- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOISE, Idaho -- Kellen Moore has gotten early Heisman buzz and deservedly so. Anybody who throws for more than 3,500 yards and only three interceptions in a season should get praise heaped his way.
Moore might be many things, but he is not a one-man offensive machine. Experienced playmakers surround him at receiver and running back. In fact, starting running back Jeremy Avery and starting receivers Titus Young and Austin Pettis are seniors, and have been in their share of big games along the way.
With 10 starters returning on offense, this unit should be even better than the 2009 version. So who are the major players to watch once the No. 3 Broncos kick off the season against No. 10 Virginia Tech on Sept. 6?
Start with the backfield. Avery, at 5-foot-9 and 179 pounds, is a mini battering ram and plays with an unquestioned motivation. He led the team with 1,151 yards and six touchdowns last season, and added 23 receptions for 257 yards and a score.
"He's got that mentality about him that he's always proving something," offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said. "He's not that big, but he plays like he's a 6-2, 210-pound running back. He's so motivated all the time, you're thinking, 'Gosh I need to be like that.'"
It wasn't Avery who led the team in rushing to start the 2009 season. It was D.J. Harper, another 5-9 back. Harper had 284 yards and three touchdowns before he tore his ACL in the third game, against Fresno State, ending his season. Harper has returned and is looking forward to starting the season the way his 2009 campaign ended.
Whereas Avery won't be afraid to tell you he has that extra dose of motivation, Harper is more reserved. A thinker and analyzer, Harper absorbs all the information before jumping out with his opinion.
That is the opposite of Young and Pettis, who form the best receiver duo in the WAC. The two combined for 142 receptions, 1,896 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. Pettis caught a school-record 14 TD passes, including five against Idaho. Young led the team with 1,041 yards. He added two touchdowns on kickoff returns.
Both are known as jokesters off the field, but the second they get on the field, you would be hard pressed to catch them crack a smile. Young even trash talks with a straight face.
"We know when things get serious and we know when to joke around," Pettis says. "Out at practice, it's a little more light, but in team drills you have to make plays."
Pettis, at 6-3, played basketball and ran track in high school. He presents matchup problems because of his height and has developed into Moore's go-to receiver. Pettis broke his leg late last season and missed one game. Although he wasn't completely healthy, he made it back and played sparingly in the Fiesta Bowl.
He had one catch, but it was a big one -- on fourth-and-3 from the TCU 25. He made a 5-yard reception, and the drive ended in a field goal to put the Broncos up 10-0 in the second quarter on their way to a 17-10 win.
"Kellen decided on him because he's a playmaker and he knew he'd get it done," Harsin said. "You trust that guy. He's going to make that play, and he did."
Other guys you can't count out: receiver Tyler Shoemaker, who has had a nice fall camp, and running back Doug Martin, who finished last season with 765 yards and 15 TDs. All three running backs are 5-9, but none plays that way.
It seems every player knows each other, too, having developed a chemistry that comes from not only playing, but being in team meetings and offseason workouts.
"Our offense is a big family," Young said. "Just like brothers."
Andrea Adelson is a national college football blogger for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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