By Chadd Cripe
© 2011 Idaho Statesman
Boise State’s defensive line was touted as one of the best in the nation last season.
It returns nearly in tact — but players say they won’t relax.
“There’s definitely that confidence,” senior tackle Chase Baker said. “We’ve got to make sure it doesn’t become an arrogance, because we can definitely afford to get better in a lot of places. We have to keep that chip and understand we have a lot of room to grow.”
The Broncos expect to start four seniors on the defensive line — Baker and Billy Winn at tackle and Shea McClellin and Tyrone Crawford at end. They lost end Ryan Winterswyk, a three-time All-WAC performer, but gain junior tackle Mike Atkinson (suspended most of last year) and a talented class of incoming freshmen.
The seniors hope to set the tone for the backups who will become starters in 2012 — guys like sophomore Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe and Atkinson.
Baker remembers looking up to veterans like Joe Bozikovich when he was a freshman.
“They showed you how to work,” he said. “We have the same responsibility to show them we have a certain way of doing things and you go hard every play.”
Baker likes what he sees from Atkinson, long considered a future star. Atkinson was coming on strong last season when he was suspended for the final nine games for violating team rules.
“He’s really putting himself in a position this year to do big things,” Baker said. “He won’t be a surprise because everybody knows what he can do, but this will be his year.”
Baker lives with Atkinson and has seen firsthand his dedication to becoming a reliable player.
“He messed up but he’s on the right track,” Baker said. “It’s up to him and he knows that. Just living with him, you can see a huge change. He has no intentions of messing things up. He’s beyond precautious now.”
Tight end Kyle Efaw has stepped into a leadership role this season. It’s not exactly the soft-spoken Capital High grad’s comfort zone. He is the only senior tight end on the roster.
“It’s very weird not to have someone else in the room who’s an old vet, who’s older than me, someone I look up to,” Efaw said. “There’s a little more responsibility on me to show the guys how to act and how to practice. … I’m not the greatest leader. I’m not a big vocal guy. If they have questions, I just want the young guys to feel comfortable with me and not feel like it would be a dumb question.
“… At the same time, I’ve still got to focus on improving my own game because it’s not all pretty there, either.”