Perhaps no position on the Boise State football team will showcase as many playmakers of the future as the defensive line.
The rotation could include three true freshmen, two redshirt freshmen and a true sophomore this season.
"We have a lot of young guys who are quick and explosive," senior starting nose tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe said. "That's what we need."
The young guys will fill the gaps around a veteran core of linemen led by Tjong-A-Tjoe, junior All-Mountain West defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, junior tackle/end Tyler Horn, senior stud end Kharyee Marshall and junior end Beau Martin.
Expected to contribute: redshirt freshman stud end Sam McCaskill, true freshman stud ends Kamalei Correa and Gabe Perez, true sophomore tackle Armand Nance and possibly true freshman tackle Nick Terry and redshirt freshman end Darien Barrett.
Only six of the 16 defensive linemen on the roster have significant game experience.
"For us to be successful, we're going to have to have young guys step up," Horn said.
The Broncos also hope to get a quick impact out of junior college transfers Justin Taimatuia and Tutulupeatau Mataele at tackle. Mataele is sidelined because of an academic issue.
"We're going to have some guys in there who are going to be playing for the first time," defensive line coach Andy Avalos said. "Any season, that's going to be the way it is. It's those guys around them who will take care of them and get them rolling, and we feel good about our two-deep right now."
The first-team line, which usually plays a little more than half of a game, should be stout.
Lawrence led the Mountain West with 9.5 sacks last year. Tjong-A-Tjoe made All-Mountain West honorable mention. Horn was second on the team with five sacks. And Marshall, the likely season-opening starter at the hybrid end/linebacker position called stud, is the fastest lineman on the team.
They'll try to extend the recent Boise State tradition of tone-setting play in the trenches.
"We have to. We don't have a choice," Tjong-A-Tjoe said. "The guys before us showed us how to do it. If we just keep that in mind and keep working hard, we're going to do what we need to do."
The next group, which rotates into games on schedule even if that means defending a key play, is the question mark.
Martin, who made one start and 2.5 sacks last year, provides some experience at end. The tackles likely will be Nance and Taimatuia, two players who impressed during fall camp.
"It's one day at a time," Avalos said of Taimatuia. "I've gotta keep reminding him of that. He's in the fast lane right now, but he's got some ability. We just keep chipping away at it."
The most intrigue is at stud behind Marshall.
McCaskill, who impressed in spring ball and early in fall camp, missed the open fall scrimmage with an injury.
Marshall also was sidelined, which presented Correa (6-foot-2, 244 pounds) and Perez (6-4, 226) with an opportunity to show they belong on the field.
Coach Chris Petersen said after the scrimmage that he expects the two freshmen to play.
"We're going to continue to bring them along - I'd like to say slowly, but I don't know if we can bring them along slowly," he said. "Those guys are going to be in the mix and we've got two weeks (now eight days) to get them right."
How much they play could depend on Marshall, who has appeared in 26 games during his career but hasn't stayed healthy long enough to fulfill the potential coaches have seen.
"Kharyee can do some things," Avalos said. "Kharyee is physical. Kharyee will strike some people. He's got a good burst. It's going to be his year to step up and be a great leader and have fun out there on the field."
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