The third in a seven-part series previewing the 2011 Boise State football roster, the focus today is on the offensive line. Check back each day leading up to the September 3rd season opener against Georgia for more information about the 2011 Broncos.
The 2011 Boise State Broncos are blessed with one of the most talented backfields in the country, highlighted by senior quarterback Kellen Moore and senior tailback Doug Martin. Moore’s receiving corps is as deep and talented as any that Boise State has had in recent years. But the steak underneath all that sizzle is still the Boise State offensive line.
The Broncos return two 1stteam All-WAC performers among three starters as well as several other experienced members of a unit that has consistently been among the best in the country over the past decade.
While generally not the biggest, fastest and strongest, in relation to other top programs, the Bronco offensive line is still among the best in the country in opening holes for the running game and keeping their quarterback on his feet. The explosive Bronco offense that has been torching college football since the jump to Division I football in 1996 is made possible on the backs of the biggest, yet most unrecognizable group of players on the field.
Over the past three seasons left tackle Nate Potter and center Thomas Byrd have virtually been sure things in the Bronco starting lineup. The duo returns as the rocks of the Boise State line in 2011. Potter is a two-time 1stTeam All-WAC honoree while Byrd joined him on the 1stteam last season as well.
Potter experimented with the left guard position during the offseason a year ago but the decision was made to move him back to tackle and he projects as a high draft pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Potter was recently named as a preseason 1stTeam All-American by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele after being named to the Mountain West preseason All-Conference team as well.
Byrd had some snapping issues in 2008 and 2009 but has been steady as a rock since and was named to the Rimington Award watch list which showcases the top centers in the country.
The third returning starter on the offensive line is left guard Joe Kellogg. The junior made 10 starts last season, missing three games mid-year with injuries, and was a steady presence between the two All-WAC performers.
Charles Leno, a sophomore from Oakland, CA, has settled in during spring and fall practices as the right tackle. Leno appeared in only two games as a redshirt freshman last season but projects as a potential left tackle replacement for Potter next year. A former basketball player with solid athleticism for his size, Leno even dabbled at tight end last year when injuries began to mount at the position.
The right guard spot is the only one on the line that is not firmly established. There are three candidates for the position and while only one can start, all three will likely see significant snaps this year.
Sophomore Jake Broyles is perhaps the surprise contender but his performance in five games off the bench last year as well as during spring and fall practices this year put him right into the thick of the competition. Broyles is still filling out and projects as a long-term fixture for the Broncos.
Senior Chuck Hayes was the primary competition for Broyles throughout much of the offseason. Bouncing back and forth between offense and defense throughout his career, Hayes settled into the offensive line last year and appeared in nine games. A former defensive tackle, Hayes plays with a high level of intensity and makes up for his relative lack of size with his aggression.
A late entry into the right guard competition is junior Brenel Myers. A versatile lineman who will undoubtedly see the field from multiple positions this year, Meyers appeared in nine games a year ago with two starts. Coming on the heels of a surprise start in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, Myers is one of the more experienced options of all the linemen outside of Potter and Byrd.
The reserve tackles are an intriguing duo with junior Faraji Wright sitting behind Potter at the left tackle spot and junior Michael Ames fighting to get back into the starting lineup after not appearing in a game in 2010.
Wright actually made three starts at left guard last year when Kellogg was out with an injury. He may not get many snaps at left tackle this year but his versatility to play on either side of the line as well as inside and out should allow for playing time throughout the year.
Ames started eight games as a freshman in 2009 after returning from a two-year mission followed by a redshirt year. Yet by the end of the season it was Garrett Pendergast and then Myers who were getting starts in right tackle. Ames then proceeded to miss action in each game last year, either from a still-unknown injury or simply getting passed on the depth chart. With Leno now seemingly entrenched, Ames may only take over in the event of an injury.
Spencer Gerke projects as the backup at left guard and the former Bishop Kelly HS lineman is ready for extended action after appearing in only three games last year. The sophomore has now only seen action in those three games in the past three years after a grayshirt season and a redshirt in 2009.
The backup to Byrd at center this year appears to be former walk-on Matt Paradis. The surprising Paradis was actually the scout team player of the year in 2009, on defense. Paradis made the switch to offense last year and appeared in one game but has made tremendous strides this offseason.
The depth beyond the two deep includes versatile junior Bronson Durrant who has appeared in 13 games over the past two years and redshirt freshman Greg Dohmen. Junior college transfer Chris Tozer was named to the 1stteam All-NorCal team in each of his two seasons at Foothill Community College.
Senior Cory Yriarte has had an injury-marred career and hopes to finally see the field in 2011 after missing each of the past two seasons with injuries. Yriarte has appeared in only six games so far in his career. Senior tackle Zach Waller will miss the 2011 season and it is unclear if he will retain any eligibility beyond this year.
In addition to the program veterans, there are three linemen who will have the opportunity to redshirt this season. Guard prospect Marcus Henry chose the Broncos over the University of Washington. Mansfield, TX product Rees Odhiambo is a project who only recently took up the sport. A potential heir apparent to the budding tackle tradition at Boise State is Adam Sheffield from San Jose.
The Broncos currently have commitments from a pair of high school offensive linemen for their 2012 recruiting class. Steven Baggett from Arlington, TX and Travis Averill out of Anaheim, CA are the initial members of the group that profile on the offensive line. Eduardo Middleton, Lacy Westbrook, Matt Cochran and Grant Bays are other targets of the 2012 class which will likely settle on four or five members when it is all said and done.