As much as spring practice is an important tool that coaching staffs use to evaluate the kind of strengths and weaknesses they have on their team, it is a time period that the players can use to assure themselves a lot of playing time during the upcoming season.
For Boise State, several players (many of which play offensive skill positions) had already essentially locked up starting jobs for the 2013 season well before spring practice opened up on the blue turf a few weeks ago.
But for others, the practices have been crucial in determining their spot on the depth chart.
Therefore, in the next several slides, we’ll take a look at players who have more or less locked up a starting job for the Broncos heading into the upcoming season.
The basis for which these players were picked was simple: If there was any doubt that the player may not have been a starter prior to spring practice, he was eligible to be included on the list.
Players such as Joe Southwick and Matt Paradis, however, are basically guaranteed starting spots and were not eligible.
Of course, that does leave a bit of gray area for some players, so be sure to start a conversation about any players left off the list if you believe they should have been included.
Tyler Horn was probably on the verge of securing a starting spot during winter workouts, but the fact that he has impressed the coaches during the spring only helps his case.
The reason that Horn might have had trouble locking up a starting gig before the season began was because of his move from defensive end to defensive tackle.
However, that hasn’t seemed to slow down the junior at all.
Horn filled in at defensive tackle last season when Mike Atkinson went down with a season-ending injury and was a solid contributor on the interior defensive line during that time. Second on the team in sacks with five in 2012, Horn makes up for being a bit smaller as a tackle (6’5”, 264 lbs) with his quickness.
Horn has expressed preferring the end position in the past, but has a different outlook heading into the 2013 season, claiming he “just wants to play.” (Idaho Statesman)
Almost certainly, Horn will be slated as a starting defensive tackle for the Broncos to begin the season, and there is hope within the program that he can continue to build on his success last year.
Due to the other weapons opposing lines will have to deal with when facing Boise State, chances are, Horn will have plenty of opportunities to do so.
If there is one Boise State player who made the most of the spring practices this year, it would be Shane Williams-Rhodes.
The sophomore was mentioned several times in Chadd Cripe’s Bronco Beat for making spectacular catches and looking particularly strong in the receiving department during spring sessions.
Heading into spring practice, it was assumed that Williams-Rhodes would be returning kickoffs for the Broncos in 2013 and was also being looked at closely as a potential punt returner. But not many people expected him to be competing for a receiver position on the offense.
With Chris Potter gone, Williams-Rhodes fits the bill as a quick receiver with good hands—a key characteristic that the team will be looking for heading into the season.
The Broncos already have a lot of size and physical talent returning to the receiving corps, but Williams-Rhodes could fill out the group as the speedster that the team currently lacks.
At any rate, even if Williams-Rhodes doesn’t end up seeing significant time with the offense during games, he’ll definitely be the team’s top kick returner—and probably the punt returner as well.
Impressing the coaching staff in the spring does have its perks.
It was well-known that the area Chris Petersen and his coaching staff were going to spend a lot of their time in the offseason evaluating was the defensive back situation.
Replacing Jerrell Gavins and Jamar Taylor at cornerback wouldn’t be easy, and the Broncos have been one of the best defenses in the Mountain West Conference the past two seasons, as a result of their solid pass defense.
Coach Petersen did a nice job bringing in a couple of junior-college standouts in the most recent recruiting class with the addition of Cleshawn Page and Mercy Maston, who were both expected to compete for a starting position.
But a name familiar to the Bronco faithful probably snagged one of the two open spots in the past couple of weeks.
His name is Donte Deayon.
Deayon, a sophomore, is the smallest of the Broncos’ cornerbacks (5’9”, 151 lbs), but has been very aggressive during drills in the spring, starting in the first practice by picking off a couple of passes.
One thing that makes Deayon an attractive starter is that he was the No. 3 starter by the end of last season, after junior Bryan Douglas went down with an ACL injury. Experience may not be as big an issue for the Broncos at cornerback after all.
Douglas played well when he was healthy in 2012, so it is likely that he will be one of the starters in 2013.
The other spot was up for grabs when spring practice began, and it appeared as though Deayon and Deon’tae Florence were the front-runners based on their performance.
But the nod goes to Deayon, who can firmly secure his starting job with a strong performance in Boise State’s spring game in a couple of weeks.
There were some rumblings that Jack Fields and incoming freshman Aaron Baltazar were going to give junior Jay Ajayi a run for the starting running back position.
But much like the rumored quarterback controversy that never really came to fruition last season, it appears as though Ajayi’s job is safe for the time being.
Ajayi, the team’s second-leading rusher in 2012 as well as the leader in yards per attempt (6.7) probably would have had to look bad in the winter as well as in spring practices to seriously be challenged for the starting job. And although that was certainly possible, it didn’t happen.
According to Chadd Cripe of the Idaho Statesman, Ajayi has looked explosive in drills and already has a good bit of experience with Boise State’s offense. This should come in handy, especially since Coach Petersen has already expressed a desire to continue to develop the running game.
Despite not being as quick as D.J. Harper, Ajayi should be a solid addition to the offense due to his strength and ability to get into the open field. It is possible that the Broncos will be able to return to more of a power-running style with Ajayi as the main ball-carrier.
Regardless of what approach is taken, it seems pretty clear that Ajayi will be the focal point of the running game. The only way that will change is if Baltazar comes to Boise looking like the next Doug Martin (and based on his style, that doesn’t seem likely).