Boise State coach Bryan Harsin at Mountain West Football Media Summit
Every college football coach in the country will say not to pay much attention to depth charts. That’s reasonable, but the charts usually show a pecking order that holds pretty steady. Outside of two suspensions and a fall camp injury, the other 19 starting spots on the Broncos’ pre-fall camp depth chart in 2016 were the guys who started the opener against Louisiana.
Boise State’s initial depth chart, released Sunday, features 13 starters (including kicker/punter Joel Velazquez) who have one or zero starts. But coach Bryan Harsin doesn’t think that’s the sign of inexperience or a rebuild.
“They’re guys that have played, for the most part,” Harsin said. “... A lot of them have spent time with guys who have played. I don’t see a lot of guys that haven’t played at all — though they didn’t play a ton.”
Two starters, junior cornerback Michael Young and redshirt freshman offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland, never have played a game for Boise State. At linebacker, junior Leighton Vander Esch is poised to break out after missing seven games last season and is the most experienced in the group. Middle linebacker Tyson Maeva played last season as a true freshman, making 13 of his 21 tackles in the last two games. Strong-side linebacker Gabe Perez has played in five games the last two seasons and is moving from STUD end.
Safeties Kekoa Nawahine and DeAndre Pierce impressed as true freshmen, with Nawahine making his only start in the bowl game. Pierce is making a move after mainly playing cornerback last season. STUD end Sam Whitney played in only five games last season as a redshirt freshman. Receivers AJ Richardson and Sean Modster have played in 44 games combined, with 23 combined receptions.
“You’re always going to have some of those situations,” Harsin said. “We lost some key seniors, but it’s our job to do what we’ve done before and seize the opportunity. This team is full of guys who are putting in the work and they want to take advantage.”
The Broncos played 10 true freshmen last season, three more than in any campaign in at least a decade. It’s unlikely that many will see the field in 2017, but there are a few places where true freshmen could make early contributions, Harsin said.
“I’d probably say wide receiver would be one of them, maybe defensive back. We have some guys coming in who are pretty good ... linebacker, I can see that,” Harsin said. “Linebacker and receiver, probably the two most likely at this point.”
Harsin mentioned the incoming trio of receivers Octavius Evans, Cartrell Thomas and Damon Cole as contenders to play early, along with inside linebacker Breydon Boyd. He also is high on Ezekiel Noa, who he said would’ve been a factor immediately if not for a torn ACL he had operated on in January. Should Noa recover quickly, he could find the field during the season.
STUD end Aisa Kelemete turned down a late offer from USC, but Harsin said he hopes to redshirt him, feeling the depth is strong at that spot. The team added a handful of new defensive backs in Young, a junior college transfer, and freshmen Marques Evans (in for spring), Jermani Brown, Tyreque Jones and Kekaula Kaniho.
Numbers for the Broncos’ newcomers were included in the latest roster update.
RB Drake Beasley - 29
LB Breydon Boyd - 24
CB Jermani Brown - 18
WR Damon Cole - 30
QB Montell Cozart - 3
QB Chase Cord - 10
WR Octavius Evans - 82
LB Joseph Inda - 56
S Tyreque Jones - 21
LB Roman Kafentzis - 20
S Kekaula Kaniho - 28
STUD Aisa Kelemete - 19
OL Isiah Moore - 66
LB Ezekiel Noa - 39
WR Cartrell Thomas - 6
LB Riley Whimpey - 46
Number changes: OL/TE Nick Crabtree, 93 to 44; WR AJ Richardson, 28 to 7; RB Ryan Wolpin, 30 to 21