The 2012 Boise State Broncos rebuilding project is now underway.
It is well known by now that Boise State will have to replace some very impressive players from the 2011 squad. There will be many talented players lining up to win those replacement spots, and you can bet the competition produces some worthy starters.
However, one of the problems BSU will face in several areas is depth.
Last year depth wasn't an issue for the most part. Perhaps the one exception to that would have been the defensive backfield. The Broncos had several key players out for most or part of the year, and against TCU, it really hurt them.
This year the Broncos will face depth problems in a few other areas. There are a handful of players that will certainly need to stay healthy and perform if BSU has any hope of taking home a Mountain West title.
Let's look at five players that nothing can happen to in 2012.
The Boise State defensive line has been the heart and soul of the Bronco defense for the last few seasons.
However, nearly all of the stars of 2011 have left for bluer pastures, and it leaves a handful of guys with the huge weight of stepping up.
Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe is one of those guys. He is going to be key for the Boise State success in 2012.
Last season, Tjong-A-Tjoe (say that five times fast) was suspended for six games because of improper benefits from his host family.
He had been a foreign exchange student in high school, and the family treated him like one of their own. Apparently the NCAA frowns on that kind of kindness. So, Tjong-A-Tjoe and two other players from Amsterdam had to sit out a bit.
But, Ricky is back, and opposing offenses will have some splainin' to do.
As long as he stays healthy, Tjong-A-Tjoe will be a force for the Broncos. He will be one of the few veterans with serious game time, and his leadership will be much needed.
He is one player that Boise State can ill afford to lose.
As long as we are on the subject of the defensive line, let's look at another piece to the puzzle that cannot be lost in the couch cushions.
Michael Atkinson is having a great spring, and that should translate to a great season.
However, if Atkinson goes down at any point in the year, it could spell serious trouble for that shallow defensive line of the Broncos.
Of course, there are a lot of young guys coming on board and wanting to prove they belong, so you never know about the depth issue. But, as it stands now Atkinson is a key player that BSU doesn't want to lose in 2012.
Some might be scratching their heads right now. Dan Paul they might ask? Why is Dan Paul so key that the Broncos can't afford to lose him in 2012?
Paul is a fullback that knows how to block. The thinnest spot on the Boise State roster, at least right now, is running back.
Not only does Paul pick up a few carries here and there, but he is also very key as a lead blocker.
Last year Paul missed the season with an injury, but Boise State had Doug Martin, D.J. Harper and Drew Wright. With that depth, it allowed BSU to give Martin a rest and some protection from injury. As a result, the Broncos running game didn't suffer.
However, 2012 will be different. There are only two running backs on the roster with any kind of experience, and one of them is D.J. Harper who has missed two previous years with injury.
Paul will be key in leading the way. Look for him to do his job and to do it well. But, if for some reason he is sent out for a game or two or even the season, the BSU running game will suffer greatly.
As previously mentioned, the running game is the slimmest spot on the roster.
D.J. Harper will be the starter and Drew Wright his backup. Wright looked good in a few opportunities last season, and he should do well as a change of pace opposite Harper.
Other than Harper and Wright, the Broncos don't have much experience behind them. Jay Ajayi came to Boise last season with high hopes, but those hopes were dashed with a knee injury. He should be back in time for fall camp, but it will be interesting to see how his knee holds up and how his first time running a ball at the college level turns out.
Behind him there will be a pair of new guys. Jack Fields and Devan Demas will join the Broncos in the summer, but both will need some serious catching up just to make the field in 2012.
Wright will need the year of his life, and the Broncos can't afford to lose him along the way.
D.J. Harper is the one player the Broncos can least afford to lose.
He will be the man when it comes to the running game, as previously noted.
Harper is in his sixth year of eligibility because of two missed seasons lost to knee injuries. He has the maturity, leadership and overall talent to be considered a huge key for the Boise State offense.
It would be a huge blow to the Broncos offense and entire team if Harper was lost at any point of the 2012 season.
One thing is for sure, you can bet Coach Pete is already formulating a plan to protect him.
This is where Dan Paul and Drew Wright will be so critical. Both of those guys, along with a few new contributors, should give Harper the rest and protection he needs.
He will also be running behind a good offensive line, and that will help him as well.
If at the end of the season Harper has over 1,000 yards, you can expect the Broncos to be carrying home a Mountain West title. That is how important he will be to their success.