Through the spring, I’ll preview each position on the Boise State football team.
Today: Wide receivers
Previously: Defensive line
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WHAT’S NEXT FOR SPERBECK, ANDERSON?
Boise State wide receivers Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson were promising talents with little production when October 2014 began.
Over the next three months, Sperbeck made 45 catches for 798 yards and three touchdowns (including 12 catches for 199 yards in the Fiesta Bowl). Anderson added 16 catches for 394 yards and two touchdowns.
That was remarkable production for players who were recruited as defensive backs. Sperbeck was a true sophomore who played a limited role as a wide receiver in 2013. Anderson was a redshirt sophomore who didn’t move from cornerback to wide receiver until August 2014.
With that success and experience behind them, this spring has presented an opportunity to detail their routes, expand their knowledge of the offense and become more complete players.
“Those guys have grown to be some good leaders,” wide receivers coach Junior Adams said.
Sperbeck opened spring ball the same way he finished last season – making spectacular plays.
“He’s a hard worker,” Anderson said. “He doesn’t take a play off or a day off. Being able to see him work, it helps us and drives us. It’s good seeing him in a sense be a rabbit for us to catch.”
And Anderson is giving chase.
"You see (Anderson) developing his craft to fit him a little bit better," coach Bryan Harsin said. "He's using his speed at times to create separation on comeback routes. He's using his speed to transition from a little bit slower to faster to go attack a guy. So he's developing his game – that's what spring is about."
Anderson made receptions of 46, 46, 57, 46, 55 and 48 yards last season. He capped his breakout year with three catches for 80 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown, in the Fiesta Bowl.
Those six deep balls accounted for 65 percent of Anderson's receiving yardage.
"He's a versatile receiver, that's my personal opinion," senior cornerback Donte Deayon said. "Everybody thinks he can only go deep, so this will be a big year for him to prove it."
PERSONNEL AT A GLANCE
20 Terrell Johnson, 5-9, 173, R-Sr.
14 Troy Ware, 6-2, 191, R-Sr.
1 Shane Williams-Rhodes, 5-6, 168, Sr.
29 Rick Smith, 5-9, 174, R-Jr.
16 Taylor Pope, 6-0, 175, R-Jr.
6 Chaz Anderson, 5-10, 181, R-Jr.
82 Thomas Sperbeck, 6-0, 176, Jr.
89 Brock Barr, 6-3, 198, Jr.
80 D.J. Dean, 6-1, 194, R-So.
23 Tanner Shipley, 6-1, 181, R-So.
39 David McKinzie, 6-0, 167, R-So.
24 Dusty Fisher, 6-2, 179, R-So.
28 A.J. Richardson, 6-0, 209, R-Fr.
8 Sean Modster, 5-11, 186, R-Fr.
Akilian Butler, 5-10, 180, Fr.
Bryan Jefferson, 6-1, 190, Fr.
Returning starters (3 of 3): Williams-Rhodes was the primary slot receiver for all of last season, leading the team with 68 catches and seven receiving touchdowns. Sperbeck replaced Matt Miller in the starting lineup after Miller’s season-ending injury in late September. And Anderson was the primary deep threat for the last two-thirds of the season. "Last year, me, Thomas and Chaz, we all had our distinctive routes that we ran," Williams-Rhodes said. "After getting a year under our belt, us three playing together, I feel like we can get more into running the more advanced routes and becoming even better receivers."
Key losses: Usually losing the school’s all-time leader in receptions would be a big deal, but the Broncos began life without Miller in October 2014 because of the ankle injury that sidelined him for the final nine games. Still, his leadership will be missed. The Broncos also must replace the production of tailback Jay Ajayi, who ranked third on the team with 50 catches and 535 receiving yards. Part-time starter Dallas Burroughs (14 catches, 119 yards) also is gone.
Other key returners: Other than the three starters, the only returning wide receiver with a catch last season is senior Troy Ware. He made 12 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown.
Other players to watch: A.J. Richardson has impressed coaches and teammates this spring. A high school injury and academic issues have delayed the highly touted recruit’s impact, but after a grayshirt season in 2013 and academic ineligibility in 2014 he’s in position to contribute in 2015. Rick Smith, the former Arizona State starter and 2014 Offensive Scout Player of the Year at Boise State, was expected to make a big impact this season. However, he is not with the team this spring after he was injured in a fight. His future with the program is uncertain.
Projected starters: Sperbeck, Anderson, Williams-Rhodes
Out for spring: WR D.J. Dean (limited)
Incoming signees: The Broncos recruited Butler and Jefferson to address a need for more speed at the position. Butler scored touchdowns on a quarter of his receptions as a senior (12 of 48). Jefferson averaged nearly 20 yards per catch. One of them could factor into the rotation this season.
– Williams-Rhodes didn’t have a catch in the final two games last season. He had recorded multiple catches in every previous game during the season, including at least six in six different games. He and coaches have struggled to explain what happened. “We were still going out there winning, so I can’t complain,” Williams-Rhodes said. “It definitely is tough not getting the ball but we all had a common goal and we reached that goal.”
– Williams-Rhodes played the Fiesta Bowl at 156 pounds. He wants to play this year at 170. He was up to 168 when spring ball began. “I just feel like with that weight you’re able to run through a few more tackles and get off more man press (coverage),” he said. “And I didn’t lose really any speed with it.”
– Adams on Richardson: “A.J.’s a big, physical receiver who’s got strong hands and catches the ball well. He’s going to have to develop into a guy on third down who has to be efficient with his route-running and make plays to be able to move the chains.”
– Anderson on learning to play wide receiver during the season: "It was interesting. It was fun. It was something that I looked forward to doing every day when I woke up."
– Anderson on developing routes: "Once you get a route down, it's kind of like riding a bike. You can end up doing tricks on a bike but when it comes down to it it's the simple things you have to master and then you can put your own flavor to it."
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Spring ball resumes Tuesday. I’ll have highlights from our brief viewing window at practice that morning. Coach Bryan Harsin meets with the media before noon.
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SPRING BALL COVERAGE