If it all starts up front, as the football cliche goes, then there’s good reason Boise State is confident it can have an even stronger offense this season.
Deep, experienced and versatile, the Broncos’ offensive line has designs on being one of the best in college football.
“A lot of people say it on this team. I think it’s a strength of our offense, strength of our team in general,” senior tackle Mario Yakoo said. “I feel like this team’s going to go as far as we take it.”
Though the team lost two starters to graduation who are in NFL training camps (Rees Odhiambo and Marcus Henry), four in the group have started at least 13 games in the last two seasons. Plus, tackle Will Adams joined in the spring as a graduate transfer from Auburn.
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“I think we’re going to have more depth this year than we’ve had in a really, really long time,” co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Scott Huff said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can play multiple positions.”
It’s no secret the offensive line almost never gets through an entire season completely healthy. With that in mind, and a focus on recruiting athletic linemen, the Broncos spend plenty of time in the offseason trying different combinations and players at different spots.
Yakoo started at left guard and right tackle last season. Senior guards Travis Averill and Steven Baggett started games at right tackle early in their careers. Junior center Mason Hampton, who has taken a majority of the first-team snaps, also has worked at guard, while Baggett has at times worked at center. Junior tackle Archie Lewis started on the right and left sides last season.
Hampton has seen action in 27 games the past two seasons but has not started. However, he worked with the starters most of fall camp last year with Henry injured, and he made the lion’s share of snaps with the first unit this spring and fall.
“I could definitely see playing next to him that he’s a lot more confident, and that’s what you like to see out of your center. It’s been going well for him,” Averill said.
There could be a new face at left tackle. Adams (38 games as a reserve at Auburn) and Lewis have been competing to protect sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien and company’s blindside. Harsin said he likely would make a decision this week on who will start at left tackle.
Averill is set at left guard, while Yakoo said about two-thirds of his work has been at right tackle. Baggett is perhaps the most versatile in the group.
“Steve’s a dirt dog, so whatever’s thrown at him, he’s going to embrace it; he’s going to attack it,” Yakoo said.
The line also had experience last year, but at times had some inconsistencies. The running game improved as the season went on, but it yielded 31 sacks (17 in the four losses), the most since 1999. Rypien has worked on a quicker release this fall, but the line sees it as its responsibility.
“It doesn’t matter. He should be able to hold onto the ball for 10 seconds if he needs to,” Yakoo said. “He took way too many hits last year.”
That prompted co-OC/quarterbacks coach Zak Hill to joke, “We’ll go with 10. Twelve?”
With the group playing with an extra edge in addition to the veteran presence and the flexibility, it’s trying to back up Yakoo’s confidence.
“I feel really good about that position,” Rypien said.
OL depth chart (projected)
- LT, Will Adams, 6-7, 300, RSr.: Big Auburn transfer played 38 games as a reserve; came to get starting shot
- LG, Travis Averill, 6-3, 295, RSr.: Has a unit-best 28 career starts under his belt, the last 25 at guard
- C, Mason Hampton, 6-3, 296, RJr.: Former walk-on, Meridian High grad, took first-team snaps most of offseason
- RG, Steven Baggett, 6-3, 288, RSr.: A consistent presence, started at tackle as sophomore, then guard, can play center
- RT, Mario Yakoo, 6-4, 326, RSr.: A commanding leader, he settled in at tackle after beginning last season at guard
- LT, Archie Lewis, 6-3, 300, RJr.: Started eight games last season, but had high-profile struggles; battling Adams to start
- LG, Andrew Tercek, 6-1, 281, RJr.: Played center as high school senior, has played in seven games last two seasons
- C, Garrett Larson, 6-4, 293, RFr.: Fruitland High grad had a strong spring, can play some guard, too
- RG, Kellen Buhr, 6-1, 294, RSr.: Capital High grad earned a scholarship during fall camp; has appeared in 26 games
- RT, John Molchon, 6-5, 307, RFr.: Spent a lot of time at LT in the spring, has the look of a future multi-year starter