With the loss of Kaniho, Boise State in search of its next nickelback | national

Spring football rosters are always full of oddities.

Five months away from a real game, so much is still in motion. Freshmen will arrive in the summer. Wounds will heal. The guys are going out. Some will be transferred.

But one anomaly to watch out for with Boise State’s first roster: There’s only one nickelback listed. On a list of 97 names, there are as many people at Nickel as at Long Snapper.

Making it harder: This nickel safety — sixth-year man Roman Kafentzis — is missing all spring training due to injury.

“It’s a position where there will be competition throughout,” Boise State head coach Andy Avalos said. “All the way to the first game where we’ll see who comes out on top.”

Boise State could have had a dozen nickelbacks listed last season. It wouldn’t have mattered. Kekaula Kaniho has pretty much held the job, starting the last three seasons there during a career in which he played in more Boise State games (60) than any other Bronco in history.

Kaniho brought intelligence to an experience-oriented position.

On Wednesday, Kaniho was back at Boise State for his Pro Day, working through all the drills that didn’t seem to sum up why he excelled in blue and orange. Kaniho is 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs just 188 pounds. He’s not the kind of guy who’s ready to wow next to a tape measure. But put it on the football field and it sneaks into every game.

That’s what the nickel safeties have to do. The position is multi-tasking. A game, you are on an island with a sneaky slot receiver. Next up, you might be rushing over the edge and having to get past an offensive tackle or tight end. Then the defense could be in the play zone and you need to go into pass coverage. After that it’s a racing game and you have to sink into a hole.

“All of those things rolled into one individual,” said safety coach Kane Ioane. “It’s quite special.”

Indeed, and Boise State now has five months to find the individual it thinks is special enough. Kafentzis, who didn’t play last season, could be in the game in the fall, but for now the Broncos are considering a few other options.

Zion Washington — an athletic 6-foot-2, 205-pound redshirt freshman — impressed from the start. So does Seyi Oladipo, a sophomore who recently made the first team nickelback. A former three-star recruit, Oladipo has worked his way onto the pitch as a rookie, making a handful of tackles while catching two assists against UTEP.

“He’s got more and more confidence after a season where he got a lot of reps,” Ioane said of Oladipo. “He had opportunities to jump in there when his number was called and had production.”

Another guy the Broncos have tried at the nickel is Tyreque Jones, which is a bit unexpected. Jones has started at safety in 17 of the last 18 games, forming a back-end tandem with JL Skinner that was expected to be Mountain West’s best next year.

“We complement each other really well,” Skinner said of him and Jones. “I basically know it as a book. I can tell what he’s thinking anytime. I look at him, he looks at me and we don’t even have to say anything.

Shifting Jones seems like an odd move heading into his sixth year at Boise State. But the Broncos currently have a bountiful crop of young athletic safeties in their roster — guys like Oladipo and Washington and Rodney Robinson and Jaylen Clark and, to a lesser extent, redshirt junior Alexander Teubner.

What they lack is experience, and experience might be more important at Nickelback than safety.

“Securities define everything from the backend to what happens,” Ioane said. “But that nickel is such a vital piece for, whether it’s disguise, whether it’s communicating with backers, racing matches. This position is of vital importance for what we do from a schematic point of view.

“This guy must have a great knowledge and understanding of defense, not just his play but all 11 plays on the field.”