Every starter on the line is gone, and so are two defensive backs who combined for 36 career interceptions. The losses are significant, but the Broncos feel confident they can be a stout group.
“I don’t see any question marks at all,” senior cornerback Jonathan Moxey said. “All I see is that we lost a lot of great players, but we have a lot of great players. We all were recruited to play Division I football for a reason.”
What the Broncos do return is a loaded linebacking corps that includes two seniors who have started 30 games apiece, plus a starting cornerback in Moxey and two safeties (Dylan Sumner-Gardner and Chanceller James) who started multiple games last season.
Each group is peppered with experienced players, even if not in starting roles. Senior end Sam McCaskill is the only member of that group with more than one career start, and his 13 came as a sophomore.
“We all kind of saw this coming with all the seniors leaving, so everybody kind of prepared themselves before this season even started,” McCaskill said.
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The 318.3 yards allowed per game last season was good for 12th in the nation, but the Broncos also allowed 20 plays of 40 yards or more. Only 18 teams yielded more, according to CFBStats.com.
“We have a huge emphasis on making teams one-dimensional ... not just playing good for 70 snaps. But if they snap it 80 times, we play 10 bad plays and there are five touchdowns, we didn’t have a good night, so cutting down the explosives will be big for us,” linebacker Ben Weaver said.
In the four losses, the Broncos gave up a combined 155 points (38.8 per game). In their nine wins, they allowed 108 (12 ppg). Coaches emphasized solid tackling and communication this spring and into the fall, which they hope cuts down on big gains.
“We had signs of dominating defense, and we had times of being dominated. We’ve got to be more consistent,” McCaskill said.
Not only will the defense see a lot of fresh faces (a half dozen true freshmen could play early), but the coaching staff has been mixed up on that side of the ball.
Linebackers coach Andy Avalos takes over as defensive coordinator after Marcel Yates departed for Arizona, and two new assistants were brought in: cornerbacks coach Ashley Ambrose and safeties coach Gabe Franklin. Ambrose, a 12-year NFL veteran, came from Texas State, and Franklin, a former Boise State cornerback, was hired from UTEP.
“What I like about the philosophy is that we haven’t changed it a lot, that we’ve kind of stayed the same with it,” linebacker Darren Lee said.
“(Avalos) was here, he’s always been here, he played here. He brought guys on — Ambrose, very experienced in the NFL, Franklin played here, so they’ve all kind of shared that unit philosophy of ‘get after it,’ they’ve simplified everything down really well for us.”
TURNOVER IN TURNOVERS
The Broncos will need to fill voids left by key playmakers on a defense that forced 31 turnovers. Cornerback Donte Deayon and safety Darian Thompson had four and five interceptions, respectively. Players responsible for 12-of-22 interceptions and 5-of-9 fumble recoveries departed.
DEPTH CHART (PROJECTED)
94 Sam McCaskill
91 Durrant Miles
96 Elliot Hoyte
90 Daniel Auelua
48 David Moa
93 Chase Hatada
8 Jabril Frazier
33 Gabe Perez
7 Joe Martarano
44 Darren Lee
51 Ben Weaver
38 Leighton Vander Esch
20 Tanner Vallejo
36 Blake Whitlock
2 Jonathan Moxey
25 Raymond Ford
14 Tyler Horton
27 Reid Harrison-Ducros
3 Chanceller James
15 Evan Tyler
37 Cameron Hartsfield
29 Dylan Sumner-Gardner
19 Sean Wale