For college football junkies, late March to early April can’t come soon enough.
That is when college football teams will shake off the dust from the prior two months of inactivity and begin their spring practice routines to prepare for the upcoming season.
Boise State’s coaching staff should be very excited for the spring drills, considering that they have a solid batch of recruits coming in to go along with an already impressive group of players on the squad.
To help fans get ready for the evaluating period, in the coming weeks, we’ll be breaking down each unit on the Broncos roster, taking a look at the strengths, weaknesses and key position battles in each area.
Kicking things off this week is a look at Boise State’s defensive line, which has anchored the Broncos defense in the past.
Demarcus Lawrence will be the leader of Boise State's defensive line in 2013.
The Broncos will be returning three of the four starters from 2012 on its defensive front this coming year, and that will be a huge boost for them, especially early in the season.
The trio of Demarcus Lawrence, Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe and Samuel Ukwuachu were productive for the Broncos last season, combining for 120 total tackles (25 for loss) and 15.5 sacks. They were a big reason, along with senior Michael Atkinson, why the Broncos were one of the best run defenses in the Mountain West last season.
Lawrence is definitely the leader of the group heading into 2013, establishing himself as an excellent pass-rusher by racking up over half of those 15.5 total sacks last year. Look for Lawrence to become the leader of this unit with the departure of nose tackle Michael Atkinson.
The Broncos also did a nice job of finding a potential replacement for Atkinson by signing junior college recruit Justin Taimatuia as well as Kamalei Correa and Nick Terry.
Taimatuia, who is a big body at 6’2”, 295 pounds, appears to be the likely heir to Atkinson’s starting spot. A 3-star athlete, as rated by Rivals.com, Taimatuia’s size makes him the most comparable to Atkinson of the three class of 2013 pickups.
Hopefully for Boise State, Taimatuia can become an intimidating force in the middle that makes opposing teams shy away of running up the gut. Atkinson’s stats don’t necessarily tell the entire story, but he was instrumental in Boise State’s strong run defense during the nine games he played in 2012.
Losing Michael Atkinson could pose problems for the Broncos, who struggled without the big nose tackle near the end of last season.
Replacing Michael Atkinson will be tough. Here is why.
During the nine games that Atkinson played, Boise State’s run defense was solid, and very few teams wanted to try to run the ball up the middle in fear of meeting the 6’0”, 306-pound monster at nose tackle.
After Atkinson got hurt in Boise State’s game against San Diego State, the defensive line suffered a bit.
In the Broncos’ final four games, the defense only held one team (Hawaii) to less than 150 total rushing yards. Twice in that span, the opposing offense managed to gash Boise State for over 200 yards rushing.
It is a solid argument to say that three of the four teams Boise State played during that span (Hawaii, Colorado State, Nevada and Washington) had a powerful run game or had an offense that was predicated on running the ball. But anyone who watched the Broncos could see the difference on defense without Atkinson in the middle.
The biggest challenge for the Broncos heading into next season will be finding an adequate replacement for Atkinson. This will need to start during spring practice, as it appears the replacement will be one of the three recruits mentioned in the last slide.
Tyler Horn will be amongst the group of players vying for the starting nose tackle spot this spring.
There is really only one key position battle that will begin during the Broncos’ spring practices. That battle is for the starting nose tackle position.
Lawrence, Tjong-A-Tjoe and Ukwuachu should return as starters in 2013 unless they show significant regression. Lawrence is arguably the most talented of the bunch at this point, and Ukwuachu has significant upside being only a redshirt sophomore.
There are three players that will likely be considered at some point by the coaching staff to replace Atkinson: Justin Taimatuia, junior Tyler Horn and perhaps either Kamalei Correa or Nick Terry.
Taimatuia definitely has the advantage in the size department, but Horn is the only one of the bunch that has put on a Boise State uniform before. One has to imagine that it will be an open battle to see which one has the inside track to the starter’s spot after spring practice.
This will be one of the most interesting position battles on either side of the ball for the Broncos. Replacing Atkinson will be huge, and Boise State will know early on in the season whether it made the right choice when it takes on Washington in a Las Vegas Bowl rematch.
Chris Petersen will be relying on the defensive front in 2013 more than he did last season, thanks to departures in the defensive secondary.
Overall, the defensive line is a pretty strong unit. Bringing back three starters definitely makes things easier, and the fact that the line was pretty solid for most of 2012 suggests good things for this coming season.
But again, replacing Atkinson remains high on the “to-do” list for the coaching staff.
The secondary was the strongest unit in Boise State’s defense in 2012, but this year the Broncos will rely on the bigger guys to set the tone for the squad.
The defensive line may ultimately decide whether or not Boise State remains one of the best defensive units in the Mountain West in 2013.
Games where the defensive line could have the most impact: Washington, Nevada, Utah State (if applicable), San Diego State (if applicable).
Be sure to return next week when the second installment of the spring practice position breakdowns continues. We will take a look at the Broncos offensive line in that segment.