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Quarterback pool deepens every day

Now, at least, there are options. Boise State ended spring practice Friday night with an unimpressive offensive performance and its quarterback pecking order basically unchanged.

But what the Broncos discovered during 15 practices stretched over the last month — and what Friday night's festivities at Bronco Stadium simply reinforced — is legitimate depth under center.

Last fall, Boise State stuck with incumbent Jared Zabransky through an inconsistent and extremely frustrating season because the Broncos had no other choice. The gap between Zabransky and the program's other quarterbacks — Taylor Tharp, Bush Hamdan and Nick Lomax — was simply too great to justify pulling Zabransky.

That gulf no longer exists.

The gap is small and closing.

"Early on and probably last year, it was Zabransky up here and everybody else trying to learn it and catch up. Those other guys have closed the gap a little bit in terms of understanding what we're trying to get done," head coach Chris Petersen said.

Zabransky, despite two interceptions in Friday's scrimmage that left fans groaning, put together a solid spring — an assessment shared by Zabransky and Petersen.

Of course, much of that was accomplished away from a crowd. And, with the lights on, Zabransky forced one pass into coverage for one pick and sailed a ball well over his intended receiver for a second. He finished 3-of-5 for 54 yards and rushed for 42 yards on four carries, including a 29-yard scamper to the 1 on the final play of the first half.

It's the interceptions, however, that will remain in the memory banks of fans — and perhaps coaches — fearful of a Z repeat.

Everyone can relax: There will be no repeat of last season.

Such a statement has less to do with Zabransky, who Petersen remains convinced is close to a major breakthrough, than with the emergence of other quarterbacks, Hamdan and Tharp, in particular.

This year, there is simply no reason to allow Zabransky — or any other quarterback for that matter — to play through severe struggles.The Broncos have too many other options.

Hamdan, a 6-foot-1, 196-pound sophomore, guided the second-team offense (White) to its only touchdown Friday night, tossing a 5-yard pass to Aiona Key in the fourth quarter.

Hamdan also guided the most impressive drive of the night, a 97-yard march in the first half. Though the drive ended with Hamdan fumbling a snap on fourth-and-goal from the 1, the quarterback impressed by completing 7-of-10 passes for 82 yards on the possession. At one point, Hamdan completed six passes in a row.

He finished the scrimmage 11-of-18 for 121 yards and one touchdown against the second-team defense.

It was a far cry from Hamdan's performance in last year's scrimmage when he completed just 3-of-10 passes for 31 yards and one interception.

As terrible as Hamdan played in last year's scrimmage, he was still better than Tharp, who still backed up Zabransky once the season started. Tharp was 0-for-7 with an interception in last year's scrimmage. This year, the junior completed 8-of-9 passes against the first-team defense for 74 yards and one touchdown.

Tharp brought the first-team offense 70 yards in the final six minutes to score its lone touchdown. And his two-point conversion pass was on target, but fell incomplete on a solid hit by Orlando Scandrick.

Lomax completed 4-of-5 passes for 50 yards in limited playing time with the second-team offense.

The competition is far from over.

"The way the coaches have been handling it is telling us that it's an open job, and I think it's going to stay that way through fall camp,'' Tharp said. "Z is the No. 1 guy, but by keeping the job open and telling us it's open through the fall that will keep all four of our competitive drives going.''

And that's exactly what Petersen wants. He witnessed first-hand what can happen when there is only one quarterback truly ready to play. You're forced to stick with him through good and bad, a frustrating predicament and one he is determined not to find himself in this year.

"We have to have two good quarterbacks, if not more, just in terms of health and if things don't go the way they should," Petersen said. "Competition is good."

Options are better.

Boise State now has both at quarterback.