Through the spring, I’ll preview each position on the Boise State football team.
Today: Defensive line.
D-LINE IS TWO DEEP – AND THEN SOME
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The Broncos will be the envy of many teams across the country this fall because of their incredible depth on the defensive line, a happy accident created by two injuries and an academic issue.
The line includes seven seniors, one a returning starter, and two juniors who are returning starters. Two more talented juniors are in the mix – and one of the top recruits in the 2014 class is a lineman, too.
The Broncos are so deep at tackle that they’ve moved two former starters – senior Tyler Horn and junior Sam McCaskill – from tackle to end.
“We’ve got two and hopefully three deep in there that we can go win our conference with, and that’s what you’re looking for,” defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said. “Our two-deep, you shouldn’t care which one starts. It’s that third guy you’ve really got to get ready.”
That is much of Caldwell’s focus this spring. He’ll lose those seven seniors after the 2015 season, a potentially crippling blow to the depth chart.
“That’s the big thing that I’ve talked to those guys about,” Caldwell said. “I want to get those young guys where we know we can depend on them. ... My goal is to get them ready to roll this fall so they can get a few reps so when we are depending on them to be a starter ... it’s not something new for them. They will have already been in big games and played.”
The senior class is so large because Horn and tackle Justin Taimatuia redshirted last season with injuries. They entered fall camp as seniors but had redshirt years available. Plus, tackle Tutulupeatau Mataele’s career was sidetracked by an academic issue. Instead of playing in 2013-14, he’s playing one year as a redshirt senior in 2015.
That trio has been added to a group that only lost one player from last year’s team, starting end Beau Martin.
“We’re a lot farther along than obviously we were last year with what we’re teaching,” Caldwell said. “I’ve been happy with the way the guys have come out and worked and the carryover from last fall. That’s an exciting part for us.”
PERSONNEL AT A GLANCE
69 Tyler Horn, 6-5, 272, R-Sr.
32 Rondell McNair, 6-2, 244, R-Sr.
94 Sam McCaskill, 6-3, 255, R-Jr.
97 Austin Silsby, 6-3, 244, R-So.
33 Gabe Perez, 6-4, 235, Jr.
8 Kamalei Correa, 6-3, 244, Jr.
14 Kaleb Hill, 6-1, 222, R-Fr.
18 Jabril Frazier, 6-4, 240, R-Fr.
Durrant Miles, 6-4, 220, Fr.
90 Justin Taimatuia, 6-0, 297, R-Sr.
58 Robert Ash, 6-3, 278, R-Sr.
98 Antoine Turner, 6-1, 274, R-Sr.
55 Tutulupeatau Mataele, 6-3, 303, R-Sr.
40 Armand Nance, 6-0, 311, Sr.
96 Elliot Hoyte, 6-4, 271, R-Jr.
99 Dereck Boles, 6-2, 283, R-Fr.
48 David Moa, 6-3, 266, R-Fr.
92 Paul Semons, 6-3, 258, R-Fr.
Matt Locher, 6-3, 250, Fr.
Sam Whitney, 6-3, 235, Fr.
Returning starters (3 of 4): Correa led the team with 12 sacks and 19 tackles for loss last season and finished fifth with 59 tackles as a first-year starter at stud end. Nance, the nose tackle, was the most productive inside player with 36 tackles, six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. McCaskill replaced the injured Horn in the starting lineup and contributed 26 tackles, four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. They combined for 41 starts last season.
Key losses: Beau Martin, the season-long starter at end, was the only senior playing on the defensive line last year. The Broncos must replace his 36 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
Other key returners: Horn, who started the season opener, and Taimatuia, who redshirted with a preseason injury but was a contributor in 2013, add experienced depth to the rotation. Several backups return after showing promise last year: Turner, McNair, Ash, Hoyte and Perez. McNair, a junior college transfer at end, made strides late in the season and recorded a key sack in the Fiesta Bowl. Hoyte recorded 3.5 sacks at tackle. And Perez finished strong for the second straight season, increasing his career total to 14.5 tackles for loss.
Other players to watch: Mataele might be the Broncos’ most intriguing player of 2015. He originally joined the team in 2013 and might have started that fall but was ineligible because of an issue with his junior college academic record. He was out of school that fall and suspended by the NCAA for 2014, when he practiced with the team and was the Defensive Scout Player of the Year. This is his third spring ball with the Broncos and the only year he is eligible to play. Frazier was one of the marquee recruits in the 2014 class but was academically ineligible to practice in the fall, so spring ball is his first chance to show coaches what he can do. His development will affect whether Horn and McCaskill play end or tackle.
Projected starters: Horn (end), Nance (nose), Mataele (tackle), Correa (stud).
Out for spring: Ash, Perez, Mataele (limited), Nance (limited), McCaskill (limited).
Incoming signees: Locher and Whitney were signed to provide long-term depth at tackle. It’s possible at least one of them will grayshirt and join the team in January. Miles is coming off a two-year church mission and likely will need a redshirt year to get himself into football shape.
– Horn and McCaskill, who began their careers at end but have been starters at tackle, are replacing Martin at end this spring. But if Frazier or Hill can provide depth at stud, Perez might move to end and allow the Broncos to slide Horn or McCaskill back to tackle. “Jabril’s really impressive right now in shorts,” Caldwell said after the first two days of practice, in helmets with no pads. “I’m anxious to see what he’ll look like in pads. If (Frazier and Hill) come along, that will allow us to do some other things with Gabe and then that will allow me to do some more things with Tyler and Sam McCaskill.”
– Caldwell on Frazier: “He’s very athletic and he’s catching on real quick. We did some things with him Monday and he just stepped right out there, his first day out, and made plays. He ran to the ball. He’s got some just natural ability.”
– Caldwell on Mataele: “He was down on the scout team last fall and I know one thing – our offensive line didn’t want to block him. He is a man. And we’re just looking forward to seeing how far he can go and what he can do. I think he’s got a chance to be a great player.”
– Correa emerged in fall camp last year and became a first-team All-Mountain West player. He didn’t impress the coaches in the spring. “Kamalei has picked up right where he left off going into fall,” Caldwell said. “He and I had a conversation – I don’t want a spring like he had last spring, and he knows that. He’s really pushing himself to get better. The thing about Kamalei is he’s becoming a better student of the game.”
– Caldwell on Correa as an early-entry prospect for the NFL: “He can play at that level. I’ve never talked to him about leaving early. A number of people have brought it up. I just told Kamalei if it ever does come up, he’s got to get a lot better than he is right now and be more consistent.”
– Nine linemen played in the Fiesta Bowl. Each made a tackle. “When you’re getting that kind of production out of the guys up front, you’ve got a chance to do well,” Caldwell said.
– Coach Bryan Harsin on Horn: “He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he’s ready to go out there and compete. I’m excited for him. We’ll see what happens through this spring. He’s definitely a guy who we felt last year was going to be a big contributor. We feel the same way this year.”
– Horn on redshirting last year: “It was tough. A season-ending injury is never fun. I decided to come back. It was kind of an easy choice. I just got in the weight room, did a lot of stuff in the weight room during practice. I did everything I could to get back as soon as possible.”
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SPRING BALL COVERAGE