Bronco Beat

Young battles ‘old’ as Boise State football seeks special teams studs

Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin - March 29, 2016

Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin discusses spring practices, which entered the final two weeks Tuesday following spring break.
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Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin discusses spring practices, which entered the final two weeks Tuesday following spring break.

Spring practices allow teams to tinker with different ways of attacking tried and true methods, tinker with the playbook and try new faces at new spots.

For the Boise State football team, the Broncos are trying a new approaching special teams, which has spots just about anyone on the roster can fill.

“One area overall, it’s special teams,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “We’re trying to figure who fits on special teams, what starters should be out there playing. We’re doing something a little bit different with young guys versus old guys ... it gives the old guys a chance to do some of the things they already know, the new guys to go out there and prove themselves against a group that's played.”

Harsin said he has been impressed by the competition in the young vs. old drills. Some of the younger names have worked in some unorthodox ways — sophomore receiver A.J. Richardson said he’s practiced some as a holder on kicks.

Prior to spring practices, Harsin said one unit he was hoping to keep a strong eye on was the returners. There has been no shortage of options.

“We’re working a ton of guys, but Akilian Butler’s done a good job at punt returner, Jonathan Moxey’s a guy that really can do some stuff, Cedrick Wilson’s done a good job, so has Chaz Anderson,” special teams coach Kent Riddle said. “Jeremy McNichols, Ryan Wolpin, they’ve done it before at kickoff returner and will continue to work there.”

Reflecting on last season’s production from the returners, Riddle said “It wasn’t good enough, but it did get better as the year went on.” Boise State averaged 21.0 yards per kick return (tied for 68th) and 5.3 yards per punt return (103rd). Riddle noted finding set returners will help, while on kickoffs, he said “we have to be better at setting some stuff up,” while the changing ways teams punt has made it more challenging to get decent return lanes.

Riddle is optimistic the Broncos can break their first kickoff return touchdown since Nov. 23, 2013 and second punt return TD since 2010.

“We’ll make it happen,” he said.

More highlights from Harsin’s media availability Tuesday:

-On sophomore cornerback Tyler Horton: “We saw last year he could play. Tyler’s a guy that in last year’s fall camp, showed up and just made plays. ... that carried over into being a smart football player, being a guy that prepares well, being a guy that prepares well in the classroom, off the field.

“I’ve been nothing but impressed with him since he showed up here.”

-On the second group of receivers: “A.J. Richardson, he’s done a nice job, he’s gotten better. Sean Modster, you see that guy making plays. Ced Wilson’s been a great addition, made some real big plays today. ... Akilian Butler, to get him back after the injury, you see him out there, he’s a speed guy, he’s really improved. Playing’s helped him, a lot like Tyler, just having that experience has helped him. Bryan Jefferson is a guy not many people have seen, he just quietly continues to make plays, he just goes out and does his job. I think we’re seeing a guy kind of emerging as a guy that’s going to have a role, a guy we can trust that we can put out there and he’s going to know what to do.”

-On the safeties: “(Cameron) Hartsfield has played the best football I’ve seen him play in practice situations. ... they’re moving around, giving them a chance to play field and boundary so they understand the entire package we’re trying to get done in coverage. Dylan (Sumner-Gardner) is back out there now, getting himself back in the mix, Chance(ller James) has showed improvement.”

-On Gabe Perez’s return: “When you lose a guy like Kamalei, you want to have somebody - Jabril stepped up, Gabe’s back. I wouldn’t say Gabe’s full strength at this point. He’s a force. The thing about Gabe, Gabe’s long, Gabe’s fast, Gabe’s got some suddenness to him, which you saw in those edge pass rushers we’ve had.”

-On center Mason Hampton: “Mason would’ve started for us last year in the Washington game ... Marcus (Henry) basically willed himself back. ... Mason’s done a real nice job, been very happy with him. I like his demeanor, his communication. He’s taken on that leadership role on the offensive line you have to have at that center position. What I’ve seen from what he did last year to where he is now, being in position to really go out and take that center job, he’s doing a good job competing.”

-On QBs competing: “Tommy (Stuart) out of that group has had a really good spring, he has elevated his game, done a nice job of being the player that can go out there and just make some things happen. ... the way it’s going as far as a rotation and competition has been good, are we where want to be at this point? Absolutely not. Still got a lot more to do.”

-On Thursday’s Pro Day: “Just excited we have that many guys. It’s going to be a big day ... I think this will help all those guys on Pro Day, it’s going to be like a mini practice.”

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Check out SB Nation’s always interesting, fact-filled preview of Boise State’s 2016 season here.

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