Boise State's spring practice is going strong. Players are stepping up and making the coaches jobs difficult in choosing front-runners at many positions.
It is no secret that Boise State has to replace several starters after losing many of the best players in school history to graduation.
For Broncos fans, this season is both exciting and nerve-racking. Most want to know which returning players will step up and which new players will make their mark.
However, the question on everyone's mind is—who will replace the one and only Kellen Moore?
The quarterback competition may dominate the thoughts of most, but it is not the only battle happening on the turf near Broadway.
Let's look at the five best battles going on this spring at Boise State.
The linebacker battle for Boise State is a good one. Gone are Byron Hout, Aaron Tevis and sometimes-nickel and soon-to-be very high NFL draft pick Shea McClellin.
It will be very difficult to replace all three of these guys, especially McClellin. However, J.C. Percy will return. If you remember he rotated the "starting" spot with Tevis at times.
Tommy Smith is another returning player to watch as he was a backup at the middle linebacker spot last season. But, coaches are high on the sophomore Blake Renaud who had some game time last year as well and looks good this spring.
Those two should be a solid one-two punch at middle linebacker, but it is anyone's guess how the Broncos replace McClellin at nickel. Most likely it will take a couple of guys—or maybe three.
Right now the leaders seem to be trio of players: senior Dextrell Simmons, junior Jonathan Brown and sophomore Corey Bell. Each has game-time experience, and it is anyone's guess who might get the starting nod at this point.
Also, look for the red-shirt freshman Hilton Richardson to give the linebacker spot a go. He is the guy who has never—repeat never—played football before coming to Boise State. He didn't play the game at any level, but instead he spent his childhood and high school career playing baseball.
In fact, he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in 2007 and spent a handful of years playing minor league ball. However, his physical size (6'3", 215 lbs.) and his amazing athletic ability have the creative minds of the BSU coaching staff crafting all sorts of scenarios.
One of those scenarios might be making this guy into a monster linebacker. Stay tuned for that story.
Missing from the Blue this season will be the future NFL star Doug Martin. However, D.J. Harper is back for year No. 6.
Behind Harper, there will be a battle for the No. 2 spot. This spring the backup is clearly Drew Wright. He is a senior in 2012 and he is looking to finish strong.
But Wright will have his hands full come summertime. Jay Ajayi is still recovering from injury, but he should be ready by the time practice starts for the fall season. He is an incredible runner and will be looking to rebound after missing last season.
Newcomer Jack Fields should compete for a spot as a true freshman this fall as well. He is yet to arrive, so putting him here is a bit premature. However, he has to be on the minds of coaches and other running backs looking for their time in the spotlight.
The wide receiver battle is the kind coaches like. There are lots of guys with talent and game experience.
Geraldo Boldewijn, Aaron Burks, Dallas Burroughs, Mitch Burroughs, Chris Potter, Kirby Moore and Matt Miller all return for the Broncos. So, no matter who wins the quarterback competition, they will have plenty of targets.
Freshman Troy Ware is looking good this spring as well, and he will certainly be in the mix. The Idaho Statesman reported that new offensive coordinator Robert Prince believes that Ware has the best hands of the entire group.
Look for Ware, Miller, Moore, Potter and both Burroughs to be a huge impact for the Broncos in 2012. This will be the strength of the offense, and no matter the quarterback BSU annoints, he will move the ball efficiently with these kinds of hands.
So, who will be the starters? It won't matter. There will be so much rotation and creative play-calling that everyone of these guys will have their chance.
Construction has started in Bronco Stadium to expand seating and create team and office space. However, the biggest rebuilding job going on at BSU is the Broncos defensive line.
"The pressure is definitely there,” he said. “Our whole starting D-line you’re going to be watching on Sunday now. You’re going in behind that. You do good at practice and you still feel like you did bad because you’re comparing yourself to the guys who were there before you. We were all lucky to have them in front of us to show us how to do it. We’re trying to fill that void. I definitely feel we have the ability and the skill to do it."
So many star players are gone, and few recognized names remain. Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, Darren Koontz, Michael Atkinson and Greg Grimes will all return inside. This should help stabilize the defense and gives the coaching staff a good foundation to build on.
Atkinson is having a great spring. He appears to be in the best shape of his life and is tearing it up. Look for him to make serious waves this fall. Koontz is also looking good, and should have the best year of his career.
At defensive end, Tyler Horn will be fighting for a spot as will Kharyee Marshall who is coming off an injury.
However, the guy who has been most impressive at defensive end this spring has to be Sam Ukwuachu. He has been compared by some to Shea McClellin because of his athletic ability and quick feet. He is big, strong and should be a starter come fall.
The success of the Broncos in 2012 will be a direct reflection of how well coaches do in rebuilding the defensive line.
They have some talent, and with junior college transfer Demarcus Lawrance and with a couple young players coming on board, it will be interesting to see what comes of it all.
The only real issue might be depth.
The top-secret absolute confidential and covert quarterback competition is underway. Or, at least we think it is. No one has seen any of the four competing for this spot since early March. Rumor is they have been taken to a secret underground base located somewhere in the Owyhee Mountains.
Okay, it's not that bad, but coach Petersen is keeping a tight lid on the biggest position competition perhaps in Boise State history. However, no one can blame him. One of the reasons coach Petersen has to love coaching in Boise is the respectful attitude of most in the local media.
Petersen did not want to turn this battle into a circus, and so far, so good.
All four guys, Joe Southwick, Grant Hedrick, Jimmy Laughrea and Nick Patti, look great. Southwick looks like a veteran. He is making plays and looks to have the confidence needed to command the Broncos offense.
Coach Petersen spoke about Southwick's progress in the Idaho Statesman, and he did it in the way only coach Petersen can. He complimented the guy without letting his head get too big.
"Joe knows the most and just in terms of running the show and managing the game he was probably the best there,” he said. “Was he exactly where we need him to be? No. And he’d tell you that, too."
Hedrick and Laughrea look impressive as well, but so did the newcomer Nick Patti. Coach Petersen talked about them as well.
"Did Nick make some plays? Yeah, and so did Jimmy Laughrea and Grant Hedrick. And both those guys had plays they’d love to have back."
So, if we were reading between the lines and trying to decipher every sentence coach Pete is saying, it sounds like Southwick is in the lead with perhaps Patti second.
But, coach Petersen might also be keeping his cards close to his chest, so it's anyone's guess.