Chris Petersen's worries heading into spring practice are nothing like they were a year ago, when the team had to replace both Kellen Moore and Doug Martin on offense.
Spring means two things to a college football fan: an increase in the temperature outside and an increase in the temperature on the football field, signifying things heating up as players and coaches get down to business preparing for the upcoming season.
As we draw nearer to the beginning of spring practices, the reality will begin to set in for both fans and coaching staffs across the country that these 15 practices and intrasquad scrimmage are a chance to find out the weaknesses of their team just as much as they are to tout the strengths.
Boise State’s 2013 spring game will take place on Saturday, April 13.
That means that in a little over a month, Chris Petersen’s biggest worries about his current team will be magnified at Bronco Stadium.
But what exactly are Coach Petersen’s biggest concerns about the 2013 Broncos squad?
The offense is actually shaping up to be pretty solid. With Joe Southwick’s improvement at the end of 2012 and a plethora of returning targets for him to throw to, the offense could be humming as early as mid to late September.
Even the running back and offensive line positions, which must replace starters, don’t look to be in terrible shape, thanks to key reserves from the 2012 team who appear to be capable of stepping right in as starters this coming August.
Clearly, it’s not the offense. However, there are some things that are probably nagging at Coach Petersen already, if only because he's so good at preparing his players for the upcoming season.
Not all of Petersen’s concerns are associated with specific positions on the field. Thanks to the way the 2013 schedule shapes up, the head man will have to prevent his players from the mind games that can derail a team as well.
Here are a few of Coach Petersen’s biggest worries, in question form, heading into spring practice.
Will the Cornerback Position Be a Liability on the Defense?
No one took Jerrell Gavins and Jamar Taylor for granted at Boise State. But there is a chance that fans will wish the dynamic duo were back for another year if the defense is struggling early in the season.
Other than Fresno State’s Phillip Thomas and Sean Alston, there was no better tandem in the Mountain West at cornerback than Gavins and Taylor. This is evident in the fact that the Broncos were far and away the best team against the passing game in the conference other than the Bulldogs, both of which averaged 163.4 yards per game given up through the air.
Recently, Taylor caught the attention of pro scouts at both the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine by running one of the fastest 40-yard dash times at his position.
Without a doubt, the Broncos will miss the closing speed and defending ability of the two departed seniors.
However, there is hope that the defensive backs on the 2013 team will be able to numb the pain from the loss of those two players.
Boise State did a nice job during the most recent recruiting season to sign a couple of standout junior college players in Cleshawn Page and Mercy Maston. Both players are juniors and were looked at by Division I schools out of high school, and the hope is that if they win the starting cornerback jobs, they will not be surprised by the speed of the college game.
Luckily, in the spring game, Joe Southwick should be able to provide a solid test for the defensive backs. Together, Southwick and the Boise State receiving corps make up one of the better passing attacks the defense will see this coming season, so it will be apparent very early whether or not fans should anticipate problems in 2013.
Still, there has to be some concern from Coach Petersen and the defensive staff about whether or not Gavins and Taylor can be replaced so quickly. It is pretty much a given that teams with capable quarterbacks will look to test the Broncos’ defensive backs early in the game to see how good they truly are.
Hopefully, Page and Maston (or whoever earns a starter’s role) won’t be a glaring weakness on a defense that otherwise looks to be pretty strong. But only time will tell, and until the season begins, it will continue to be one of Coach Petersen’s biggest concerns.
Will the Kicking Game Plague the Team—Again?
In 2010, the Broncos had a chance to run the table during the regular season, but lost to Nevada in the regular season finale thanks in part due to two missed field goals (one in regulation, one in overtime).
In 2011, Boise State was again undefeated, heading into its toughest regular-season game against TCU, but lost due to a missed field goal at the end of regulation that would’ve given the team the win.
In a very cruel pattern of events, it almost seems like Boise State’s kicking game lets the team down when it matters most. No one can be sure where the Broncos would have ended up in either of those seasons had they remained undefeated, but chances are, it would have been somewhere other than Las Vegas.
Looking at the schedule and Boise State’s current roster, it appears as though Petersen’s team, once again, has the chance to run the table during the regular season.
While that’s a nice thought, the heartwrenching thought that goes right along with it goes something like, “what will happen this year that will rob the Broncos of a BCS bowl – or better?”
To combat the recurring issue, the Broncos went out and signed JUCO freshman Tyler Rausa from Riverside City College to compete for the starting kicker position.
Originally a Nevada recruit out of high school, Boise State hopes that Rausa will be able to help the team with consistency inside of 50 yards. The problem for the Broncos’ kickers hasn’t been hitting the long one; it’s been hitting the 25- to 40-yard kicks consistently.
Rausa will compete with junior Dan Goodale, who missed a 36-yard field goal in 2011 that would have beaten TCU. Goodale lost his starting spot in 2012 to Michael Frisina.
Until Boise State finally hits a game-winning field goal, the kicking game will continue to be a sore spot in the eyes of the fans. Also, while this is definitely an area where Coach Petersen will concentrate on in the spring, he can’t really be sure how well his starter will perform in a high-pressure situation until the team is presented with one.
Like the cornerback worries, this is something that will probably continue to keep Petersen up at night all throughout the summer as well.
Does the Team Take Washington as Seriously as It Should?
One of Coach Petersen’s best skills is his ability to prepare his team for its most important games of the season.
However, the August 31 date with the Washington Huskies in Seattle may be a trap game for the Broncos from a mental perspective.
Looking back at this past year’s Las Vegas Bowl, Boise State was in control heading into the half before a couple of close rushing touchdowns by the Huskies closed the gap to 18-17 at halftime. Had it not been for Bishop Sankey’s 205 yards rushing, the Broncos likely would have run away with the game.
That brings up an interesting dilemma: How does one motivate the players?
It is difficult to default to the underdog mentality this time around. Boise State is a better team than Washington. If they are focused leading up to that game, they will beat the Huskies in Seattle.
But it will take all of Petersen’s uncanny ability to ready his team for that to happen, because a lot of the current players probably believe they’re better than Washington, which can be dangerous.
Frankly, it isn’t a huge issue from the outside looking in. The fans believe in Coach Petersen and trust that his team will not come out flat in the season opener. At the same time, Petersen is probably wracking his brain trying to figure out ways to motivate his team, so that he doesn’t have to deal with that issue.
The tone is set in the spring practices. So while the fans may not be all that worried, Chris Petersen is definitely worried about how his team views the Washington Huskies.