Weaver, Vallejo, Gray, Martarano, Vander Esch & Lee, linebackers
Boise State has used six players at its two spots this season in part because coaches have opted for a three-linebacker look against certain run-heavy offenses, like the one the Broncos will face from UNLV.
The group of proven performers and up-and-coming playmakers includes the guys ranked second on the team in tackles (junior Ben Weaver, 43), fourth (sophomore Joe Martarano, 29), fifth (junior Tanner Vallejo, 28), sixth (senior Tyler Gray, 27) and tied for 16th (redshirt freshman Leighton Vander Esch and junior Darren Lee, 13 each).
“We’ve got very good players in there,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “Their preparation, their mentality — just the focus they have — it’s a different deal. That’s a special group.”
Vander Esch, because of the three-linebacker plan, and Lee, because of an injury to Vallejo, played more than usual last week against Wyoming. Each was productive — a fact linebackers coach Andy Avalos says is attributable to the chemistry in his group.
“It starts with them, who they are as people,” Avalos said. “You’ve got a lot of pretty smart guys in there. Guys that are willing to put the team in front of themselves. I get more questions about who gets to play how much from the outside and from (the media) than I do from them. The coolest thing about them is it doesn’t matter; it could be Tyler Gray and Ben Weaver together. It could be Joey and Tanner together in there watching and studying and sharing things they’ve seen, because they want each other to do well when they get in there.
“Our deal is to take care of each other, and they do a pretty good job doing that.”
Chanceller James, nickel
The junior spent part of last week’s game at safety and could do that again this week because the nickel is removed in three-linebacker personnel groups.
James, who is the starting nickel but was a starting safety last season, slid back to safety in some of those situations against Wyoming. He replaced sophomore Kam Miles, who is starting because of the injury to Dylan Sumner-Gardner.
“Being back there is fun,” James said.
But he also is becoming more comfortable with his new role. He’s third on the team with 32 tackles, second with five tackles for loss and tied for second with three sacks. He also has two pass breakups.
“I feel way better than I did when I first started,” James said. “I’m getting closer and closer to the ball. I’m rooting for an interception sometime soon.”
Jeremy McNichols, tailback
The sophomore handled a school-record 40 touches last week, including 33 rushes. He produced a career-high 202 yards from scrimmage and scored two touchdowns. He has scored at least twice in each of his seven appearances this season and ranks second in the nation with 16 touchdowns, two behind Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman.
“Jeremy McNichols is a special player, and he’s going to have to get touches in the ballgame for us to continue to be explosive,” offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz said.