I had a chance to check in with Boise State coach Chris Petersen today, and here is a little of what he had to say about the team now that spring practice is over.
Unanswered questions. There are plenty at receiver, where Titus Young and Austin Pettis are gone, and in the secondary, where Winston Venable and Jeron Johnson are also gone. But when I asked for the biggest unanswered question post-spring, Petersen said, "You have questions across the board always. Even if you’ve got a Kellen Moore coming back, the question is, ‘Can he perform like he has the last three years?’ People take things for granted and then, 'OK, if something happens to Kellen, who’s going to be the guy that steps in and carries the flag?' We can’t miss a beat if something like that happens. You have to think about that. Every coach does. We have a tremendous amount of questions so that’s why it’s always a work in progress. We made some strides in spring, but now the summer program and summer conditioning are really important."
Replacing Johnson. Much of the focus this spring has been on replacing the receivers, but perhaps an even bigger hole to fill is the one Johnson leaves behind. He led the team in tackles for three straight seasons, and was literally the last line of defense in the Broncos' secondary. Jeremy Ioane, Cedric Febis and Travis Stanaway are all competing for the job. Febis missed the spring with an injury, and Stanaway got hurt and missed the last week. Petersen also mentioned cornerback Quaylon Ewing, who got some work at safety.
"I’ve said this forever: Jeron Johnson is one of our most unsung heroes over the past two to three years," Petersen said. "He has made so many plays for us. I’m talking line of scrimmage, 3 and 4 yards downfield, where if he doesn’t make the play it’s going to be a huge explosive play. A sure tackler, really smart player and we’ve known that for a long time. Those are tremendous shoes to fill."
Replacing Venable. Just as valuable to the Boise State defense was Venable, who won the team's defensive most valuable player award. Hunter White and junior college transfer Dextrell Simmons are leading the chase to get the starting job. Jon Brown is in the mix, though he sat out the spring with an injury.
Moore's improvement. Where does Moore get better? He has put together three outstanding seasons, throwing 99 touchdown passes to just 19 interceptions, and was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2010. What will he be focusing on in the offseason? Certainly he has to develop his relationship with his receivers -- Tyler Shoemaker, Chris Potter, Geraldo Hiwat, Kirby Moore and Troy Ware among them. But as for working on individual improvements, footwork is going to be vital.
"We just want Kellen to play like he’s been playing," Petersen said. "There’s always little details, always little decisions to make differently, setting his feet, stepping into some throws to make him a cleaner thrower -- that is one area we’re paying attention to. Kellen’s played as well as anybody in the country the last several years. If he can do that, we’ll be in good position."
Finishing. Doug Martin and Jamar Taylor said last week the team was re-focused on finishing games, a hard lesson it learned after blowing a halftime lead in a loss to Nevada that ended its undefeated season. I asked Petersen if that was a point of emphasis from the coaches.
"It’s not different than it’s been in the past," he said. "The team we had last year was a really good team. To me, it’s the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here. That doesn’t mean your best team is going to win every game. We’re going to get most people’s best shot every game. If it’s not all clicking just right -- that’s why we play the game. That’s why coaches are so paranoid about things. You understand the best teams don’t always win. That game at Nevada was a great game. Nevada is one heck of a team. We’ve been saying forever those guys were underrated. We had chances to win, but that’s why you play the game."
I had to follow up and ask whether that loss was harder than all the others because he felt that was the best team he has had at Boise State. "That’s just part of coaching," he said. "Every game that we’ve lost here has been tremendously painful. That’s just how it is. These kids know how to win and they win a lot, and when we don’t, it hurts and it hurts bad."