Leighton in his linebacker’s number and ready to go

Preseason Week 1 magnifies the healthy representation Boise State has in the NFL these days. Of the 12 games tonight, eight will feature at least one former Bronco each. Eighteen Boise State alums are on active NFL rosters in training camp, and three of them are prominent members of the Dallas Cowboys, who play the 49ers in Santa Clara tonight. We won’t see much of Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence in this one, as they will be in preservation mode. And Cedrick Wilson is on injured reserve after shoulder surgery. But Dallas will want to see Leighton Vander Esch, the No. 19 overall pick in the NFL Draft, in myriad situations to gauge his progress. Vander Esch is listed behind Jaylon Smith at middle linebacker, but that doesn’t mean much now—and may mean less after tonight.

Vander Esch, who’ll be decked out in his new No.55, goes into his first NFL appearance listed at 6-4, 256 pounds on the Cowboys’ website, same as he was coming out of the draft. “With Vander Esch, I am always looking at the physical side of his game,” writes Brian Broaddus at DallasCowboys.com. “His ability to fight blocks while finding the ball will be put to the test and if he can develop more consistency in handling that, the quicker he has a chance to start.” There’s not a lot of game-planning in preseason games, as you really don’t know who you’re going to see on the other side. So Vander Esch will be evaluated on basic defensive execution tonight versus the Niners.

Not to forget Kellen Moore, who has gone from No. 3 Dallas quarterback to Cowboys quarterbacks coach. The AP story on Moore’s rapid rise to coach that you may have seen in the Statesman has been picked up by newspapers across the country. Kellen doesn’t look 12 years old anymore, but he certainly doesn’t look 30—the age he became last month. Yet he’s tasked with rejuvenating Dak Prescott, who had an off-year last season after his stellar debut as a rookie in 2016. It won’t be all on Moore, as the ultimate responsibility falls on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. But is Kellen’s going to become the coach we all think he will be, he needs to be sharp right out of the gate.

Nobody’s looking in the rear view mirror here. Let’s just say Boise State recruited two really good quarterbacks in its 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes, Ryan Finley and Brett Rypien. Finley started as the Broncos beat Washington on the blue turf and lost on the road at BYU to begin the 2015 season. Then there was that fateful night in Game 3, when Finley broke a bone in his ankle during a first-quarter scramble in a 52-0 win over Idaho State. Rypien made his debut later that evening. Finley, of course, left the Broncos after spring football in 2016 and has started the last two years at North Carolina State as a graduate transfer.

Finley has one season left with the Wolfpack, and USA Today this summer tabbed him as the No. 3 college quarterback in the nation. He threw for 3,514 yards last year, trailing only Philip Rivers, Mike Glennon and Russell Wilson in the NC State record book. Finley is seen by many as a first-round pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. “Finley has what the NFL is looking for: intelligence, experience, a strong arm and familiarity with a pro-tempo system,” wrote Paul Myerberg in USA Today. “That he protects the ball as well as any quarterback in the country is a plus.” Good for Finley.

There are some changes in NCAA men’s basketball rules that are player-friendly—but will add one more month of angst for college coaches. Players will now be able to declare for the NBA Draft, participate in the combine, go through draft night, and return to school by the Monday after the draft. Not just any guy can go this route—he’ll have to request an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Council and be invited to the combine. It’ll leave coaches hangin’, though.

The Chandler Hutchison situation a little more than a year ago is not an example, though. Hutchison could have waited all the way into late June before informing Boise State coach Leon Rice of his return to the Broncos—if he had been invited to the combine. But he was not. That would have necessitated a diametrically-opposed Plan A and Plan B on the recruiting trail. College players and high school seniors can also have contact with certified agents as long as they’re identified as elite. Pandora’s Box?

Troy Merritt took it to the wire this morning before he decided whether he was healthy enough to tee it up today in the 100th PGA Championship. But Merritt is on the course at Bellerive in St. Louis (he parred the first hole). The former Boise State star was on the driving range yesterday, hitting balls with a compression sleeve on his left arm—five days after emergency surgery at St. Alphonsus to remove a blood clot. This marks his fifth career major and his first since the 2017 U.S. Open. This will be the last year the PGA Championship is played in August, as next season it moves to May as part of the PGA Tour’s new calendar.

As the Boise Hawks return to Memorial Stadium tonight to open a five-game series against Spokane, we salute a rather underappreciated Hawks alumnus. Marwin Gonzales has had a pretty good week for the Houston Astros, much to the chagrin of Giants fans. On Monday night in San Francisco, the Astros were trailing 1-0 with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, and Gonzalez smashed a three-run homer for a stunning 3-1 win. Then Tuesday, Houston was down 1-0 again going into the eighth—right after Madison Bumgarner had left the game—when Gonzalez doubled and was driven in on a Tyler White homer in a 2-1 victory. Gonzalez is hitting just .236 for the season, but he’s belted four home runs in the past week.

This Day In Sports…August 9, 2005:

Felix Hernandez, Seattle’s prized 19-year-old prospect, picks up his first big league victory in his second start as the Mariners blank the Twin, 1-0. Hernandez pitched eight scoreless innings and allowed five hits—all singles—and did not walk a batter. He was the first teenager to win a start in the majors in 21 years. And Hernandez wasted no time doing it, as the game lasted only two hours and one minute, the shortest in Safeco Field history. Now in his 14th season, is King Felix in his twilight?

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)