If the Boise State football team only returned five starting offensive linemen from last year’s team, the group probably wouldn’t change at all.
But the Broncos actually return six, which gives coaches just enough room to experiment with different combinations and create some competition for starting jobs during fall camp.
Sophomore Archie Lewis, who started five games last season, is the wild card.
“We’re still always trying to figure out the best combination,” offensive line coach Scott Huff said. “Just because it worked last year doesn’t mean it works this year. We’ll try to bring the young guys along and see where we can get better.”
The sampling is enhanced by the short-term injury to senior center Marcus Henry, who is expected to return later in camp. That has allowed sophomores Mason Hampton and Andrew Tercek to gain valuable experience.
Redshirt freshman Troy Bacon also has shown promise at tackle. Huff went so far as to call Henry’s absence a “blessing.”
“We’re trying to make sure right now that any combination of guys, they kind of know how to play off each other,” Huff said.
The returning line, which excelled during the second half of last season, features senior left tackle Rees Odhiambo (nine starts last year), junior left guard Travis Averill (14), Henry (14), junior right guard Mario Yakoo (14) and junior right tackle Steven Baggett (13).
Averill also has played center and tackle during his career. Henry has played guard, Yakoo has tried tackle and Baggett is working at guard this camp. Lewis has played guard, too, and started at both tackle spots last season.
“It’s unrealistic to think we’re not going to get hurt at some point during the year, so we’re trying to prepare for that in advance,” Huff said, “and see who can play other positions and what’s the best combination of the five.”
The offensive line helped tailback Jay Ajayi rush for 1,823 yards and 28 touchdowns last season. The Broncos scored 39.7 points per game and hit the 50-point mark in five of the final nine games.
But the group also allowed 28 sacks, the second straight season opponents averaged two sacks per game.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff to improve on — a lot of stuff,” Huff said. “From our stance all the way to adjustments.”
And the players, he said, know that.
“We’re taking nothing for granted,” Huff said. “They’re very self-motivated. They’re not patting themselves on the back. They’re just as hungry this year as they were last year.”
Somebody will be the odd man out among the six returners, and that provides incentive for the linemen to prove their versatility.
Baggett played some guard in the spring, too.
“I’m just trying to get comfortable,” he said. “I played tackle last year, so I was pretty comfortable there. I’m just trying to be comfortable wherever they want to put me.”