a JC freshman before redshirting in 2013 and serving as the Broncos’ backup in 2014.
Blake Gonzalez, 5-9, 173, R-Fr.: Walk-on from San Clemente, Calif.
Sean Wale, 6-2, 185, R-Jr.: Finished strong last year in his first full season as the starter with a 49.5-yard average in the Fiesta Bowl. He averaged 42.0 yards overall, up from 41.5 as a freshman co-starter.
Tyler Rausa, 5-9, 183, R-Jr.: Can punt in a pinch.
Kevin Keane, 6-0, 207, Sr.: Has served as the Broncos’ long snapper in 31 career games, including the past 28 in a row.
Matt Cota, 6-1, 179, R-So.: Walk-on from Eagle High made one appearance last year.
Sean Wale, 6-2, 185, R-Jr.: Returns as the primary holder.
Taylor Pope, 6-0, 183, R-Jr. OR Thomas Sperbeck, 6-0, 175, Jr.: Two wide receivers who can hold if necessary.
Jeremy McNichols, 5-9, 205, So., OR Kelsey Young, 5-10, 198, R-Sr.: McNichols averaged 20.7 yards per kickoff return as a true freshman. Young averaged 22 yards on three returns for Stanford last year.
Donte Deayon, 5-9, 155, Sr., OR Shane Williams-Rhodes, 5-6, 173, Sr.: Williams-Rhodes averaged 8.5 yards per return last season and Deayon averaged 10.2. Deayon scored a 75-yard TD. Both were even more productive in 2013.
Overview: The Broncos should have one of the best specialists groups in the Mountain West. Only Rausa is new to his role, and he was great in fall camp. But coaches are determined to improve the special teams play around those guys to create more big plays. The Broncos ranked 32nd in punt returns, 50th in net punting, 114th in kickoff returns and 54th in kickoff-return defense last season — poor numbers for a program that became a Top 25 regular in part with some of the best special teams play in the country. “We just want to be a better special teams football team overall,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “We talked about that quite a bit. We’ve got to figure out personnel — who are the best people on those units to go out there and play? The fun part about it is figuring out who those guys are going to be.”
Key to success: No matter what else a special teams group does, it will be remembered for its kicker. Rausa was recruited to compete for the starting job in 2013. Dan Goodale beat him out and forced Rausa to wait two years for this opportunity, but coaches say he was ready even last year. “He’s shown that he’s a competitor, he’s mentally tough and he’s ready to have another great season,” special teams coach Kent Riddle said.
Reason for concern: The Broncos are counting on some of their most important players as kick returners — including starting cornerback Donte Deayon and likely top tailback Jeremy McNichols. That could lead to some nervous moments.
Star player: Deayon hasn’t gotten many opportunities as a punt returner because Williams-Rhodes has been the starter, but Deayon has been electric. He averaged 10.2 yards on nine returns last year, with a TD, and 21.4 yards on five returns in 2013. “We feel real good about Shane and Donte,” Riddle said. “Some of that is just based on checking their workload. You’ll see both those guys back there.”
Breakout performer: Wale has the talent to become one of the top punters in the nation. He showed that in the Fiesta Bowl, when he averaged 49.5 yards on eight punts. He nailed a 61-yarder. The confidence from that game carried into the offseason. “Sean has been phenomenal,” Riddle said. “... We’re really expecting big things from him this year.”
Newcomer to watch: This will be the place for freshmen to make an impact on a veteran team. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, the former star quarterback at Salmon River High, is expected to play a significant role.
— Riddle on whether the special teams units have improved: “I feel like we’ve made huge strides, but we won’t know probably till we get to live competition. Once we get that, we’ll have an idea. The first week always gives you an indicator. The best indicator comes within the first month of the season.”
— Riddle on preparing for an opener against coaches he knows well: “It’s always hard. This one is probably even worse because we have a pretty good general idea of what they’ve done for 10 years — not one year. So you’re not necessarily just looking at last year’s stuff. You’re going to remember when they did this in 2006. So you incorporate a ton of stuff in a short amount of time and the special teams part of it is being able to incorporate that and be sound and know exactly what you’re doing and still be aggressive and attack and try to make some plays and not be on your heels all the time.” Riddle and Washington special teams coach Jeff Choate often traded ideas when Choate was the Broncos’ special teams coach (2006-11). Riddle was the Broncos’ special teams coach from 2001 to 2005 when Chris Petersen was the offensive coordinator.
— Riddle on special teams: “One thing we’re focused on every day is trying to be a smarter special teams football team, understanding rules and situations. We focus on that on a daily basis. And then better fundamentally, and I think the biggest part of it is making sure we have the right guys in the right spots, asking them to do stuff they can do. And if you get the right guy with the ball in his hands, it tends to make a pretty big impact on the play.”
— Junior linebacker Darren Lee on his role: “I fit where the team needs me and I think right now it’s at special teams and I’m more than happy to do that.”
— McNichols on special teams: “We’ve been doing a lot of special teams this (fall) camp, so we’re going to execute much better this year.”
— Rausa on becoming the starter: “The feeling is just excitement. I’ve been working for a long time. ... I’m clicking on all cylinders.”
— Rausa on what his first kick will be like: “I can’t get too much in my head. I have to stick to what I know and everything should work out fine.”
— Rausa has focused on kicks of 45 yards and in but has shown the leg to kick from outside 50.
— Rausa on the @Specialists_BSU Twitter account: “People love it. Obviously we get a hard time here and there for it, but we know how to balance being serious and having fun because we can’t watch hours of practice film like most of our position players do because we have 5 minutes. But we watch it and then we have some fun.” Said Wale: “We don’t know who runs that actually. We don’t discuss that.”
— Wale on his game: “For me, the biggest thing is being consistent. Last season I kind of grew as the season went on and got more confidence. I’m trying to build off of that and maintain that consistency into the season.”
— Wale on finishing strong last year: “It was huge. I was kind of down, frustrated, with the highs and lows of last season at the beginning. But to end on a game like the Fiesta Bowl with I believe my best game of the year was huge.”
— Wale on holding: “Any reps that I can get to get on the field are good. I think it’s a good thing that I’m doing it just because specialists have a ton of time off, so we can get those continuous reps between Kevin, myself and Tyler.”
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