Gone are seven of the 11 defensive linemen listed on the final depth chart of 2015, two defensive backs who combined for 36 career interceptions now with the New York Giants and an underrated linebacker in camp with the Miami Dolphins.
Yes, the Boise State defense has lost a lot.
But that has created what so many players fight to have — opportunity.
“We don’t have a lot of (experienced) talent, so we have a lot to prove, which is ultimately really good for us,” senior linebacker Ben Weaver said. “Last year coming in, it was like, ‘You have all these guys returning, you’re going to be great.’
“Sometimes, we might’ve thought that, too, and if you have that mentality, you usually lose. Having this unknown ‘what are we going to be,’ it’s exciting to be motivated to prove people wrong and have a chance to show what we can do.”
For the first time since joining the Mountain West, the Broncos don’t have a preseason all-conference player on defense. Perhaps it isn’t the “No-Name Defense” of the 1972 Dolphins, but it is one that isn’t full of stars like last season with Kamalei Correa (Ravens), Darian Thompson and Donte Deayon (Giants) and Tyler Gray (Dolphins).
What’s pushing the new group are some eager to make a name, like senior defensive end Sam McCaskill, a starter in 2014, or senior linebacker Tanner Vallejo, slowed last season by injury and then suspended for the Poinsettia Bowl.
“After last year, we had a lot of players who were humbled, a lot of players who maybe had a little bit of hype and it went away or they got humbled tremendously from their play,” Weaver said. “That, I think, has benefited us so much this offseason. ... It’s about your play on the field, how hard you work. I think a lot of guys realized that this offseason.”
The big names are gone, but the void has been filled by what the team has said was a very productive offseason. Veterans like McCaskill, Vallejo and Weaver have been praised by coaches for helping create a strong bond within their side of the ball. When defensive coordinator Marcel Yates left for Arizona in January, he said some players did not have the team in mind.
Weaver said last month, “I think there are certain players who prepare and train for the wrong reasons.”
Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said that is no longer a concern.
“I feel like (it would be good) if we can address it and make sure we’re not afraid to talk about those things, whether it be the NFL or whatever it be,’’ Avalos said. “Right now, we don’t even feel like that’s kind of an issue. Moving forward we don’t see that being an issue.”
Overseeing a group with the most to prove is line coach Steve Caldwell, who has two experienced seniors in McCaskill and tackle Elliot Hoyte. Both were backups last season. The other two spots on the line will be filled by even more raw talent. With eight signees incoming, reinforcements are on the way, but they’ll need to hit the ground running when camp starts Thursday.
“At my position, we’ve got to prove we can play in this league,” Caldwell said. “It’s a huge challenge, but we’ll also have a lot of good competition.”
Avalos, in his first season as defensive coordinator, said regardless of who is gone, the standard is the same, and that “we shouldn’t fall off in our effort, our ability to create turnovers.” Add a new coordinator, two new position coaches (Ashley Ambrose, cornerbacks, and Gabe Franklin, safeties), and the defense has a ton to prove.
FRESHMEN INTO THE FIRE
Caldwell and Ambrose both said Tuesday they’re entering fall camp expecting some true freshmen to play this season.
Caldwell: “I’m approaching it that I need to get three or four of those guys ready.”
Ambrose: “I think it’s in the cards that one or two of those guys can play for us this season.”
SINGLE-GAME TICKETS ON SALE SOON
Single-game tickets for the home season will go on sale to season-ticket holders Aug. 22, and to the public Aug. 29. Prices for the nonconference games against Washington State and BYU range from $49 to $90, and $29 to $75 for their four Mountain West games.
Senior tickets are $2 less for each game, while juniors are $20 or $30 less for the nonconference games and $18 or $25 less for conference games. Tickets will be available via phone at 426-4737 or at BroncoSports.com/tickets.
Check out a map of the single-game ticket options here.