Bronco Beat

Boise State football starts practice Tuesday: here’s what you need to know

Boise State STUD Sam Whitney, seen here closing in on quarterback Brett Rypien, is one player to watch in fall camp.
Boise State STUD Sam Whitney, seen here closing in on quarterback Brett Rypien, is one player to watch in fall camp.

Temperatures are still hitting 100 degrees, but August will bring that first reminder of crisp, autumn days. Yes, football is almost here.

The Boise State football team begins fall practices Tuesday as it prepares for its 2017 season opener Sept. 2 against Troy at Albertsons Stadium. Veterans and newcomers will split the first three days, then work together once daily with Aug. 6 and 13 off. NCAA rules no longer allow two-a-day practices. Boise State will hold its Fan Fest on Aug. 26, with details to come later.

As the Broncos seek to end a two-year drought without a Mountain Division title, they’ve put an even larger emphasis on the tried and true “blue collar” mentality.

“The way these guys have attacked the workout, the way these guys have put in the work, the way the guys have accepted challenges each and every week ... This group is really enjoyable,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “It’s a good vibe. It’s a good mood. It’s a good group.”

Here’s a fall camp primer:

DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME

Plenty of Broncos have played a bit but are primed for much bigger roles this fall.

▪ STUD Sam Whitney, So.: Had five tackles in five games last season. He’s currently listed atop the depth chart at the hybrid defensive end/linebacker spot. Coaches love the 6-foot-2, 232-pounder’s work ethic.

▪ LB Tyson Maeva, So.: Appeared in 12 games last season as a true freshman. He is likely to start at middle linebacker after Joe Martarano left to puruse baseball. He was one of the team’s best defenders late in the season.

▪ TE Jake Roh, Sr.: Yes, he’s played in 38 games, but he was severely slowed by a knee injury last season and limited to 10 catches. Expect him to be a major key and help a group that was hardly a factor in pass game.

HELLO, MY NAME IS ...

A few players who have yet to play in a game for the Broncos could make some noise in camp.

▪ OL Ezra Cleveland, R-Fr.: The offensive scout team player of the year, Cleveland (6-6, 304) saw a lot of first-team work in the spring and is No. 1 at left tackle. Moves well for a big guy, too.

▪ LB Breydon Boyd, Fr.: Lengthy at 6-3, 215 pounds, he could play at multiple spots. With depth an issue at linebacker, the Texas native is in line to contribute quickly.

▪ WR Cartrell Thomas, Fr.: He is a speedy option at a position with little production behind senior Cedrick Wilson. The Dallas native had 60 catches for 1,205 yards and 15 TDs as a high school senior.

POSITIONED TO BATTLE

Some positions not locked down that could provide solid competition.

▪ Wide receiver: After Cedrick Wilson’s 56 catches, the rest of the group has 28 in their careers combined. Juniors A.J. Richardson and Sean Modster must step up, while freshmen Thomas (5-9), Octavius Evans (6-3) and Damon Cole (6-1) have shots to play early.

▪ Offensive line: The group loses three starters, but senior center Mason Hampton and senior tackle Archie Lewis are back. Sophomore John Molchon could play guard or tackle, while Cleveland will factor, too. Watch out for junior college transfer Isiah Moore.

▪ Defensive back: Junior cornerback Tyler Horton anchors the group, but the three other starters on the depth chart have one combined start. JC transfer Michael Young impressed in the spring at cornerback. Sophomores Kekoa Nawahine and DeAndre Pierce are intriguing at safety.

THERE’S WORK TO DO

What each side of the ball will focus on improving during fall camp.

▪ Offense: The Broncos were 60th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in red-zone conversion percentage, scoring on 84.6 percent of trips, which was a factor in scoring their second-lowest points per game since 1998. Quarterback Brett Rypien may spread the ball around more after four players had 80 percent of the receptions last season, three of whom are gone. And yes, the tight ends should see bigger roles.

▪ Defense: Boise State created just nine turnovers last season, its fewest since becoming a four-year school in 1968. The young unit (only four seniors listed on the depth chart) is full of players that the coaches feel have a nose for the ball. The line was less effective late in the season, so building depth will again be a focus. Coordinator Andy Avalos wants to create more pressure this season, bringing it from all over.

▪ Special teams: Redshirt freshman Joel Velazquez likely will handle punting and kicking duties. The Broncos struggled plenty last season, from fumbling punts to having kicks blocked or not recovering onside kicks. It played a big factor in giving the offense poor field position more often than not. Football Outsiders ranked Boise State 109th nationally in special teams efficiency.

▪ Boise State coach Bryan Harsin will hold a news conference at 3 p.m. Monday. Check it out on Facebook Live at https://www.facebook.com/boisestatesports.

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @davesouthorn

Boise State coach Bryan Harsin will hold a news conference at 3 p.m. Monday. Check it out on Facebook Live at https://www.facebook.com/boisestatesports.

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