FRONT 14 — OR MORE
Boise State has enough depth on the defensive line, at linebacker and at nickel that the backups will play regularly there. It’s possible, in fact, that the entire front seven could consist of backups for a series — a sign of how loaded this defense is.
Linebackers coach Andy Avalos might have the trickiest situation. Junior middle linebacker Tanner Vallejo led the team in tackles last season and junior weak-side linebacker Ben Weaver led the team in 2013. It might be difficult to remove them, but the backups are sophomore middle linebacker Joe Martarano and senior weak-side linebacker Tyler Gray, who were essentially co-starters last year. The two backups combined for 103 tackles.
“There should be guys out there moving at a different speed than anyone else because we’ve got plenty of guys who can get on the field,” Avalos said. “At the same time, if someone is hot and they’re in the zone and they’re making plays left and right, everyone knows the deal, that guy is probably going to roll a little more than the other guy.”
A VALUABLE NICKEL
The Broncos will play with one of the most athletic nickels they’ve had since adding the position to the base defense in 2008 — whether junior Chanceller James, a former safety, or senior Mercy Maston, a former cornerback, is on the field.
It’s a playmaking position. By using a true defensive back in that spot, defensive coordinator Marcel Yates can expand his calls to include situations that require man-to-man coverage from the nickel.
Last year, Vallejo played there.
“That spot is the key to our defense because that’s a guy who can help us out in the run and on the pass,” Yates said. “Whoever is going to win that race has to do it all.”
Senior defensive backs Darian Thompson (14 interceptions) and Donte Deayon (13) could break the school’s FBS record for career interceptions.
Gabe Franklin grabbed 18 interceptions from 2001 to 2004. He is the only player during the FBS era (since 1996) with more picks than Thompson.
The overall school record is 24, set by Steve Forrey from 1968 to 1970.
BIG GUY, LITTLE GUY
Big guy: Senior tackle Tutulupeatau Mataele (6-foot-3, 296 pounds) will make his major college football debut at 27 years old — and likely as a starter. Mataele was on course to start in 2013 until Boise State learned that he had taken a class he wasn’t eligible for at a previous school. That got him suspended from school in the fall of 2013 and suspended from competition by the NCAA in 2014 and left him one season of college eligibility. “It’s time for him to play,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “I’ve heard of Deuce. I’ve seen Deuce. I’ve watched him tear up our offense. It’s time for him to get out there and play.”
Little guy: Donte Deayon (5-9, 155) has grabbed six interceptions in each of the past two seasons. He scored three touchdowns last season — two on interception returns, including one in the Fiesta Bowl, and one on a punt return. He likely will try to add to Boise State’s tradition of sending cornerbacks to the NFL, but his size could be problematic. “He has a lot of personal goals and I know what those are,” defensive backs coach Julius Brown said. “So we have to continue to work to get him to those goals. He’s a very driven kid.”