BOISE, Idaho - When Boise State kicks off fall practice on August 4, the Bronco offense will have a fresh look with the benefit of some key returning veterans. The offense will feature a new quarterback and four new starters on the offensive line, but also will boast a stable of running backs and wide receivers that may be the deepest and most talented in school history.
Quarterback: For the second time in as many years, Boise State will be breaking in a new quarterback. Four players, one in each class, will battle into August to see who replaces one-year starter Taylor Tharp, a second-team All-WAC pick in 2007.
Senior Bush Hamdan (6’0, 191) brings the most experience to the battle, but still has attempted just 16 passes in his three seasons at Boise State. As a junior, he was 4-of-6 passing for 98 yards and two touchdowns. During his career he has completed 8-of-16 passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns while throwing one interception.
Junior Nick Lomax (6’7, 224) will look to make a charge after spending his sophomore season fourth on the depth chart. He completed 6-of-13 passes for 76 yards last season. Sophomore Michael Coughlin (6’5, 213) was Tharp’s backup for much of last season, completing 6-of-14 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown while throwing one interception.
Redshirt freshman Kellen Moore (6’0, 187) is the wildcard in the race. He spent his first year at Boise State on the scout team, but he impressed the coaching staff with his play-making ability in spring practice and how quickly he has been able to pick up Boise State’s offense.
Tailback: Boise State returns what could arguably be the deepest and most talented group of tailbacks in school history with its top four rushers returning from last season. The three tailbacks who return and lettered in 2007 combined to rush for 2,089 yards and 30 touchdowns. All three had at least one 100-yard rushing game.
Senior Ian Johnson (6’0, 196), an All-America candidate, is the top returning running back in the country in four different NCAA statistical categories (career rushing yards, career rushing touchdowns, career all-purpose yards and career scoring touchdowns). As a junior, he rushed for 1,087 yards and 16 touchdowns while battling injuries. That came a year after he amassed 1,713 yards and 25 touchdowns and finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy race as a sophomore. For his career, Johnson has rushed for 3,463 yards and 45 touchdowns, while catching 37 passes for 388 yards and two touchdowns.
Making life easier for the veteran Johnson is a group of young and versatile running backs. Sophomores Jeremy Avery and D.J. Harper both started in place of Johnson when he was hurt last season, and both put together impressive 100-yard games (with both rushing for over 100 yards at Fresno State).
Avery (5’9, 168) finished second on the team in rushing with 672 yards (the fifth most ever by a freshman at Boise State) as a redshirt freshman last season, and he led the Broncos with 6.5 yards per carry. Avery had three 100-yard games, including a season-high 124 yards and three touchdowns at Fresno State.
Harper (5’9, 192) gained 376 yards, the sixth most by a freshman in Boise State history and the fourth best by a true freshman, and scored six touchdowns. He became the first Bronco true freshman since 1988 to rush for more than 100 yards in a game when he gained 153 yards and scored a touchdown at Fresno State.
Redshirt freshman Doug Martin (5’10, 200) should make the Broncos a four-headed monster at tailback. Last year’s scout team player of the year, Martin is probably the most powerful running back on the Broncos roster and will compliment the productivity of Johnson, the elusiveness of Avery and the speed of Harper.
Sophomore Jarvis Hodge (5’9, 199) adds quality depth for the Broncos. As a freshman, Hodge rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown on just 22 carries. With Boise State’s depth, freshman Matt Kaiserman (6’0, 186) will most likely redshirt after grayshirting last season.
Fullback: Junior Richie Brockel (6’2, 248) returns as the starter at fullback and will double as a tight end. Brockel, a bruising blocker who will line up in the backfield and on the line of scrimmage at tight end while also moving in motion, blossomed in the Bronco offense last season. After catching just two passes as a freshman, Brockel finished his junior season with 12 receptions, four that went for touchdowns.
Behind Brockel are a couple of conventional fullbacks. Junior Andy Silsby (5’11, 219) saw limited time on the offense while playing special teams for the Broncos as a sophomore. Redshirt freshman Stephen Gabbard (6’0, 219) will also compete for playing time.
Wide Receiver: If there is one position at which the Broncos might be deeper than running back, it is at wide receiver. The Broncos return their seven most productive wide receivers off last year’s team. The group has good depth and play-making ability, should be consistent and has good leadership.
Junior Jeremy Childs (6’0, 196) returns in the fall after missing spring practice. He put together a record-breaking year as a sophomore, catching a school-record 82 passes (despite missing the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl) for 1,045 yards and nine touchdowns.
