Reflecting on last season as the Boise State defensive line relied heavily on its starters, junior defensive tackle David Moa smiled and said “I think coach (Steve) Caldwell was getting stressed out.”
Caldwell, the veteran defensive line coach, did not have his easiest year, hoping that a young second unit would step up, but it never quite materialized. This spring, those youngsters now have a little bit of game experience, and despite losing two starters in Sam McCaskill and Elliot Hoyte, there are a lot of players in the mix.
“We’re trying to create depth, obviously, to be a lot better than we were last year, and I see that, it’s progressing slowly,” Caldwell said. “There’s so many young guys out there, but it’s a lot of fun.
“It’s one of the most fun springs I’ve had.”
Considering this will be Caldwell’s 40th season as a coach, that’s a bold statement.
“They told me I’ve mellowed out a little bit, I don’t know if that’s good or bad,” he said Monday as the Broncos returned from spring break.
The Broncos have 14 scholarship defensive linemen, just two of those are seniors (tackle Daniel Auelua and STUD Gabe Perez).
“We feel like we’re getting back to that depth we had a couple years ago,” Caldwell said.
As a team, Boise State had 20 sacks in the first five games, and nine in the eight games after that, as those starters rarely, if ever, got a breather on the sideline.
▪ Junior STUD Jabril Frazier only missed the Cactus Bowl, but was not productive late in the year because of multiple nagging injuries. He had four sacks in the first five games and none afterward. Caldwell said “he didn’t have that quick step, that power he had earlier in the year when we were getting all the sacks.”
▪ Perez missed all of the 2015 season with a shoulder injury and was shelved with another shoulder injury after playing in five games last season. He has practiced in a limited capacity this spring.
“Gabe knows the scheme already, he can help the young guys, he’s always coaching,” Caldwell said. “... If he can stay healthy, his (role) will increase more and more.”
▪ On the topic of the younger linemen who have stepped up, Caldwell said sophomore nose tackle Sonatane Lui “has really stood out,” said fellow sophomore nose tackle Emmanuel Fesili is improving after playing sparingly as a true freshman. He said Fesili, a 300-pounder in high school, could get away with playing upright in high school, but is getting better at lowering his pad level this spring. Caldwell also praised sophomore defensive end Chase Hatada, saying “he’s come a long ways.”
▪ The current top three at the down-linemen spots (STUD is up in the air, though sophomore Sam Whitney and redshirt freshman Curtis Weaver are playing well): junior Durrant Miles, Hatada and redshirt freshman Kayode Rufai at end; Lui, Fesili and sophomore Matt Locher at nose; Moa, Auelua and redshirt freshman Jabari Watson at tackle.
▪ Caldwell is confident that the Broncos can roll three-deep like in 2014, when the team had 47 sacks: “a lot of times, I see these guys that were true freshmen ... their biggest jump will be in fall camp.”
▪ On Moa’s shift from nose tackle to the “3-technique,” it should allow him to be even more disruptive after playing last season as a very undersized nose. His ability to move the right way allowed him to still get a team-high 8.5 sacks. Caldwell laughed that “he’s the only Polynesian guy I’ve ever seen that wasn’t able to put on weight and keep it on.”
“I think it’s huge that we can move him to 3 ... able to get those guys on the field that are true nose guards,” Caldwell said.