MITCH ESPLIN/THE ARBITER – Senior running back Jeremy Avery during spring football.

Fans of the Boise State Broncos will get a glimpse of the season to come this Saturday at Bronco Stadium for the annual spring football game. Though many come to see the ever-present flare of the quarterback play by junior Kellen Moore and up-and-coming redshirt freshman Joe Southwick, the running backs who could provide excitement Saturday and hopefully carry that over into summer workouts and fall camp.

Ten Broncos rushed for 100-yard or more games last season despite a sharing backfield responsibilities.

The two standouts from the 2009-10 season, veterans junior Doug Martin and senior Jeremy Avery, will likely carry most of the rushing load for BSU and prove to be the familiar one-two counter to Moore’s pin-point accuracy.

“Both those guys, even with what you’ve seen already in the past, both of those guys are seeing some real work and getting better at what they need to do,” running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said of Avery and Martin. “I think they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with here.”

The fundamental focus of pass protection is a theme carried over from season to season by the Broncos and is an area where BSU has steadily improved across the past few years. Though the primary job of the quarterback might be the offensive line, it is up to the running backs to create a second line of defense in pass protection.

BSU has seen a steady decrease with the most impressive stat coming last season (2009) with Bronco quarterbacks being brought down five times. In the previous three seasons to the 2009 campaign the Broncos have improved from 20 sacks (2006), 19 sacks (2007) and 13 sacks (2008). Much of the credit can be handed down to the running back corps that has picked up blocks where they might not have in the past.

The total load

Though Avery and Martin carried the ball for 74 percent of the Broncos’ rushing yards last season (2,606 rushing yards), the remaining load can be attributed to a talented group of young guys who were either injured for most of the 2009-10 season or played a different position.

JOSH RASMUSSEN/ARBITER FILE PHOTO – Junior running back D.J. Harper against Oregon during the 2009 season opener.

D.J. Harper was injured with a torn ACL last season (Sept. 18) against Fresno State in Fresno, Calif., and is in the final stages of his recovery.

Harper opened up last season as the leading running back through BSU’s first three games. He rushed for 284 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry through those first three games. Despite seeing no action since early last season, Bhonapha continues to display excitement about what Harper should be able to do when he returns to contact drills.

“He (Harper) has a great attitude and he’s working hard,” Bhonapha said.

The Broncos are waiting on a nod from trainers before getting Harper up to full speed in workouts.

Sophomore Matt Kaiserman, also recovering from injury, rushed for 122 yards in his first appearance mid-season last year and is also a guy Bhonapha hopes to have healthy and back in the mix of running backs.

“We’re going to have a good, solid group of guys who can play and contribute,” Bhonapha said.

Up and coming

The Broncos have a couple new additions to the active roster entering their 2010 season. Redshirt freshman Malcolm Johnson and sophomore Raphiel Lambert are new youthful additions the running back corps and have shown good strides since joining the team.

Lambert is a transplant from defense where he played defensive back last year. The decision to do so is so they can get the optimal performance out of their players.

Lambert originally played running back at Jesuit High School in Portland, Ore.

MITCH ESPLIN/THE ARBITER – Sophomore running back Raphiel Lambert carries the ball during spring football.

“He’s learned the offense really well and he’s giving his all,” Avery said. “It’s awesome to see him come from defense and switch up to offense and see what’s he’s been doing. I give the best to him because he’s doing an awesome job.”

Johnson is yet to be seen in game time but has proven to be a strong and agile back during 2009 fall camp and spring drills.

“Malcolm Johnson, he’s been doing a really god job,” Martin said. “He’s fast, he’s quick on his feet. He’s making a good transition from high school to college and he’s doing a really good job, too.”

He’s a young kid so he still has that dear-in-the-headlights look sometimes…He shows glimpses where you know he’s progressing,” Bhonapha said. “He’s definitely going to be one of these guys that’s going to progress better.”

The leaders

Following their strong performances last season, Martin and Avery have taken on the role of leader for the youth who follow their footsteps as Broncos.

JOSH RASMUSSEN/THE ARBITER – Junior running back Doug Martin rushes through San Jose State defenders during the 2009 season at Bronco Stadium.

Both Avery and Martin have been praised by coaches for their work ethic and unique abilities at the running back position. Avery tends to be shifty and agile while Martin is a battering ram coming through the offensive line.

Both embrace the added pressure of being a leader for the younger backs. Avery, in particular, knows that it doesn’t just take one person to lead but all back — both veteran and newcomer — have type of leadership role they must take on when playing running back for the Broncos.

“After you’ve been here so long you just take that leadership on and the young guys look up to me,” Avery said. “They look up to me and see that I work hard and they work hard…We’re all leaders in that running back room. It’s not just one guy.”

Martin adds muscle

Since the Fiesta Bowl, a packing on of bulk made Martin about 11 pounds heavier. His listed weight is 201 pounds. Martin said he weighed in at 212 pounds the last time he stepped on a weight scale.

“I’ve put on the weight. I don’t know how it happened,” Martin said. “It happened really fast. I gained like 10-pounds and I feel pretty good.”

“(Martin’s) a good person,” Bhonapha said. “He has a great work ethic in the weight room, just like all those guys (running backs). He’s here to play.”

The Broncos take to the field 3 p.m. Saturday (April 17) at Bronco Stadium for their annual spring football game. General admission is $5 and free to students.