Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a series previewing the Boise State football team by position.
Coming Saturday: Special teams
The Boise State tight ends collected more receptions in 2014 than they did in 2012 and 2013 combined.
And they want more for 2015.
The Broncos return four of the five tight ends from last year’s rotation and add two redshirt freshmen to the mix, creating a deep and experienced group that is motivated to keep the position in a prominent role.
“We want to be more consistent,” senior Jake Hardee said. “We want to be relied on in the offense. We want to be a group our offense can rely on to get stuff done.”
The tight ends slotted into particular roles last season. Each hopes to show more versatility this year, which will create some unpredictability in the Broncos’ attack.
Sophomore Jake Roh, who was fourth on the team with 35 catches last year and is the returning starter, has become a more potent blocker. Senior Holden Huff, who hasn’t scored since his four-TD freshman year, was impressive in fall camp. Hardee, who didn’t have a catch last year, made the most big plays in camp. And sophomore Alec Dhaenens set a goal to become more than just the designated fullback.
The group has two very important allies on the coaching staff, too: head coach Bryan Harsin was the tight ends coach from 2002 to 2005 and utilized them extensively as the offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2010. New offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz was the tight ends coach last year.
“That’s a strength of our team on offense, no doubt,” Drinkwitz said. “Coach (Kent Riddle) is going to have those guys playing at a high level, even a higher level than last year. That allows us to be very multiple on offense.”
Riddle, known in Boise for his work with running backs and on special teams, was a tight ends coach from 2006 to 2013 after his first tenure with the Broncos.
He inherits a group built for the future with Roh and Dhaenens as sophomores, redshirt freshmen Chase Blakley and David Lucero among the program’s top recruits from 2014 and true freshman Matt Pistone joining the team this year.
Blakley and Lucero likely will get involved in the rotation this season, Riddle said. He wants to “ease” them into action.
“The biggest problem (the redshirt freshmen) have is they have four older, good, experienced guys in front of them,” Riddle said. “But we certainly think there’s some stuff they can do to help us out, absolutely.”
The most noticed tight ends likely will be Roh and Huff.
Roh has added size and strength since last season, when he contributed 408 receiving yards as a freshman. He was responsible for 35 of the tight ends’ 47 catches.
“Last year ... he was more of a pass catcher. Now he can come off the ball and get guys,” Riddle said.
Huff, meanwhile, could be one of the most improved players this season after his outstanding camp. A recurring shoulder dislocation slowed him the past two seasons, he said. He had more catches as a freshman (17) than the past two years combined (16).
He has started 14 games in his career, tops in the group.
“He’s just such a good technician,” Riddle said. “He plays with good pad level, good hands, drives guys off the ball, and then obviously he’s a big, fast target in the pass game that can catch the ball.”
The Roh-Huff combo could allow the Broncos to challenge their recent high for catches by tight ends, 61 in 2011. Last year’s group ranked third since Harsin became the coordinator in 2006.
“We hope to keep that bar rising,” Roh said.