Boise State Football: Spring Preview for the Running Backs
The annual Boise State Spring Game will begin this Saturday at approximately 5:30 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, which means two things: one is that after the game the fans will go back to speculating about the season with no real practice to talk about, and the other is that this spring preview series is about to come to a close.
We have visited the majority of Boise State’s position groups already, but in case you missed any, here they are.
In this section, we’ll take a look at the running backs.
As a reminder, this preview will take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the running backs and any key position battles that may already be taking place or may take place leading up to the season.
Let’s take a look at the running back corps for the 2013 Boise State Broncos.
D.J. Harper may have graduated, but the Broncos likely won’t have any trouble continuing to operate a run-first offense.
Enter sophomore Jay Ajayi, the almost sure heir to the starter’s spot in Boise State’s backfield.
Ajayi won’t exactly be a fresh face to the blue turf, receiving 82 carries for 548 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. What’s even better is the fact that he was the team’s leader in yards per attempt, besting Harper’s 5.0 average with an astounding 6.7 mark.
While Harper was a quick back that really excelled in the open field, Ajayi has a bit more size but still has the speed to make opponents pay when he gets some open space. It would not be surprising to see Chris Petersen use the sophomore much like Doug Harper was used during his time in a Broncos uniform.
In addition to Ajayi, the Broncos have decent depth in the running back department as well. Sophomore Jack Fields is the likely backup and also has a very limited amount of experience with the Broncos from last season.
However, perhaps the most exciting part of the backfield is the fact that it could be one of the country's best in a couple of years, thanks to a pickup from the 2013 recruiting class.
Incoming freshman Aaron Baltazar has been touted as the next great running back by some, and could realistically challenge Fields for the backup position as early as this season.
Baltazar has blazing speed, and assuming he puts on some muscle during his tenure with the team could become an extremely dangerous threat sooner rather than later.
It isn’t often that a team can lose a Doug Martin and a D.J. Harper in consecutive seasons and still come out all right at running back. But thanks to the trio of Ajayi, Fields and Baltazar, the Broncos have a lot to look forward to in 2013 and beyond.
If expectations, promising talent and what’s been written on paper meant everything, then Boise State wouldn’t have any weaknesses at running back.
However, we all know that isn’t the case.
That being said, there is the chance that Ajayi won’t work out as well as a starter as he did as a backup, or that injuries could cripple this team at a very important juncture during the season.
If Ajayi isn’t the real deal, the Broncos could have a real problem for 2013. Of the running backs that will probably receive 95% of the carries this season, only Ajayi has significant experience on the field (Jack Fields saw what was essentially mop-up time last season).
It has been quite a while since the Broncos have had someone in the starting running back role that didn’t see plenty of playing time the previous season. Since the Broncos rely fairly heavily on the rushing attack to get the offense going, this is a big deal.
So although the Broncos have plenty of depth at running back, assuming everything goes swimmingly, Jay Ajayi’s importance to the puzzle is not proportional to how many options the team truly has.
Without him, Joe Southwick’s job becomes much more difficult.
Key Position Battles
Nothing is 100 percent certain, but after a strong spring practice it appears that Ajayi is pretty much a lock for the starting running back position.
Thus, the real position battle will probably begin to take place once Aaron Baltazar begins to practice with the Broncos, and it will be for the backup spot.
If Baltazar comes in and is everything he has been advertised as, there is the chance that he could jump fields on the depth chart and see some time as a true freshman.
But at the same time, it doesn’t really make sense to rush Baltazar’s development if he isn’t ready. Not only does the running back position appear to be a strength of the Broncos’ squad, but they are relatively young there as well.
Expect both Fields and Baltazar to get some carries early in the season. The coaching staff may decide on one or the other as the No. 2 guy later on in the year, but it isn’t absolutely necessary as long as Ajayi is healthy.
Frankly, like several other areas on the offense, the coaching staff has a good problem on their hands regarding the running backs: lots of depth.
No one is going to be complaining about that.
Those who follow the Broncos know that Coach Petersen has been blessed with very talented quarterbacks over the years, but really makes his money by understanding how to exploit opponents with the running game.
This year will be no different, as teams will prepare to shut down Southwick and the wide receivers but have the potential to be blindsided by yet another efficient Boise State rushing attack.
Some fans may not be familiar with Jay Ajayi yet, but they will be very early in the 2013 campaign.
Since the coaching staff likes to rotate lots of guys in, Jack Fields and Aaron Baltazar will also get a chance to make a name for themselves this coming year.
Overall, there isn’t a whole lot to worry about in this department. D.J. Harper may be gone, but the running game has been left in good hands.
Games where the running backs could have the most impact: BYU, Air Force, Utah State
Be sure to stayed tuned to Bleacher Report to catch the tail end of the Spring Preview series. Next we’ll take a look at the Broncos’ tight ends.