The Boise State football team wrapped up spring practices with Saturday’s spring game, and now, the three-plus month wait until fall camp begins.
We will take a look at the Broncos’ defense tomorrow, but let’s start with a recap of how the offense fared this spring.
With about half of its likely starters this coming fall out for the spring or limited to non-contact drills, it was all about creating depth. With new coaches at two of the most uncertain spots, wide receiver and offensive line, answers weren’t easy to find, but even if most that were on hand this spring are due for backup duty, they all earned more snaps than usual.
“Overall, this spring ball’s been really good,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said after the spring game, when the offense scored two total touchdowns. “... I’d like to see the offense be a little more consistent.”
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Zak Hill took over offensive coordinator and play-calling duties this spring, something that has suited him well.
“I would say it’s been fun being in charge of the offense, having that opportunity to call plays, where I’m not just slipping in with a call here and there,” Hill said.
The spring was an opportunity for junior Brett Rypien to get on the same page as what will now be his top options that have spent the past few seasons in reserve roles. The healthy receivers this spring have 28 combined career receptions.
“It was tough, because you get into a rhythm with the guys that were here ... it’s been tough all spring, but at the same time it’s been really good, I thought our young guys got a lot of good reps and built some depth at some positions,” Rypien said.
Rypien said he has a goal of improving his decision-making after the Broncos struggled when he did last season in key games. His passes were often just a touch off from being big plays, but Kellen Moore wasn't always 100 percent in the spring, either. Harsin said Rypien had a “learning opportunity” this spring to manage the offense without some key weapons and led the team well.
Redshirt freshman Jake Constantine appears to go into the offseason as the backup, taking a big leap forward this spring. He had 28 pass attempts in the spring game, while junior Rathen Ricedorff had just three. However, Ricedorff rushed twice for 18 yards, including a touchdown, an aspect of his game that coaches said likely will show up in packages this fall.
Offensive coordinator Zak Hill: “It’s huge, having Brett back, a guy, an operator that can go out there, understand a play call, get guys right if they’re misaligned, handle the motions and shifts ... it’s nice for the young guys.”
Quarterback Brett Rypien: “(I’ll work on) extending plays a little bit, moving up in the pocket, make throws on the run and just getting more consistent, more accurate, getting our offense in a good place when I can.”
Sophomore Alexander Mattison did not take part in contact drills after offseason shoulder surgery, but will still be the Broncos’ No. 1 back coming into the fall. In trying to find other options to help replace Jeremy McNichols, senior Ryan Wolpin was one of the most consistent performers on the entire roster. He had 17 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.
“He’s a guy that every single time, his effort is second to none,” running backs coach Lee Marks said. “His effort is unbelievable. And now we’re starting to see the confidence in his play. He’s doing everything right.”
Redshirt freshman Robert Mahone has the talent to contribute, but still has a ways to go before he can be expected to have a decent role. Freshman Drake Beasley enters the mix this fall and despite not playing as a high school senior, could very well find himself playing early.
Running backs coach Lee Marks: “A ton of learning going on ... there’s been one really, really bright light so far that’s been going on so far (Wolpin), and one light that’s constantly on a little bit (Mahone). Things have been good, I’m definitely pleased how the running backs are coming along.”
Senior running back Ryan Wolpin: “I feel like I’m more comfortable in the offense now, more ready for any situation thrown at me.”
Like at running back, the Broncos' top option at the position was limited all spring as senior Cedrick Wilson was coming off ankle surgery. In non-contact drills, he looked every bit the No. 1 receiver he’s expected to be after a 1,129-yard, 11-touchdown junior campaign. Rypien said “he looks better than ever.”
“I think I’ll do a lot better if I can stay healthy the whole season,” Wilson said. “It’ll be much better than last year.”
Junior Sean Modster, who has impressed in previous camps but has 11 career receptions, will be relied upon to help pick up the slack left by Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson's departures. He isn't big (5-foot-11), but has a knack to catch just about anything thrown his way. Redshirt sophomore Bryan Jefferson has not played in two seasons, but now healthy, he showed some flashes of potential. Sophomore Bubba Ogbebor, who played last season as a true freshman, decided to transfer Monday. Losing a young talent like that hurts the already shaky depth, and makes it even more likely at least one of the three incoming true freshmen will play early.
Receivers coach Eric Kiesau: “I think it’s going good, think it’s good for fresh new eyes to come in, have a clean perspective of where we’re at. ... they’re willing, great attention to detail, they want to learn, so we’ve got to take that attitude and move forward.”
Junior receiver Sean Modster: “There’s so much energy in the locker room ... the rotation is definitely different this year.”
An embarrassment of riches at a spot that frustrated many by not being terribly productive in the pass game last season. The reasoning was multiple: Jake Roh’s knee injury slowed him down greatly, only one other player in the group had a reception before 2016, and after McNichols, Sperbeck, Wilson and Anderson, there were only so many balls to go around.
“We’re going to be deep there. We’ll find a bunch of different ways to use those guys,” tight ends coach Kent Riddle said.
But with seven in the group in the spring, it was evident the tight ends will be much, much more of a presence in 2017. They had 10 of the 32 receptions in the spring game. Roh injured his ankle early Saturday, but it is not a major injury, so he should be fine for fall camp.
When healthy, junior tight end Chase Blakley can be a tough matchup, which he showed after Roh went down Saturday. Redshirt freshman tight end John Bates has a massive upside as an athletic 6-6, 245-pounder.
Tight ends coach Kent Riddle: “It’s been great. Those guys have been really working hard, they’re a fun group, getting good production out of them. Great to have Jake Roh back healthy, been a really fun spring, had a lot of good competition in there, too.”
Senior tight end Alec Dhaenens: “We feel like we can have a pretty big impact in the passing game and hopefully it comes to that. We have so much depth and talent so we’ll be able to pick up where Tom and all of them left off and make the plays that need to be made. ... We have a lot of depth. We’re really excited about our group this year.”
Insert giant question mark here.
OK, maybe not, but the Broncos at worst got the opportunity to build up its second unit in the spring with new coach Brad Bedell. Potential starters Garrett Larson, John Molchon, Archie Lewis and Mason Hampton all were out for the spring.
Coach Bryan Harsin noted that true freshman John Ojukwu, who graduated early, took almost to many snaps for such a young player, for example. Some fresh faces took the opportunity, including redshirt freshman Donte Harrington, who has played guard and center. Harsin said “Donte Harrington, I think, had a great spring practice, he did really well.”
Ezra Cleveland, the Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year last fall, impressed as a first-team tackle. The redshirt freshman will certainly compete for a starting job in fall camp.
“Ezra’s an animal, he’s going to be really good,” sophomore STUD end Sam Whitney said.
Offensive line coach Brad Bedell: “Those guys, they’ll be back, but it’s an opportunity for the young guys to get reps and get better. Their reps have now doubled. Those are reps we can take advantage of, get them ready, that will pave the way positively in the future.”
Offensive tackle Andres Preciado: “We’re all competing against each other, but we all want each other to succeed. ... Bedell’s fiery, he likes to get out there and get after it, really competitive, maybe that’s what we need to take the next step.”