Change and continuity are words not normally used together, but for 2006 the Broncos bring back basically the entire receiving corps and with Zabransky back for his senior campaign the continuity is obvious. The change comes with a new offensive coordinator, Wide Receivers coach, that old Zabransky swagger and a returned focus on the passing game.
Last year, the Broncos ran the ball more than they passed (560 rushing attempts compared to just 390 passes) . With a deep and talented corps of tailbacks and a struggling quarterback, it was easy to see why. No Boise State receiver reached 40 receptions and no one had even 600 yards receiving. This was not what we've come to expect from Bronco football and Head Coach Chris Petersen expects a return to a more balanced offense this year.
So, with the same QB and the same receiving corps returning, why should we expect a better passing game?
Let's start with the talent.
The starting wideouts are likely to be seniors Jerard Rabb (6-2, 200) and Drisan James (5-11, 1845) with Derek Schouman (6-2, 220, Sr.) set to start at tight end. All had their moments last year and all are supremely talented receivers that produce good yards after the catch. Rabb is maybe the most gifted of the receivers with great leaping ability and big, soft hands. The fade to Rabb was grossly underused last year and we should expect to see it more often this year like we did at Corvallis early in the season last year.
Drisan James is the burner. He's got 4.4-4.5 speed in the 40 but really gets it going on the long ball where he can show that 100-meter track speed he's got. Expect great things from Drisan in his senior year.
Expect to see a lot of Legadu Naanee this fall as well. He's the biggest (6-2, 230, Sr.) and toughest of the WR's and when he gets the ball he bowls over defensive backs. Last year was his first at wide receiver and it became more natural for him as the year went on. There wasn't the chemistry between him and Z, but there are stories of those two getting a lot of reps this past year so I expect that to not be an issue. He'll back up Rabb but could get as many reps when it's all said and done.
Vinny Perretta (5-9, 193, So.) is the wildcard for me. He's tough, runs great routes and catches everything close to him. He's the Gilligan/Acree type of receiver we missed last year and he made some terrific and significant catches late last season; he continues to do that this spring. Vinny will back up Drisan James.
Waiting to beat the door down and steal some playing time is redshirt freshman Jeremy Childs, the 6-0, 170-lb. star from Los Al High School in California. He was the steal of the 2005 recruiting class and could be the most talented receiver ever at Boise State when his career is all over. His classmate, redshirt freshman Aiona Key is someone I personally can't wait to see on the blue. At 6-4, 205 he's a perfect target for Bronco QB's and he can high jump over 7 feet so his leaping ability will make him more like a 6-10 WR. Just throw the ball up and let him go get it. With Key and Childs together for four years we're going to see a lot of fireworks on offense and it starts this year. They both will break into the lineup and may be difficult to get out of the lineup once they're in there.
And that's not all. Jovan Hutchinson (5-11, 186, Sr.), Tanyon Bissell (5-10, 179, Fr.), Toshi Franklin (6-1, 165, So.), Steven Tracey (5-10, 175, Fr.) and
Great things were expected of TE Derek Schouman last year after his terrific sophomore year, but some nagging injuries kept him in a funk last year and his frustration level with his play and the play of the team was all too obvious to all of us. He will shine again this year with a clean bill of health and another chance to show that he is all league material. He has the best hands of the TE's and is a terrific blocker.
Ryan Putnam (6'2", 230#) and Jared Hunter (6'4", 225#) will back Schou up. Putnam is the best blocking TE but showed us that he is not one dimensional last season on those rare occasions when he was thrown the ball. Hunter is coming on strong after a move from LB. Neither has gotten much PT and that isn't likely to change this year if Schouman returns to form. But both will step up if needed.
The talent is in place with the receiving corps and with the loss of Lee Marks, Jeff Carpenter and Antwuan Carter at tailback Boise State will need to rely more on their passing game in 2006. With a senior quarterback and seniors filling all five of the top slots, there should never be a more ideal season to throw the ball.
The change in coaching staff will have a positive impact too. The overall offense won't change; Coach Pete is still here and will influence much of what Offensive Coordinator Bryan Harsin will do with this team. But WR coach Steve Smythe is out. His one-year stint, which started with so much promise with the addition of Rabb and conversion of Naanee to WR, ended with less than glowing memories. Something wasn't right all year. We didn't see the same effort level or the same crisp patterns that we've seen in the past. Receivers didn't seem to be on the same page with QB Zabransky. And not too surprisingly, Smythe was not asked to go to Colorado with Hawkins and did not land a job on coach Petersen's staff. In comes Brent Pease, who last year was the OC at Baylor. In a tough Big 12 Conference, Baylor improved dramatically last year and some of that was because of an improved passing game under coach Pease. Baylor averaged 40 passes a game last year and many Bronco fans would love to see those numbers in our passing game. Plus the toughness Pease will bring with him will be a nice addition.
In 2006, the dominant Bronco passing game needs to return. All signs point to just that happening.