With confidence that they can consistently catch the ball properly, the Boise State wide receivers have turned their attention to what happens immediately afterward.
An area of focus in the spring and throughout fall camp has been on gaining yards after the catch, ball security and shedding tackles.
“We want to be one play away from changing the game,” receivers coach Junior Adams said.
Even after a record-breaking 2015 season, senior Thomas Sperbeck saw a key area for improvement. He tied a single-season school record with 88 receptions and set the new top mark with 1,412 yards, scoring eight touchdowns. Though his 14 plays of 30 yards or more were tied for sixth-most in the nation, he felt there could have been more.
“It’s the next step for us,” Sperbeck said. “Even in the summer, we spent every day on trying to make guys miss. We did a good job last year, but it can always be better. We were challenged to try to make big plays out of nothing.”
Behind seniors Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson (42 catches for 578 yards last season), the group is full of lightly-seasoned options who are vying to get the opportunities to create those explosive plays.
“Almost every drill we do, we are focusing on running after the catch, and it’s showing up, too, in scrimmages and practices,” sophomore A.J. Richardson said. “This year, for sure, there will be some big runs, so stay tuned for that.”
Richardson’s 10 receptions last season are the most among the non-returning starters. Junior Austin Cottrell and sophomores Sean Modster and Akilian Butler combined for six. All four made their on-field debuts for the Broncos last year, leading to some inconsistency.
“Besides Thomas and Chaz, we had a lot of young people on the field. That was our first time playing college football. We got it sometimes, but sometimes we had little mess-ups. ... We’re trying to make everything perfect,” Richardson said.
A breakout candidate in the group could be Butler, who played last season as a true freshman and is one of the unit’s fastest players.
“I think one of those guys on the offensive side, the most improved, I would say, would be Akilian Butler,” coach Bryan Harsin said Friday. “You can see the extra time he spent in summer really showing up.”
So far, that first experience on the field for players like Richardson and Butler, plus an entire offense working with the Broncos’ quarterbacks has yielded confidence they can easily mix in six or seven receivers a game, as Adams said is his goal.
“I’m excited to see not only the first three, but the next three, because there’s not going to be a dropoff,” Anderson said.
For Anderson, he had some issues with drops at times, particularly in the loss to New Mexico. After practice, he has stayed with Sperbeck working on receiving drills, and he’s made more catches in this fall camp than last.
“A lot of it is how badly he wants it,” Sperbeck said.
The only receiver who graduated from the group is the versatile Shane Williams-Rhodes, who had 63 catches last season. He will be replaced in the starting lineup by the unit’s newest, tallest target, 6-foot-3 junior college transfer Cedrick Wilson. He immediately impressed when arrived for spring practices and has not ceased.
“He has unbelievable ability. We’ve just got to make sure we put it on display,” Adams said.
Boise State can rest assured it has one of the nation’s best in Sperbeck. He’s at ease knowing that while he’ll be the top option, should defenses try to clamp down at him, the Broncos can still be potent in the passing game thanks to the growth of the others.
“I definitely feel good about the depth we have. I’m excited,” Sperbeck said.
WR depth chart (projected)
- Thomas Sperbeck, 6-0, 180, Sr.: Off a huge season, he certainly can repeat monster numbers
- Chaz Anderson, 5-10, 193, RSr.: Not lacking speed, could be more of a weapon with consistency
- Cedrick Wilson, 6-3, 183, Jr.: Tall and fast, he’ll offer a very intriguing, new look to the group
- A.J. Richardson, 6-0, 210, RSo.: Built like a running back, Sperbeck said he may have best hands
- Akilian Butler, 5-11, 190, So.: One of the standouts of fall camp, his speed could be an asset
- Sean Modster, 5-11, 190, So.: Has impressed in spring and fall scrimmages with solid hands