By Chadd Cripe
© 2011 Idaho Statesman
I’m running a series of blog posts breaking down each position on the Boise State football team.
Today: Running backs
Returning starters (0 of 1): None.
Key losses: Doug Martin, who is expected to go in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, is gone after two straight monster seasons. He rushed for 1,299 yards and scored a team-high 19 touchdowns last season.
Key returners: Senior tailback D.J. Harper enters his sixth season with the opportunity to play a starring role for the first time in his career. He rushed for 557 yards last season, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and averages 5.2 yards per carry in his career. “He’s made a lot of plays for this program over the years,” running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said. “This being his senior year I wouldn’t expect anything different. I’m not expecting this big awesome year or anything like that. I’m expecting him to be just as productive — with more and more plays.”
Other players to watch: Depth is the question mark with senior Drew Wright going into fall camp as the backup and no clear No. 3. Senior Raphiel Lambert and redshirt freshman walk-on Phil Hogan are getting good experience this spring but haven’t looked like big contributors. Redshirt freshman Jay Ajayi returns from his anterior cruciate ligament this summer and two freshman recruits join in August — powerful runner Jack Fields and the speedy Devan Demas. That will set off quite a competition in camp.
Projected starter: Harper
Joining in August: Fields and Demas. Fields rushed for 2,478 yards last season in El Paso, Texas. Demas gained 2,114 all-purpose yards in Houston.
— Coaches are making a point not to overwork Harper this spring. The focus with him is on details. “When we talk about zone (runs), making sure his footwork is right. In pass protection, his technique. Catching the ball out of the backfield. Taking on a little more of the leadership role,” Bhonapha said.
— Wright, a former walk-on from Vallivue High, has been a spring riser. “Drew has definitely taken the next step,” Bhonapha said. “When you think about him in the run game, he’s run the ball hard. His pass protection is very good. He’s a very consistent player and is able to do the right things in the backfield and is able to think while he’s playing. … You definitely see a difference in his quick twitch, when we talk about plant and burst in the run game.”
— Harper returned from two torn ACLs, which gives Bhonapha confidence in Ajayi. “We’re kind of spoiled with how D.J.’s been able to come back,” he said. “I don’t see him any different. He’s been paying attention. He knows what’s going on.”
— Bhonapha expects the freshmen to contribute, but he thought that about Ajayi last year, and it didn’t happen. “It would definitely be nice to get one of those guys out here on the field, or maybe both those guys, out on the field early,” he said. “But college football, as you know, is a lot different than high school. It’s all about how those guys can retain information, how they can perform while they’re trying to retain that information, and building from there.”