What once was an incredibly deep unit at receiver for Boise State has been depleted somewhat with the loss of top returning receiver Drisan James for one game, talented backup Chrisean Christopher who is done for his career and tight end Julian Hawkins, whose status is unknown. James earned Honorable Mention All-WAC last season with 40 catches for 568 yards. He is expected to be the "go to" guy for Boise State this season, and will be severely missed in Athens. Christopher was the 5th leading receiver a year ago with 13 catches for 197 yards, including a spectacular one-handed grab against Nevada that made ESPN's plays of the week.
With those two out, Seniors Josh Smith (5-11, 182), Cole Clasen (5-8, 190) and Jason Murray (6-0, 187) and juniors Legedu Naanee (6-2, 230) and Jerard Rabb (6-2, 198) will all have to step up and be counted. Naanee, of course, was a quarterback up until midway through his sophomore season, so he is still making the adjustment. He has the size and athletic ability to cause real problems for opposing secondaries. Rabb is athletic as well, runs great routes and is sure-handed. Smith and Murray both have the knowledge of the Bronco offense and are tough competitors. Redshirt Freshman Vinny Perretta (5-9, 193) could be a factor as well. Smith finished last year with seven catches for 72 yards while Murray had four catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. Clasen, a transfer from Oregon State, redshirted last season and gives the Broncos good experience. Clasen caught 52 passes in three seasons for the Beavers, including 23 as both a sophomore and junior. Rabb joins the Broncos after a great junior college career and has great athletic ability. He, like Naanee, brings size that the Broncos have needed.
TIGHT END: The Broncos should be very good and deep at the tight end position. Junior Derek Schouman (6-2, 211) returns for the Broncos to provide the matchup problems that defensive coordinators have nightmares about. Schouman was fourth in receptions with 15 last year, but averaged 18.9 yards per catch and 40.6 yards per game.
Jared Hunter (6-4, 225) moved from linebacker during spring practice and is now #2 on the depth chart. He is backed up by a couple of experienced players in Sherm Blaser (6-3, 240) and Ryan Putnam (6-2, 253) who both could see plenty of action in Boise State's two tight end sets. Blaser caught four passes for 65 yards last season. The Broncos also have redshirt freshmen Chris O'Neill (6-3, 221) who will be pushing for playing time.
With the hit that the receiving corps has taken in the offseason, the remaining players will get their shot, which is all a player can ask for. What this means is that the names above will have more receptions than they otherwise would have with a deeper rotation. Quarterback Zabransky has been working with all of them, so the timing is starting to come together. Most of them seem to have a pretty good grasp of the offense, something that is important, as the Broncos will need to be running on all cylinders right off the bat. It's a great group that will be leading Boise State in the 2005 season that starts just 10 days from today!
Georgia's starter at strong cornerback is expected to be Minter, a big, hard-hitter. Minter usually will draw the biggest receiver but since the Broncos will likely have two that are 6'2", he can only take one of them. Minter loves to play man to man and can be physical. He ranked 5th on the team last year with 51 tackles. He also had ten pass breakups. It's a very close race for #2 between Thomas Flowers and Mike Gilliam. Ramarcus fills out the end of the depth chart.
At weak corner: Tim Jennings (5-8, 178, Sr.)
Jennings doesn't have the size that Minter has, but he's a player nonetheless. In his Georgia career, he's made 111 tackles, six interceptions and three quarterback pressures. The large number of tackles indicates that opposing receivers will make the catches but Jennings is there to stop them from converting them into big plays. He is a sure tackler and the six picks plus the quick tackles indicate someone who is not faked out very often. Obviously, they will also send him on corner blitzes as well. A taller receiver such as Rabb, Naanee or Key does present matchup problems for him in key short yardage situations. The fade pattern where Zabransky throws a jump ball to a taller receiver could also leave the smaller Jennings in trouble. But don't discount Jennings' ability--he started 3 games as a freshman in 2002, making the Sporting News Freshman All-America 2nd team. He had seven starts as a sophomore before being named the regular started last season. Jennings has been picking off passes since the Bulldogs opened fall camp. Paul Oliver (6-2, 209, So.), who has the best size among Georgia cornerbacks, was highly recruited but has struggled while at Georgia. He has suffered several injuries that have certainly complicated things for him. He will probably play a lot in nickel coverages. He is aggressive and has good cover skills, plus is one of the Bulldogs' fastest players. Bryan Evans and Donovan Baldwin might also be pushing for playing time at both cornerback spots. Redshirt sophomore Mikey Henderson is still trying to gain weight and make his presence known.
