By Chadd Cripe
© 2012 Idaho Statesman
Boise State senior tailback Drew Wright needed to learn a new skill this season — coaching.
It’s part of what should be a memorable final year for Wright, a former walk-on from Vallivue High who spent his first four years as a special-teamer and reserve running back.
This year, he’s one of two senior tailbacks surrounded by five freshmen.
“I’m actually doing a lot more (coaching) than I probably expected,” Wright said. “Me and (senior D.J. Harper) are learning as we go, because we’ve never had to do that before. It was kind of hard during the summer.”
Wright has rushed for 311 yards and three touchdowns in his career. He accumulated 218 of those yards and all of the touchdowns last season as the third-string tailback behind Doug Martin and Harper.
This year, Wright is expected to back up Harper — with freshmen Jay Ajayi, Jack Fields and Devan Demas competing for the No. 3 role. If recent history is any indication, Wright could be needed as the primary back at some point.
“It’s definitely different,” Wright said. “… Now that the starting role might be coming up, that I might be getting in there with the first-team offense in the first or second quarter, I’m going to have to be more mentally prepared for that.
“I just need to be able to go in there and gain yards. If D.J. starts getting tired, I have to be able to go in there and contribute and keep moving the ball just like D.J. did.”
Wright said it feels like he’s “finally made it” this year because he’ll be an important part of the offense.
“Now,” he said, “I need to produce.”
Sophomore wide receiver Matt Miller couldn’t have started his college career much better. He tied for the team lead with 62 catches last year and was second with 679 receiving yards and nine touchdown grabs.
Still, there are plenty of ways for him to improve.
He spent the offseason getting bigger, stronger, faster and smarter. He also worked on his leadership skills.
“It’s no different than any of these players we’ve had in the past that have been good players,” coach Chris Petersen said. “Anybody can improve and take their game to the next level. He can get faster. He can catch the ball cleaner. He can get more precise. He can set guys up on his releases. It’s all those things. And that’s what he’ll do.
“He’s a good player already, there’s no doubt, but he’ll be the first to tell you that there’s a lot of detail work left to be done and he can be a really, really good, elite player.”
Miller (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) was recovering from a torn Achilles tendon last year during his first offseason with the Broncos, so 2012 allowed him to become a better athlete.
He averaged 11.0 yards per catch last season.
“I was a pretty slow guy last year,” Miller said. “Anything can beat that.”
Miller also used the offseason to deepen his understanding of the offense. The Broncos have three receiver positions and he played one of them almost exclusively last year.
“Now I can play any receiver spot,” he said. “With an offense like ours, that’s so complex, you’re never going to be a true master of the offense, but you can be really dang close to it, and that’s my goal.”
Miller’s combination of talent and smarts makes him difficult to cover, senior cornerback Jamar Taylor said.
“Matt’s smart — great hands,” Taylor said. “He can box you out with his big body. He’s just a competitor. … The quarterback can be scrambling and he always seems to find his way to the ball.”
The defense dominated the Broncos’ practice Tuesday morning. Cornerback Bryan Douglas made an interception and seems to be having a nice camp.
I talked to offensive line coach Chris Strausser after practice. Four starters appear set unless there’s a big change in the next couple weeks — left tackle Faraji Wright, left guard Joe Kellogg, center Matt Paradis and right tackle Charles Leno Jr. Michael Ames is the leading candidate at right guard, but he does have competition from Spencer Gerke and Jake Broyles. Two freshmen have impressed — redshirt freshman Marcus Henry at guard and true freshman Travis Averill at tackle. The Broncos haven’t played a true freshman on the offensive line in the WAC/Mountain West era and Strausser isn’t planning on breaking that drought this year unless he has to, so don’t count on seeing Averill.
A few quotes from Strausser:
— “For many years we’ve played with tackles who are (6-foot-2) guys who are athletic, tough guys. You could go down the list of guys I don’t think anybody else recruited as tackles. Travis Averill (6-foot-4, 278 pounds), he’s not a prototypical tackle body but he can be a darn good tackle for us. … He’s showing some good promise. I’m very excited about him.”
— On starting center Matt Paradis: “Really, really pleased with the way Matt is playing. … The combination of his leadership skills and knowledge of the offense has been very good.”
— On Henry, who is playing left guard on the second-team line: “He could easily work his way into some good playing time. He’s done an exceptional job this fall camp.”
— On playing a true freshman: “I’m definitely on a mission to not get that done.”
— On right guard: “I’ve been really pleased with Mike Ames. He did it all spring, which was good. Right now, based on experience and knowledge and all that stuff, he’s worked his way into right now what I think is the top five.”
It’s been a common sentiment among seniors this year — one key to their individual seasons is to stay healthy. Several of them have had injury problems in the past, which probably contributes to the trend.
Of course, it’s a goal that’s out of the players’ control. Senior linebacker Tommy Smith’s plan:
“Play full speed, don’t think about it and just keep God on your side: Pray,” he said.
Camper of the day update (chosen by coach Chris Petersen for Broncosports.com):
Day 1: N Corey Bell. “Corey had a great summer and came into camp in good shape,” Petersen said. “Mentally, he is really on top of things right now.”
Day 2: TE Holden Huff. “Holden is making plays for us out there, and we like playmakers,” Petersen said.
Day 3: DL Darren Koontz. “Darren had a really nice day,” Petersen said. “He was playing physical and much faster, and he was nice and disruptive today.”
Day 4: LT Faraji Wright. “Faraji showed up to this camp ready to compete,” Petersen said. “He has been playing at a high level from day one, and he has been extremely focused.”
Day 5: LB Tommy Smith. “Tommy has been extremely focused thus far in camp,” Petersen said. “He has been working extremely hard and is playing very physical football right now.”
Day 6: RB D.J. Harper. “D.J. is running hard and making sharp cuts,” Petersen said. “He has been extremely precise in what he’s doing out here.”
Day 7: No practice.
Day 8: CB Deon’tae Florence. “Deon’tae had a really good practice,” Petersen said. “He made some big plays, and hauled in a couple of interceptions.”
Day 9: No practice.
Day 10: LB J.C. Percy. “J.C. is doing a great job inside,” Petersen said. “He knows this defense inside and out, and he plays as hard as anyone we have on the roster.”
Day 11: WR Chris Potter. “Chris is working real hard out here,” Petersen said. “He is precise in his routes and extremely tough to cover, and he is doing a great job in our return game.”