A Question of Dominance

The Boise State offensive line is the biggest enigma heading into the 2010 season. It's a unit that paved the way for 299 rushing yards against Fresno State, then two weeks later struggled to pick up 101 against UC-Davis. (Photo courtesy of Foto208.com--all rights reserved.)

If the 2010 edition of the Boise State University Broncos is to achieve its promise, the boys in the trenches will have to do their jobs:  consistent execution and dominating nastiness are what the fans and coaching staff expect.  The 2010 offensive line brings together a corps of reliable bulwarks, with intriguing rotation possibilities, which made fall camp competitive and highly unpredictable.  

The 2010 offensive line loses only one member from the 2009 squad, with Kevin Sapien opting to work as a student-coach due to being worn down by the cruel rigors placed on linesmen.  Kevin's sacrifice and contributions will be sorely missed this year.  The 2009 offensive line unit enjoyed some of the very best of times, evidenced in the shockingly few sacks allowed, in the very handsome 5.13 yards per rush, and in the ability to absorb a multitude of injuries to starters.  But this very same unit also had less than stellar moments, notably in snap exchanges, third-down conversions, and sequences of futility.  No doubt, the coaching staff only needs to show tape from last year's Cal-Davis performance to demonstrate to the players just how bad they can collectively perform.  

The biggest change for the offensive line will be in the position reassignments of Coaches Chris Strausser and Scott Huff, with Strausser now taking over the offensive line and Huff leading the tight ends and fullbacks.  Head Coach Chris Petersen routinely has changed position assignments for his coaching staff, to create new challenges and opportunities for their professional growth.  For the Bronco offensive linemen, it will give them a chance for a new set of eyes to look for weaknesses and improvements in techniques.   

As for the line-up, the variations could be as maddening for the fans to predict as all the expansion scenarios were this summer.  Easily 10 to 12 individuals could be starting at some point of the season, even though ideally, the coaching staff would gladly settle for a predictable line-up of five.  The one definite slot is at right guard, where senior Will Lawrence (6-2, 293) is the man.  Lawrence started every game last year, proving a reliable, sure blocker, and with each game, he gained confidence, developing a nasty streak.  He's paid his dues in switching from defense and offense, being well hidden in the depth charts, and then proving himself week in and week out.  He's the rock of the offensive line.  

The other nearly sure bet is Center Thomas Byrd (5-11, 284, Jr.), who also started every game for the Broncos last year.  Like Lawrence , T-Byrd proved reliable with his stout blocking skills, but he and quarterback Kellen Moore suffered through what seemed innumerable bad snaps, which cost the Broncos dearly through the first half of the season.  Fortunately, they persevered.  Byrd sat out spring camp to recover from the wear of the season, allowing Joe Kellogg (6-2, 305, So.) to assert himself as a sure back-up, and perhaps someone who could even threaten to take Byrd's job.  Both Byrd and Lawrence should be candidates for all-conference honors.  

Probably the best offensive lineman is Nate Potter (6-6, 293, Jr.), who started the final eight games of the 2009 campaign at left tackle.  That he was first-team All-WAC after having to heal from an injury indicates the high regard for his pass protection skills.  The most intriguing adjustment at spring camp was the assignment of Potter at guard.  Part of this move was necessitated by a number of linemen needing to recover from injuries, but it was also a sign that the coaching staff may indeed be looking to take the advantage of the unit's depth at tackle.  For Potter, this position switch gave him experience taking on big hosses, forcing him to work on initial explosion and sustaining blocks—for a tall lineman, he's shown great ability to keep low.  Regardless of his position, Potter is appropriately listed on the Outland Trophy watch list.   

If Potter is regulated to left guard, the coaching staff has a truckload of experienced options and youthful talent at tackle.  For athletic offensive tackles, Coach Strausser can dial up Michael Ames (6-4, 281, So.) who started much of last season, or Brenel Myers (6-2, 267, So.), the fleet-footed warrior who kept Jerry Hughes at bay in the Fiesta Bowl.  Or it may be that big Zach Waller (6-5, 289) becomes a force.  A good deal of attention has been given to Faraji Wright (6-3, 284, So.), who had significant time with the first-team unit in spring camp, and Charles Leno (6-3, 249, Fr.) is a lean-bodied prospect who has great potential—he might be the one to make the statement in August.  Jake Broyles (6-4, 257, Fr.) will likely need another year of development to press for playing time.  The wild card may be Spencer Gerke who has the athleticism, nastiness and size to be an impact player either at tackle or guard.   

Beyond Lawrence and Potter in the guard slots, the Broncos have quality but not quite so much depth.   Indeed, Cory Yriate's second ACL tear might have been the very reason for Potter's reassignment.  On top of Yriate's condition, Garrett Pendergast (6-4, 271, Jr.) is also recovering from an injury.  Former tackle Matt Slater, along with Kellogg, seem the likely two to battle for rotations at guard, and Gerke (6-3, 290, Fr.) could be in the mix as well.  Bronson Durrant (6-3, 266, So.) could also become a dark horse candidate.   

The first few weeks of fall camp will reveal which of the linemen has made sufficient improvements in strength, weight, conditioning, and execution.  With all the experience returning, Bronco fans expect the offensive line to prove themselves as an elite unit.  They were very good last year, despite the inconsistencies, but if the Broncos are to make a run at the national title, this unit must become exceptional.   

For the starting five against VT, my guess for the depth chart: 

 

LT  Wright

Leno

           

LG  Potter

Slater

 

C  Byrd

Kellogg

 

RG  Lawrence

Gerke

 

RT  Myers 

Ames


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