Georgia has positions throughout its defense that are based on the strong and the weak side of the opponent's offense. That works well with most teams, but can be thrown out the window when the Broncos are involved. With so much shifting and motion, the Bronco offense has been referred to as a Chinese fire drill. Make no mistake; the Bulldog secondary is sterling, but they will have to be thinking about much more than covering their side of the field or what their man is going to do running down the field. It starts to become much more of a mental game for them--is Boise State going to run or pass? If Rabb is in motion, where should he be? What if Rabb and Naanee are lined up together--which does he take? How is he going to be able to stop Lee Marks if big Daryn Colledge or Ryan Clady is barreling down on him? What if the biggest receiver is Rabb and I'm the strong side cornerback and then Rabb reverses to the weak side? Do I switch to the other receiver or do I follow him over to the weak side? Lots of things to think about if you're a member of the secondary.
At Safety, Greg Blue (6-2, 214, Sr.)
Blue was the second-leading tackler in 2004 with 80 including 64 solo tackles, which led the team. Blue also forced three fumbles, recovered a fumble, broke up three passes, had five quarterback hurries and one sack. He did all of that at Safety and will be moving to Rover this season, where he is even closer to the line of scrimmage. It's important to keep this guy off balance, which given his ability and veteran experience, is not easy to do. If he's able to roam around and make plays at will, Blue will be extremely disruptive and wreak havoc for the Boise State offense. Of course, Blue is used to playing near the line of scrimmage, as evidenced by his 80 tackles. SEC's predominantly running offenses allow a guy like Blue to run wild. . Zabransky will have to look him off, and the Bronco offensive system will do its best to confuse him. It is also very important for the Bronco ball carriers and receivers to wrap up the football.
Kelin Johnson (6-1, 184, So.) has incredible talent that will make it tough to keep him out of the lineup. Johnson saw action in all 11 games last season, recording 14 tackles and an interception. He has excellent strength and good lateral movement. Drew Williams (6-2, 199, So.) is not on scholarship, but will start out mostly on special teams.
At Rover, Tra Battle (5-11, 167, Jr.)
Battle is good in coverage, but his size and durability is a concern. The thinking is that he doesn't match up well with big players such as Rabb, Naanee, Clasen and the Bronco tight ends. If Carter or Lau slips behind into the Georgia secondary to Battle's area, it could be rough for Tra. Georgia fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when a MRI this past spring was negative following a back injury that Battle sustained in a car accident. Behind him is another sub-180-pound player, Antonio Sims (6-0.5, 189, Fr.). Sims has good coverage skills and provides good depth. C.J. Byrd has the size but has no college game experience. He has great closing speed and hits like a truck.
The battle between the Boise State receivers and the Georgia secondary will be an interesting chess game to watch. Both sides have great athletic ability. The height advantages that Rabb, Naanee and Key have could definitely be used in this game, especially if 2 or more of them are in at the same time. Georgia's defense is solid, though, and don't be surprised if there are no missed tackles by the Georgia secondary. They are pure athletes with the NFL on their minds. They excel in run defense, so a wide-open game will take them away from what they are used to. They all have good coverage skills and timing will have to be perfect to complete passes and avoid interceptions. The Bronco receivers that will play in the September 3rd game don't have a lot of numbers--they will have to quickly accumulate them if Boise State is to win this game. As new starters, the basics will be important for this group, such as running quick, precise routes, concentrating on catching the football before running upfield, and looking the ball in. They are an integral part of the outcome of the game, for if Georgia decides they won't burn them, they can focus ever more on stopping the run, which they like to do anyway. It's critical for the Bronco receivers to take them out of their comfort zone, beat them early and often, and hold on to the football. Since the Georgia secondary is known for sure tackling, the group must also pay attention to their assignments for blocking and take pride in the Bronco running game, for the better the BSU ground game is, the more likely this group of talented receivers will be allowed to shine in the Georgia secondary.