#2 running back?
Jay Ajayi is the clear-cut number one for the Broncos and might just be one of the best backs in the country…but even pickle juice swilling stars need a break now and again, and the departure of Aaron Baltazar has left a power struggle to grab hold of the #2 spot on the depth chart. Boise State has two talented running backs coming in for Fall Camp (Jeremy McNichols and Cory Young), but as far as Spring Ball is concerned, Jack Fields, Devan Demas and Chuck Bertoli are the 3 guys jockeying for position. Bertoli is a bruising back whose walk-on status may be spurring him to punish defenders…he looks like someone that could come off the bench and make an impact, but we haven't seen much of him against first-team defenses. Demas was a late bloomer last year, but showed some impressive moves and averaged 6.9 YPC over the last four games. Fields came in with the most promise, in my opinion, but has yet to get in a good rhythm for the Broncos and only topped out at 3 yards/carry last year. The drop-off from Ajayi to any of the three is noticeable—less so when Baltazar was in the mix—but not a deal-breaker. Boise State's stable of backs are all capable of great things, but whoever wants it the most is likely to grasp that brass ring. Since I'm all about that YPC, I'll give the early nod to Bertoli—his 6.4 yards/carry in 2013 was slightly better than Demas' 6.0 and Fields' 3.0. Fall Camp may again upset the apple cart, but for now, I think the Italian Stallion is in the 2nd slot. Collarbone be damned!
Who will step up at DT?
The defensive tackle position has been a pain point of late, and not for lack of talent, but for lack of depth and experience. Boise State lost more of that coveted depth and experience with the graduation of Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe and now are looking to firm up the middle of our line. Deuce Mataele will be back practicing with the team, but won't be able to play until 2015, so we'll largely ignore him in this rundown. I think Armand Nance has definitely played himself into position to be a starter and frankly, I'd be shocked if he wasn't one half of 2014's starting duo. Aside from him though, things get real tricky. If Tyler Horn stays on the interior I think he's probably a safe bet, but if not I think that—at least during Spring Ball—you have to consider the merits of RS Freshman Nick Terry and last year's JC-transfer Justin Taimatuia. Terry was a big "get" for the Broncos during our 2013 recruiting cycle and I'd love to have another 4 year-starter at the position ala Billy Winn. As far as "stepping up", I'd love for Elliot Hoyte to finally show a little bit of gumption and snag a back up role, and I was encouraged last year to see Robert Ash finally make a little bit of noise. Of course, this whole discussion could be for naught in the Fall because I think Antoine Turner has the tools to lock down a starting gig, but Spring Ball could level the playing field for those that want it bad enough.
Which RS freshman will stand out?
The Broncos played a fair amount of true freshman last year and many impressed in their own right, but they also left a lot of freshman on the sidelines in 2013 and now those guys are ready for action. Here are a few who I think will raise eyebrows:
Joe Martarano, LB—JoeMart was named the Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year at the year-end awards banquet and this distinction and this generally bodes well for the future (Ben Weaver earned the honor the previous year). Joe is already one of our more imposing linebackers at 6'2" 235 lbs and was a tackling machine up the road at Fruitland High. Ben Weaver will not be fully participating in Spring Ball, so Joe will have a chance to get good reps in. I expect to see him heavily used in the LB rotation this Fall.
Mat Boesen, STUD—Boesen (6'4" 215-ish) was recruited to play the nickel position, but I've always thought he had more of a stand up DE build and skill set. The new coaching staff agreed and Boesen will be moving to STUD this Spring. Boesen still needs to put on a little weight, but he was an excellent pass rusher at the high school level and a champion wrestler as well, so I expect him to have a good motor and good leverage at the position.
Eli McCullough, OT—Boise State just lost a O-line staple with the graduation of OT Charles Leno, but it's a position the Broncos are known to "reload" and I think McCullough's sterling Bronco career might just start this Spring. Little birdies have told me that McCullough has made some great strides and I expect him to be in the mix for a O-line spot this season.
Tanner Shipley, WR—I honestly thought last year that if a true freshman wide receiver came off the bench, Shipley would be the first man in. He wasn't (that distinction fell to Thomas Sperbeck), but I was impressed with Shipley at the Fall Scrimmage and I think he has a lot of upside.
How quickly will the secondary pick up the new D and get back to their dominant ways?
Let's be honest, last year's defensive secondary…um…"struggled". That's really as magnanimous as I can get. The 2012 secondary gave up just 4 passing TDs all year…the 2013 version gave up 17. Oh, and about 250 passing yards/game. Of course it wasn't all scheme or even coverage, but tackling as well as the 2013 squad seemed to be keenly aware of the new targeting rules. So keen, in fact, that they dared lay a hit on anyone (or even wrap up, at times). Well, now the "DBU" architect Marcel Yates is back as DC and his prodigy (hopefully) Julius Brown came with. I think the main thing that the secondary needed was an attitude adjustment, and I think Yates and co will provide that for them. Yates said on signing day that he's looking for "runners and hitters" in the secondary and will likely utilize a LOT of bodies to make sure that the Bronco D is dictating to opposing offenses and NOT the other way around. I think that Donte Deayon and Bryan Douglas were close to being big stars for the Broncos last year but were inconsistent…I also think the safeties took a step back but, seeing as basically the same tandem (Ioane and Thompson) were so good in 2012 shows that some minor tweaking may get them back in championship form. Of course, X-factor Dylan Sumner-Gardner should play a role as well—he's the highest rated recruit ever to set foot on campus and expectations are high. He will without doubt be one of Yates' "bodies" and I think he'll start the head-turning in a week or so.
Any other pressing questions that Spring Ball should or could answer? Let's discuss, because football is back, baby.