Boise State will hold its first of 15 spring practices Monday, concluding with April 8’s spring game.
We will have a full team preview in Monday’s Idaho Statesman, but here are five players to keep an eye on this spring.
DeANDRE PIERCE, S
It spoke plenty of Pierce’s football intelligence that he was able to play at cornerback, nickel and safety last season as a true freshman. He finished the year with 19 tackles and a pair of pass breakups, showing some physicality at times despite his 5-foot-11, 168-pound frame. This spring, he’s working at safety full-time, a position comfortable to him, as he played it throughout high school at California power Long Beach Poly.
“I never played corner until I got here, safety’s kind of always been a natural fit for me ... I feel like there’s a lot more plays you can make at safety — tackles, interceptions — it’s a free realm I can be in,” Pierce said.
JOHN BATES, TE
Boise State was able to redshirt the 6-6, 229-pound Bates last season, a luxury it had with five more experienced players on the roster. Even with all five back, Bates is primed for a role this season, bringing size and athleticism to a group that had a combined 29 receptions in 2016.
“John Bates is a guy we’re really counting on,” tight ends coach Kent Riddle said. “He has unlimited potential. That guy can be a bigtime guy for a lot of years.”
LEIGHTON VANDER ESCH, LB
With all three linebackers that started a majority of last season’s games having graduated, the junior from Riggins will be expected to start and be productive. He missed seven games, but had 15 tackles, including an interception, in the final two once he returned. Vander Esch (6-4, 236) will play at the spot where Tyler Gray and Ben Weaver have starred in recent seasons.
“We obviously lost some good players there ... even a Leighton Vander Esch, who did play for us, but still, here’s an opportunity for a guy like that to emerge as a leader,” coach Bryan Harsin said.
ROBERT MAHONE, RB
Jeremy McNichols is gone, Alexander Mattison is out for the spring after shoulder surgery, so Mahone will see plenty of work with senior Ryan Wolpin. Mahone (5-10, 209) redshirted last season after averaging 9.4 yards per carry as a senior at Prosper (Texas) High.
“Robert’s looking really, really good,” running backs coach Lee Marks said. “Robert’s changed his body ... he’s really digging in right now, understanding what it takes to work hard and develop that. I’m happy with his progress as far as learning how to work, how to be an elite running back.”
EMMANUEL FESILI, DT
After appearing in two games early in the season as a true freshman, he didn’t crack the rotation at a position lacking depth. The 6-2, 308-pounder will hope to make an impact as a sophomore, learning behind junior David Moa and not having the compressed timeline he did last year, arriving in July and playing in September.
“Emmanuel’s got a ton of ability,” defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said. “We’re just so excited about having time to really groom him this spring."