Sophomore Austin Pettis (6’3, 202) blossomed late last season as a true freshman. He finished the year with 46 catches for 465 yards and six touchdowns. He caught 25 passes in the last four regular season games, including eight against Idaho when he had his first career 100-yard receiving game with 139 yards and three touchdowns.
Sophomore Titus Young (5’11, 167) should once again be Boise State’s big-play threat. As a true freshman last season, Young caught 44 passes for 639 yards and five touchdowns, while averaging a team-best 14.5 yards per catch. He also rushed for a pair of touchdowns and 58 yards.
Senior Vinny Perretta (5’10, 195) returns to the Bronco lineup after missing much of his junior season with injuries. Perretta finished last season with nine catches for 120 yards and five carries for 30 yards in just four games. Perretta brings diversity to the Broncos offense with the ability to line up at wide receiver, tailback or even quarterback (he threw the overtime touchdown pass in Boise State’s win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl). As a sophomore, he rushed for 316 yards and three touchdowns.
Senior Julian Hawkins (6’3, 223) returns after finishing fifth on the team with 23 catches for 208 yards as a junior and should help the Broncos in the red zone. The converted tight end showed a talent for converting third downs into crucial first downs last season. He also came up big for Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl, catching five passes for 35 yards.
Senior Tanyon Bissell (5’10, 194) gives Boise State another multi-dimensional player like Perretta. Bissell, a high school quarterback, lined up in the backfield in shotgun situations a number of times as a junior. He finished the season catching four passes for 46 yards and rushing six times for 19 yards.
Senior Toshi Franklin (6’1, 181) will make a charge for playing time after catching seven passes for 73 yards as a junior, and junior Michael Choate (6’0, 188) impressed coaches in the spring after catching two passes for 10 yards last season.
Redshirt freshman Tyler Shoemaker (6’1, 214), grayshirt freshman Mitch Burroughs (5’9, 190) and redshirt freshman Ricky Cookman (5’11, 186) will try and push the veterans. Burroughs could redshirt, as will true freshman Chris Potter (5’11, 170).
Tight End: Ryan Putnam and his hard-nosed play on the line of scrimmage is gone. A slew of athletic tight ends should step in to make the Broncos’ passing game more potent, but they will need to improve as blockers to make up for Putnam’s loss.
Brockel, who will double as a fullback and tight end, is the group’s best blocker. Joining him will be senior Chris O’Neill (6’3, 250), sophomore Tommy Gallarda (6’6, 249), redshirt freshman Kyle Efaw (6’4, 228) and sophomore transfer Sean King (6-3, 225). True freshman Chandler Koch (6’3, 220) will probably redshirt.
O’Neill backed up Putnam and Brockel last season, catching 11 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. Gallarda saw limited action, catching three passes for 19 yards in three games. Efaw spent the season on scout team while redshirting.
Offensive Line: The Broncos biggest challenge could be how to replace four starters on the offensive line. Gone are a first-round draft pick in the NFL, a pair of hard-nosed four-year players who started 101 career games between them, a converted defensive lineman who turned into a solid starter at right tackle, and a part-time starter who gave the Bronco O-Line versatility.
The lone returning starter is Andrew Woodruff (6’2, 320), who has started at three different positions during his three-year career at Boise State. Woodruff is expected to start at left guard. As a freshman he played right guard, starting three games, before moving to right tackle as a sophomore. Last season, he started at right guard before replacing an injured Tad Miller at left guard. Senior Ben Iannacchione (6’3, 263) will back up Woodruff at right guard.
The challenge for the Broncos will be to find the right four guys to team with Woodruff on the line. Redshirt freshman Nate Potter (6’6, 272) looks to be the man with the unenviable task of replacing NFL first-round draft pick Ryan Clady. He will be backed up by another redshirt freshman, Garrett Pendergast (6’4, 288).
At center, the Broncos are looking at starting another redshirt freshman. Thomas Byrd (6’0, 275) was impressive during his redshirt season and is expected to start for the Broncos. Fellow redshirt freshman Cory Yriarte (6’1, 285) should battle Byrd for the position.
Boise State sports some experience at right guard. Senior Jon Gott (6’3, 286) should be the starter after serving as a backup during his first four seasons. Backups to Gott could include Yriarte and sophomore Will Lawrence (6’2, 288), a converted defensive lineman.
Sophomore Kevin Sapien (6’4, 274) and sophomore Matt Slater (6’4, 281) will battle during fall camp for the right tackle job. Freshman Zach Waller (6’5, 277) will also compete for playing time at right tackle.
The Broncos add a slew of true freshman to the offensive line. Bronson Durrant (6’3, 290), Joe Kellogg (6’4, 290), Brenel Myers (6’3, 260), Tom Swanson (6’6, 300) and Faraji Wright (6’3, 275) all are expected to redshirt.