BOISE — Gone is the man who helped cement the nickel position as one of the key spots on the Boise State defense, but waiting in the wings is one who has been waiting quite a while for this opportunity.
After an immediate impact when he arrived two seasons ago, Winston Venable is now with the Chicago Bears, and the Broncos will be eagerly anticipating to see who can fill the void at nickel. The primary candidate is senior Hunter White, who has seen a wealth of snaps, but has yet to be a starter.
White has registered 100 tackles in 39 career games, including 38 stops and an interception last season, his first at nickel after moving from linebacker.
“I love it,” White said. “It’s a chance to be vocal, a chance to do a little bit of everything. I think it fits me well, and now I’m in my second year, so feeling a bit more comfortable.”
After playing last season at about 225 pounds, White has slimmed down to about 210 to increase his speed, but he still possesses some of that innate linebacker mentality. White’s father was his high school coach, which has lent itself to him being the smart type of player needed at a position like nickel which has many different responsibilities.
“We have a great luxury having a guy like Hunter who is really sharp, has a great knowledge of our system and has seen a lot of football,” nickels coach Jeff Choate said. “He kind of comes in as our No. 1, but there are some guys pushing him.”
The players that are pushing him include sophomore Jonathan Brown, who redshirted in 2009 as a safety, but spent last season as a nickel, with 16 tackles and two pass breakups. Brown was a high school quarterback, so his athleticism will be called upon on passing situations. Choate said junior college transfer Dextrell Simmons has provided a physical presence and likely will see action in short-yardage packages.
“That’s the thing about the position, and the sort of evolution — you don’t just have one guy in there all the time,” Choate said. “We have some flexibility and we’ll try to use guys to their strengths.”
One name to watch is true freshman Corey Bell, who has drawn rave reviews from coaches during fall camp. Though he may be ticketed for a redshirt season, the Capital High graduate has a bright future.
“The whole idea behind it is to give us a more athletic presence,” Choate said. “We can grab those guys who may not fit in as a linebacker or a safety, but is just a universal football player. A guy like Corey is a perfect example. He was a very good running back and a great safety. He was one of the best all-around players in the state, but his size wasn’t perfect for a linebacker or DB, but as a nickel, he’s a great fit.”
For the vet, White, he feels he has been waiting for this type of shot for quite some time, as he has spent his entire career backing up someone. Boise State coach Chris Petersen believes White’s experience working behind experienced linebackers and nickels like Venable will pay off.
“I think it’ll help him tremendously, because he’s seen a couple guys do it different ways and he’ll bring his own style to it,” Petersen said.
Having played at every linebacker position and now at nickel, White feels prepared to take on the duties of the position that has been the defensive MVP two of the last three seasons. It is something a little less quantifiable that White wants to improve on where the ball of energy that is Venable stood out.
“Winston had this way of getting guys going, creating that emotion,” White said. “I want to be that guy, so I have some work to do, but it’s getting there.”