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Boise State Spring Football Practice Begins Monday

The “circus” will be coming back to town when Boise State completes its total team makeover

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Dec 13, 2013; Boise, ID, USA; Boise State Broncos head new football coach Bryan Harsin addresses the media and boosters at Bronco Hall of Fame.
Dec 13, 2013; Boise, ID, USA; Boise State Broncos head new football coach Bryan Harsin addresses the media and boosters at Bronco Hall of Fame.
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
A new era in football kicks off in Boise Monday when new head coach Bryan Harsin opens up spring ball. Harsin was the Boise State offensive coordinator during the heady days when QB Kellen Moore was running Boise State’s high-powered spread offense. Harsin was also the QB/OC for QB Jared Zabransky when the Broncos went to the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, and he was the chief architect of those famed trick plays used under former head coach Chris Petersen; plays such as variations of the razzle-dazzle, statue of liberty, modified forms of The Wildcat, and the hook and lateral—called "Circus" by Boise State.

But don’t expect a return of the spread this year or the playbook to be chock full of fun plays right off the bat. Petersen continued to run a hybrid of both pro-style and spread concept after Moore left, and tried to compensate Moore’s loss with a quick-strike option coupled with a pistol-based offense, but Harsin already has ideas about that. Some of them he laid out in a press conference this week. He says he will continue to employ an up-tempo offense with an occasional huddle, allowing “times for getting a little bit of funk in there,” but gone is the Pistol the former staff used. Instead, the team will once again be working out of the shotgun.

Harsin also recognizes that the Broncos need to run a pro-style offense because the spread is QB focused and Boise State does not have that one special guy under center to get the job done effectively. Instead, once the team is on solid footing and the players know their positions, Harsin will employ a shift and motion package that at one time was considered to be best in college football.

The Broncos offense will be centered around the playbook Harsin has put together while he was the coordinator at Boise State (2006-10), the coordinator at Texas (2011-12), and as head coach last year at Arkansas State. The trick plays will be in there, but it might take a while before the players are polished enough to use them.

Even though Petersen’s Broncos were rated the 19th best scoring offense in the nation last year, new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford is on the same page as Harsin. “There’s going to be some stuff that conceptually is new, that the terminology is new,” he said. “The ways that we mechanically go through things is going to be new. It’s going to be new to them, but there’s going to be some familiarity.”

Sanford also has some ideas of his own on how to get those new concepts incorporated, starting at quarterback. Last season’s starter, Grant Hedrick, 6-0, 200 lbs., is the most experienced QB on the roster but he’s far from the shoo-in many expect. Backup QB Nick Patti has left the program and redshirt freshman QB Ryan Finley, 6-3, 186 lbs, underwent shoulder surgery on his throwing arm last year. Finley’s throwing and playing abilities are still a question, as is new QB Richard Hoppe, 5-10, 153 lbs. While both will be in spring in training, there is a surprise candidate who will pose an immediate challenge as the starting quarterback. Junior college transfer Thomas Stuart, 6-4, 200 lbs, out of Butte JC. Stuart was the Nor-Cal Conference Offensive Player of the Year, and first-team all-league at quarterback who led Butte to the California Junior College State Championship last season. He is a pro-style quarterback who has the ability to step in and take over the Broncos’ reins.

Harsin and Sanford will also have their hands full rebuilding and reshaping the offensive line. While the Broncos return as many as 15 starters from last season, only about six are on offense. The team will be augmented with Harsin’s new class of 21 recruits of which at least four will be at spring ball, including Stuart and high school standout Dylan Sumner-Gardner 6-1, 202 lbs, who is ranked as the number 6 incoming Safety in the nation (ESPN).

Sumner-Gardner is new Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates’ top recruit and could start as a true freshman. That’s because Yates will be revamping the Broncos defense with a whole new defensive scheme, one that deploys in a 4-2-5 defense that will include three safeties. Last year the Broncos were ranked 89th in the nation in pass defense, giving up 249.2 per game thru the air. Yates is determined to put to put a stop against pass-happy teams.

But Harsin will expect more from Yates’ defense than just covering the pass. “I'm an offensive guy, and I know what a good defense can do," said Harsin. "A defense that's around the ball, that's opportunistic and can stop the run.” And that brings up another huge hole to fill: who does Yates pick to replace NFL-bound Demarcus Lawrence in the starting lineup? It will be interesting to see if either DL Beau Martin, 6-2, 271 lbs, or STUD Sam McCaskill, 6-3, 240 lbs, step up.

The special teams will be getting an overhaul under the direction of Kent Riddle, associate HC/RBs/Special Teams Coordinator. "We will play our best players on special teams," Riddle said, "and we will play fast and play with great effort and we will hit. Our goal every game is to create big plays and score." Like most of the other coaches, Riddle is no stranger to the Broncos program, having been the special teams coordinator from 2001-2005. The Broncos' fake punt used in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl against TCU was named "the Riddler" because the Broncos coach that used it learned it from Riddle.

Boise State could have up to eight players who will miss all or part of the spring football: OL Rees Odhiambo, OL Andrew Tercek, LB Ben Weaver, LB Travis Saxton, S Chanceller James, WR Taylor Pope, CB Cameron Hartsfield and TE Alec Dhaenens. Added to those woes is that Boise State’s season opener is against Ole Miss on August 28, and already game suspensions are being announced. While Ole Miss has announced that All-SEC linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche will miss the game, the Broncos have suspended two of their own for the opener. Both TE Holden Huff and LB Andrew Pint will not play because of unspecified violations of team rules.

Harsin and his Broncos will be looking for a fresh start after the team slipped to 8-5 last season under the former coaching staff. Harsin and his crew have made it clear that they intend to “Attack the future.” If the changes Harsin is signaling for spring football are any indication, this could be the direction that takes the team back to a position of football prominence that began slipping when he left the program in 2010.