Boise State Football: Spring Practice Preview for the Linebacker Corps
Last week, we covered Boise State’s offensive line, giving a pre-spring practice preview by breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of the unit, as well as key position battles.
Moving right along, this week we’ll take a look at the linebacker corps for the Broncos, previewing the positions in the same way as the previous two similar-type articles.
For those of you that missed out, below are links to the previous position breakdowns.
Linebacker should be an area of focus for the coaching staff during spring practices, due to the fact that the Broncos will be replacing both starters for 2013. However, the prospects look good that Boise State will be strong at the position this coming season.
To clarify, this article will break down the strengths, weaknesses and key position battles for the linebacker positions.
Let’s take a look at the 2013 Boise State Broncos linebacker corps.
While the Broncos will attempt to find replacements for both linebackers in their nickel package defense, it isn’t as though Coach Petersen will be completely stripped at the position this coming season.
Thankfully, Boise State had a couple of young players waiting in the wings to take over for graduating seniors J.C. Percy and Tommy Smith in junior Blake Renaud and sophomore Tyler Gray.
Unlike Percy and Smith, neither Renaud nor Gray were redshirted during their first year with the program, so it will be interesting to see whether the two are truly ready to take on more than a reserve role with the team.
However, it is encouraging that Renaud and Gray appeared in all 13 games for the Broncos in 2012, so they are far from completely inexperienced.
As a reserve last season, Renaud was a tackling machine, racking up a total of 46 tackles while also breaking up three passes and forcing a fumble. Expectations for Renaud should be particularly high for the next two seasons.
Gray recorded 27 total tackles in 2012 and also had an interception.
This is an area on defense where the Broncos can really build around for the future. As a sophomore, Gray has the potential to be one of the defensive leaders as an upperclassman if he continued to develop. Renaud could be a leader from the onset.
In addition, both Renaud and Gray will be able to help groom new recruits such as Joe Martarano, Gabe Perez and Tanner Vallejo, all recruits from the signing class of 2013.
While the Broncos appear to have capable replacements for their departing seniors, there is still the concern as to how the transition will affect Renaud and Gray.
With the loss of Percy and Smith, Boise State is losing its leading and third-leading tacklers from last season.
Percy will be especially missed, averaging slightly over nine tackles per game and accounting for almost twice the amount of solo tackles (70) as the next closest player—Jeremy Ioane (who recorded 40 solo tackles).
It is not a major concern, but still one that the coaches will have to monitor as early as the spring practices. How are the linebackers on the team responding without the leadership of Percy and Smith? Will the Broncos struggle to contain the short passing game in the middle of the field?
All of these are questions that Boise State must address quickly.
Another issue the Broncos may have at the linebacker positions is a lack of depth. Although it was a point of emphasis to sign as many defensive players as possible, the Broncos will still be relying on a couple of athletes that redshirted last season to serve as backups for Renaud and Gray.
Any injuries to those players as the 2013 season wears on could be a huge factor for the Broncos.
Key Position Battles
While it is not set in stone that Blake Renaud and Tyler Gray will start for the Broncos at linebacker, one can assume that it won’t be one of the tougher decisions for the coaching staff to make in the spring.
Other than Renaud and Gray, potential candidates for the two starting linebacker positions are redshirt sophomores Ben Weaver and Andrew Pint.
Weaver and Pint are likely to fill roles similar to the ones that Renaud and Gray had last season, and could end up being fairly important contributors to the team, especially if they perform as well as Renaud did.
However, it is unlikely that either player will seriously contend for a starting spot. Both Renaud and Gray were pinned as starters-in-waiting last season, and it would take an awful lot for that to change.
In other words, linebacker is not the position to focus on during Boise State’s spring practices if you’re looking for heated position battles.
As mentioned earlier, the loss of J.C. Percy and Tommy Smith will be tough. Percy started at least three games each season he played, and even contributed on special teams as late as his senior season. Smith came on nicely as well, and the senior leadership each player provided will be tough to replace.
However, Renaud has shown signs that he could become a very solid starter for the Broncos. Gray could be an asset in the coverage game, as he is 6’4” and has a wide wingspan to knock down passes.
In other words, Boise State shouldn’t have a terribly difficult time patching up the holes that were created from the senior departures.
When a team must replace an entire section of its defense, it is usually an area of great concern, and one where the team will probably have issues with at some point during the upcoming season.
But in the case of Boise State, the defense should be just fine at linebacker in 2013.
Games where the linebackers could have the most impact: BYU, Air Force, Nevada and Utah State.
Be sure to follow along with our continued spring practice previews, as we work through the rest of the 2013 Boise State squad. Next segment we’ll return to the offense and take a look at the wide receivers.