Boise State football enters an off-season that will include more hype, national attention and expectations than has ever before been put on the program. It's the result of ending 2009 unbeaten and ranked in the top five, and returning all but two starters from the Fiesta Bowl win over TCU. The one consistent for the Broncos during the past decade - besides winning more football games than any other team in the country - has been an unselfish attitude and a commitment that truly begins in the off-season.
With spring practice now in the rearview mirror, Bronco players and coaches enter the next phase of preparations for the 2010 season. So, what did we learn from spring drills and how will that impact things in the fall? Here are a half dozen observations to chew on leading up to the highly anticipated September 6th season opener against Virginia Tech.
1) The Defense picked up where it left off in the Fiesta Bowl.
One way to judge this is a 30-28 win by the Bronco "D" in the annual Blue-Orange Spring Game. Many schools don't go offense vs. defense in the spring scrimmage, but it seems almost appropriate the Broncos do, considering how feared the Boise State offense is. To prove the Broncos are more than just a one trick pony, the defensive unit registered four sacks, forced three turnovers and held the offense out of the end zone on a winner take all play to end the spring game. New defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski has an explosive defensive line that is sure to cause headaches for opposing teams, and a secondary which features an all-league safety, a former freshman All-American and a Fiesta Bowl MVP. Oh, and keep in mind this unit also held the highest scoring team in the nation the past decade to just 28 points in the spring game and the Bronco offense had a decided advantage by having possession the entire game.
2) Southwick Can Shine.
With junior to be Kellen Moore at the helm, there is anything but a quarterback controversy surrounding Bronco football. Moore is the reigning WAC Offensive Player of the Year and has been touted by many as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate in 2010. But, what became
evident through spring ball is that the signal calling ability behind Moore is also very capable. While fifth year senior Mike Coughlin has appeared in games, this spring provided the first true view of red-shirt freshman Joe Southwick. Southwick showed off his dual threat ability as a passer and runner, while posting impressive numbers in the spring game. He completed 10-of-15 passes for 191
yards and leading five scoring drives in the game (three field goals and two touchdowns). Southwick shined late in the game, leading a game tying drive in the final minute, with a calm under pressure
demeanor and heady decision making. This is Moore's team, but Southwick showed that the future is bright at quarterback.
3) Hout's Change Plugs The Middle.
Few have argued about a motor that never stops with Byron Hout. The high school linebacker moved to defensive end as a freshman and sophomore at Boise State. This spring he shed some pounds, picked up on the defensive calls and moved to middle linebacker. The switch has shown multiple dividends, first with Hout's linebacker presence and second allowing for the emergence at defensive end of red-shirt freshman Kharyee Marshall and a hair on fire spring from two-year letterwinner Jarrell Root. Hout brings tremendous energy and physical play in the middle, using the spring to regain those linebacker instincts. He shifted from a "get off the line and go full speed ahead" mentality to a more read the play and situation that's required from the middle linebacker. His run stopping ability will make the Bronco defense even better, and his days as a defensive end also make him an incredible threat as a pass rusher.
4) O-Line Is A Mixed Bag of Tricks.
Competition breeds success. It's a formula Bronco coaches have used within every level of the program. No place is that more apparent than along the offensive line, where position coach Chris Strausser has as many as eight players who have starting experience and several other young talents who could increase that total in the fall. All-WAC left tackle Nate Potter moved inside to left guard in the spring, providing several players reps at left tackle. Starting center Thomas Byrd didn't practice during spring ball, meaning even more time for younger players. Byrd, Potter and incumbent right guard Will Lawrence have edges on the interior line slots. The two tackle positions remain open in a heated battle, but that's not something Bronco coaches have a problem with, especially with the impressive depth of the offensive line unit.
5) Ebo Is A Name You Better Remember.
And along with that, the number 37 that Ebo Makinde wears. A red-shirt freshman from Phoenix, Ariz., Makinde turned heads during the fall both in the weight room and on the practice field. The cornerback translated that into a very good spring season, culminating with his name being called time after time in the spring game. Makinde made an interception, broke up numerous other passes and made a critical fourth and short tackle that stopped an offensive drive at midfield. Makinde's play, along with that of physical sophomore Jamar Taylor, will help Bronco fans (and coaches) breathe a little easier with the loss of future NFL corner Kyle Wilson.
6) Bronco Receivers Have BIG Play Ability.
When we say big, we mean BIG, both literally and figuratively. Literally, as in five Bronco receivers who go between 6-1 and 6-4 in height, led by all-everything Austin Pettis at 6-3. Also Included in that group are talented red-shirt freshmen Geraldo Hiwat (6-4) and Aaron Burks (6-2), who combined for eight catches and 173 yards in the spring game, 21.6 yards per catch for those of you scoring at home. Hiwat and Burks will find the field in 2010, but the question is how much, as the Broncos also boast the top one-two receiving threat in the WAC in Pettis and Titus Young, slot receivers Tyler Shoemaker and Kirby Moore (who combined for 42 catches and four TD's in 2009) and versatile letterwinners Chris Potter and Mitch Burroughs. With that much talent, the Bronco receiving corps is a defensive coordinator's worst nightmare. Big, fast and coming at you in waves. It's not a stretch at all to think that this unit could be the deepest, most collectively talented and certainly among the tallest in the country.