Three months to the day since Boise State football’s last full game — never forget the First Responder Bowl! — the Broncos open spring practices Friday.
It has been a bit of a weird time since then, with the bowl game that wasn’t, three defensive assistants leaving (including coordinator Andy Avalos), the top rusher going to the NFL and the dismissal of the second-leading tackler, but also the completion of one of the best recruiting classes ever in the Group of Five.
Suffice it to say, the Broncos are eager to get back onto the field.
“Weird is the right word ... it was bizarre in all facets — to be honest, the way the guys have worked and come back has been unbelievable,” Avalos said Feb. 6, before he decided to leave for Oregon. “The guys’ vibe is awesome. To have (the season) end like that, it makes you want more.”
Here’s a position-by-position look at what Boise State has back for spring ball, which wraps up with the spring game April 6.
QUARTERBACKS: Meh, not much going on here. Of course, that’s a lie — the position is going to be the most scrutinized for the next six months. Senior Jaylon Henderson (one) is the only healthy spring competitor to have thrown a pass for Boise State. Sophomore Chase Cord has experience, but he’s rehabbing a torn ACL. Redshirt freshman Riley Smith has size, but he’s still raw. True freshmen Kaiden Bennett and Hank Bachmeier are in for spring and both put up big numbers in high school, but like any youngsters, this isn’t easy.
“Hank Bachmeier is in there grinding away, he doesn’t know anything, everything’s a surprise to him, and Kaiden’s the same way,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
RUNNING BACKS: Nearly as big of a void as quarterback, the Broncos must replace Alexander Mattison (1,415 yards and 17 TDs). Can Boise State continue its streak of 10 straight 1,000-yard rushers? Sophomore Andrew Van Buren and junior Robert Mahone have played backup roles, but they’ll be in the mix to be No. 1, as will redshirt freshman Danny Smith. Two more scholarship backs will join this fall.
“Big question marks ... you want to be able to hand off and feel like you can get 4 yards per carry so you can stay on schedule,” Harsin said.
WIDE RECEIVERS: What was a question mark this time last year is now a strength, even after losing the top two in A.J. Richardson and Sean Modster. Senior John Hightower and sophomore Khalil Shakir battled injuries late last season, but when healthy are very dynamic. Junior CT Thomas and senior Akilian Butler are smaller, reliable targets, while redshirt freshman Stefan Cobbs was among the best in Texas in high school. The enigma that is junior Octavius Evans is likely out for the spring after offseason surgery.
TIGHT ENDS: The group had 33 receptions last season, but loses half of those (17) with Chase Blakley’s graduation. Junior John Bates has tons of potential, and at times scratched it, but had seven games without a catch. Senior Garrett Collingham had some moments as he has finally settled into a position. Can redshirts Cole Ramseyer and Tyneil Hopper show potential as blockers and pass catchers?
OFFENSIVE LINE: Getting off to a good start has not been the group’s forte the last two seasons, so getting off to a better start begins now. What will help is all five who made a majority of the starts in 2018 are back, including two first-team All-Mountain West members on the left side in junior tackle Ezra Cleveland and senior guard John Molchon. This unit should be a strength.
DEFENSIVE LINE: At the two tackle spots, the Broncos have a good problem as they welcome back sixth-year senior David Moa at defensive tackle and senior Sonatane Lui at nose tackle. Sophomore Scale Igiehon was very impressive as a true freshman and will factor in plenty at nose. Durrant Miles at end is a big loss, but senior Chase Hatada has plenty of experience to fill the void.
LINEBACKERS/STUD ENDS: Junior Curtis Weaver is a beast at STUD (20.5 career sacks), and he leads a position that will become deeper than ever in the fall with three new additions (one in for spring in Casey Kline). Sophomore Zeke Noa earned a big role as the season progressed and likely will start at weakside or in the middle. If junior Riley Whimpey heals from a torn ACL by fall camp, he’ll be a major factor, but is out for spring. There will be great competition here after three scholarship linebackers left the program this offseason.
CORNERBACKS: Junior Avery Williams anchors the group, and after some ups and downs in 2018 will try to be the next lockdown guy at the position. The Broncos have a third coach in as many years guiding the position (Jalil Brown), and have a starting spot to fill. Junior Jalen Walker has done well filling in the last two seasons. Can he nab the starting job, or will someone like redshirt freshman Chris Mitchell step up?
SAFETIES: Once again, it appears the Broncos are loaded at the position as junior DeAndre Pierce returns after missing the final three months last season. Senior Kekoa Nawahine wasn’t as productive last season, so he’ll try to get back on track. Junior nickel Kekaula Kaniho again was a ballhawk, leading the team with three INTs. Junior Jordan Happle, sophomore Tyreque Jones and senior Evan Tyler all have multiple starts under their belts.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Undoubtedly the worst part of the 2018 campaign, the Broncos will put a major focus on righting the ship. Gone are kicker Haden Hoggarth and punter Quinn Skillin, and special teams coordinator Kent Riddle lost his title, replaced by Lee Marks and Jeff Schmedding. The Broncos will look for guys eager to contribute to the group from all positions. Junior kicker/punter Joel Velazquez will have a chance to earn both jobs, but walk-ons will push him, like Hoggarth and Skillin did two springs ago.
MARSHALL GAME MOVES A DAY
Originally slated for Saturday, Sept. 7, Boise State’s home opener against Marshall will move up one day to Friday, Sept. 6, to accommodate a national TV audience. Kickoff has not been set, nor has a channel been announced. The Broncos open the season Aug. 31 against Florida State in Jacksonville, Fla.