It is no secret inside the Bleymaier Football Complex that Boise State’s defensive line is the biggest unknown.
Two of the eight players on the two-deep depth chart for the Poinsettia Bowl return, and 17.5 of the 22 sacks the unit accumulated were by players no longer on the team. It’s not a stretch to think the group could take a step back without a ton of experience like it had last season.
It’s also a perfect opportunity for everyone to make plays to fill the void.
“We’re definitely motivated to prove ourselves. I think there’s a lot of doubt outside these four walls,” senior tackle Elliot Hoyte said.
Through fall camp, the Broncos feel more confident in the group, which needed to develop depth behind Hoyte and sophomore David Moa inside, senior Sam McCaskill at end and sophomore Jabril Frazier/junior Gabe Perez at STUD.
Fresh faces like transfer Daniel Auleua, freshmen Chase Hatada and Emmanuel Fesili and redshirt freshman Sam Whitney have taken a step up in fall camp. On Tuesday, coach Bryan Harsin said the unit is “not as big a question mark for us and our team as everyone else thinks” because of how it has responded.
“I just think they’ve accepted that challenge. ... They’re not stupid, they knew the exact question that was going to come out: How is this D-line going to do anything with all those guys gone?’’ Harsin said. “They’ve got a little bit of an attitude, a chip on their shoulder.”
What the line has beyond the guys in the trenches is an accomplished teacher. Steve Caldwell said before fall camp he was excited for this season, as it would be one of the biggest challenges in more than 30 years as an assistant coach. With a big smile, he said he was “nervous” going into spring practices, but was happy with how the group stepped up.
“We don’t have the depth. We might not have the athletic ability we had last year, but if we can do everything the way we’re taught, we can be a pretty good defensive line,” Caldwell said.
Helping lead that technically sound group is McCaskill, who was named a team captain Tuesday. Set at end, he moved to tackle in 2014 as a sophomore after Tyler Horn was lost for the season in the opener, then started every game despite being outsized regularly.
“He was able to do that because he does everything right, and you better believe I make sure those young guys watch him,” Caldwell said.
McCaskill and Hoyte’s four career sacks are second-most among returning players, behind Perez’s six. Perez did not play last season with a shoulder injury, but performed well in a backup role his first two seasons. He’s been competing with Frazier and Whitney during camp at the STUD spot vacated by Kamalei Correa, who left for the NFL Draft. Frazier had 2.5 sacks, four tackles for loss and two pass breakups playing behind Correa last season as a redshirt freshman.
“It doesn’t matter who’s the starter, we know we’re both going to play a lot,” Frazier said of competing with Perez. “We put in a couple new packages where we’re both on the field, so we know when it’s game time, we both have to go out and make plays, help the team out. It’s going to be ugly for some quarterbacks in our league.”
Hoyte and Moa have been solid pass rushers in limited action, but they’ll now be taking on larger roles. Hoyte has sought to improve his rush defense, and Moa has tried to learn from McCaskill, listed at 6-foot-3, 271 pounds (small for a nose tackle). Being stout against the run is perhaps even more of a hole to fill than the sacks, as the Broncos were excellent against the run last season, finishing fifth in the country (108.2 yards per game). The 11 non-option opponents averaged 80.4 yards a game.
It is certainly a motivated group, but one with plenty of unknowns. The line is eager to hit the field Sept. 3 at Louisiana to finally show it, summed up by how McCaskill describes his fellow linemen.
“I’d say hungry,” he said. “We have a lot to prove. We haven’t done anything.”
NEWS AND NOTES
BSU named its four captains Tuesday: McCaskill, senior LB Ben Weaver, senior WR Thomas Sperbeck and sophomore QB Brett Rypien. ... Harsin said true freshmen DTs Chase Hatada and Emmanuel Fesili, CBs Reid Harrison-Ducros and DeAndre Pierce, WR Bubba Ogbebor and S Kekoa Nawahine have worked with the “varsity” group, not the scout team. “We’re certainly preparing for them to play,” Harsin said. ... Junior walk-on LB Blake Whitlock was given a scholarship. He joined the team this summer from Saddleback (Calif.) College.
D-line depth chart (projected)
- DE Sam McCaskill, 6-3, 259, RSr.: Has 37 games of experience, started at DT in 2014, technically sound leader
- DT Elliot Hoyte, 6-4, 279, RSr.: Made one start in 2015, has four sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss last two seasons
- NT David Moa, 6-3, 271, RSo.: Played five games in mop-up role, but has been offseason standout
- STUD Jabril Frazier, 6-4, 239, RSo.: Big and athletic, he performed well as a backup, could be poised to break out
- DE Durrant Miles, 6-5, 244, So.: One of four true freshmen to play last season; has played some STUD, too
- DT Daniel Auelua, 6-2, 293, Jr.: Had 7.5 TFLs and forced three fumbles in nine games last season at Mesa CC
- NT Chase Hatada, 6-3, 268, Fr.: Has quickly impressed teammates, coaches; dad, Ian, ran track at BSU
- STUD Gabe Perez, 6-4, 234, RJr.: Interchangable with Frazier for 1-2 punch; has six career sacks, 14.5 TFLs