Posted by Jerry Hinnen
College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Boise State , who opens spring camp next Monday, March 7.
Spring Practice Question: Who'll become the Broncos' new playmakers on the edge?
The conventional wisdom was that 2010 was Boise State's now-or-never moment where the national championship was concerned, their make-or-break campaign as a legitimate BCS title contender. The Broncos lost just four seniors from their undefeated 2009 squad, had the prerequisite preseason poll positioning, got the legitimizing road win at Virginia Tech ... this was supposed to be their one big chance, and Kyle Brotzman blew it all in Reno.
So it's almost shocking to look over the Broncos' depth chart and realize how much talent they still have at their disposal. There's Kellen Moore, of course, but there's also 1,260-yard rusher Doug Martin, first-team All-WAC offensive linemen Thomas Byrd and Nate Potter, their team leaders in sacks (end Shea McClellin) and tackles-for-loss (opposite end Tyrone Crawford), first-team All-WAC safety George Iloka ... all in all, the Broncos have a healthy seven starters returning on both sides of the ball, many of them among the nation's best at their positions. And, most important of all, Chris Petersen is still in Boise, too. 2010 was a great opportunity, no doubt, but it's far from time to start writing the Broncos' obituary as a nationally-relevant college football team.
But that doesn't mean there aren't holes to fill, and as it turns out, nearly all of them are on the edges of the field. Start on offense, where both of the Broncos' bookend deep threats at wide receiver -- Austin Pettis and Titus Young -- are moving on to the NFL. Their primary replacement will likely be senior Tyler Shoemaker, a capable veteran who averaged an impressive 18 yards per-reception in 2010. But behind him, pickings are slim; the only other wideout with more than 8 receptions last season was redshirt freshman Geraldo Hiwat, a converted track star originally from the Netherlands who finished with 11. Hiwat has prototypical size (6'4") and speed, but is still learning the game. If he and the rest of the non-Shoemaker receiving corps can't keep defenses from blanketing Shoemaker, Boise's typically wide-open attack could find the field unusually compressed.
On defense, the Broncos must find replacements for arguably their two best defenders in end Ryan Winterswyk and linebacker/safety hybrid Winston Venable. Though Winterswyk rarely made a large impact on the stat sheet (with just 1.5 sacks in 2010), he did a terrific job of holding the edge against opposing running games--a big reason the Broncos finished the season ranked seventh in the nation in rush defense. Venable was a first-team All-WAC player who made plays all over the field, including in the backfield, where he totaled 9.5 tackles-for-loss and 5.5 sacks. No other player outside of the defensive line came close to those numbers.
So Boise's absorbed big losses both in terms of their ability to hold up against the run on the outside and to attack the backfield from there. There's players who can take up much of that slack -- McClellin, Iloka, Crawford, and memorable LeGarrette Blount- goader Byron Hout chief among them -- but at Boise, top-shelf athletes who can dominate on the edges just by taking the field are hard to come by. (It won't help that corner Brandyn Thompson and All-WAC safety Jeron Johnson have also moved on). The first question Petersen will have to answer this spring is who on defense will prevent the Broncos from giving their opponents a leg up on the outside ... and what receivers might give them that same leg up on the other side of the ball.