Yes, Boise State football fans, the tight ends will be involved more in the passing game this year.
It’s almost impossible for it not to happen.
Last season, mainly thanks to injuries or inexperience, the group had 29 catches, just 16 of them coming between the season opener and the bowl game. Now, as one of the deepest positions on the roster, the tight ends’ role should expand in 2017.
“I think all those guys are going to have a good year and contribute. You’re going to see a lot of different guys out there and they’re going to help in a lot of different ways,” tight ends coach Kent Riddle said.
All season there were questions about why the group wasn’t catching more passes, but the reasons were plentiful. Jake Roh was hampered by a knee injury and held to 10 catches after having 68 in his first two seasons. Alec Dhaenens entered the season with just four career catches and had 15 last year. No other tight end had yet played in a game. Plus, the Broncos had three reliable wide receivers and Jeremy McNichols at running back.
This season, there are five tight ends on the roster after junior Jake Knight left the team Friday. That still equates to a lot of depth, and a lot of potential targets.
“With all these guys healthy and all these guys’ experience, I think we’ll see the ball more. I think the coaches have a good plan,” Knight said earlier this month, before his departure.
Roh is not just a leader among the tight ends but also on the team — he’s one of four seniors on 25-foot posters outside Albertsons Stadium. Riddle said, “I expect him to have a great year in every way, shape and form.” For all the questions about how many wide receivers might step up in the passing game, Roh’s healthy return could fill some of the void.
“God always has an interesting way of working with you,” Roh said of his physical struggles. “... (It was like), ‘Now I’ve got to help other guys who haven’t played.’
“In the end, I think it made our team better. All those guys have so many more reps under their belts, which I think will be huge this year.”
Boise State’s offense, despite scoring just six points in the first 58 minutes of the Cactus Bowl on Dec. 27, showed a bit of what it could look like in 2017. The tight ends had eight catches, including six by Roh.
Chase Blakley shook off some rust from two seasons without playing a game to contribute along with Dhaenens.
It’s been a while since there was a group this deep and talented on offense.
“Maybe in the early 2000s, when we had some of those running back crews that were five, six deep,” Riddle said.
Perhaps the tight end with the biggest potential is the new face in the group: redshirt freshman John Bates, a 6-foot-6, 253-pound Oregon native who has the tools to be a next-level talent. With a deep group last year, the Broncos had the luxury of getting him acclimated to college football.
“Really working with him on playing as big as he is ... there might be one guy on offense taller than him,” Riddle said. “When he plays big like that, he’s a big target. Runs well, good hands, can do some stuff after the catch. I think he’s going to be a guy that comes on and does some good things.
“I think this is going to be a really big year for him and the start of a great career for him.”
Coaches praised the tight ends for their work in blocking last season despite their lack of receptions, but this season should provide plenty of opportunities down the field.
“There’s a lot of them,” junior quarterback Brett Rypien said. “I think since we can use them in a lot of ways, it’s really going to give the offense a different look, let us do some good things.”
WE’RE THE CAPTAINS NOW: Boise State coach Bryan Harsin tweeted Tuesday that the team has named three captains for the 2017 campaign: Rypien (for a second straight season), junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
88 Jake Roh, 6-3, 227, Sr.: Had 68 catches first two seasons, but only 10 last year after knee injury; should be productive
87 Alec Dhaenens, 6-3, 246, Sr.: Set out to be a better receiver and had a career-best 15 receptions as a junior; solid blocker
86 Chase Blakley, 6-4, 233, Jr.: Injuries have slowed him but he could be a weapon (had 28-yard catch at Wyoming)
85 John Bates, 6-6, 253, RFr.: A world of talent, played multiple positions and sports in high school; Kent Riddle: “unlimited potential”
47 Matt Pistone, 6-3, 247, So.: Played in five games last season, no receptions; is a strong blocker who also can motion into fullback