Breaking down the Boise State football team's defensive line: Inexperienced ends try to replace NFL-bound stars

By Chadd Cripe
ccripe@idahostatesman.com
© 2011 Idaho Statesman

I’m running a series of blog posts breaking down each position on the Boise State football team.

Previously: Offensive line, tight ends/fullbacks, specialists, linebackers, quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers

Today: Defensive line

Returning starters (0 of 5): None.

Key losses: The Broncos often started five defensive linemen last year, and all of them likely will be in NFL camps — ends Shea McClellin, Tyrone Crawford and Jarrell Root and tackles Billy Winn and Chase Baker. They gave the Broncos one of the best defensive lines in the nation the past two seasons.

Key returners: The Broncos have played two defensive line groups in recent years and the tackles on the second line return — senior Mike Atkinson (31 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss) and junior Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe (15 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks in seven games). Sophomore defensive end Tyler Horn (seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks) also played on the second line last year.

Other players to watch: The top two candidates for the stud end position — the outside linebacker/end hybrid spot McCellin played — are junior college transfer Demarcus Lawrence and redshirt freshman Sam Ukwuachu, who have been impressive this spring. Senior Darren Koontz, who has fought through position changes and injuries during his career, should be a significant factor at the traditional end spot. Sophomore Beau Martin, a transfer from Colorado State Pueblo who redshirted last year, is an intriguing player with a knack for getting to the quarterback.

Other linemen: End Nick Alexander (jr.), end Kharyee Marshall (jr.), tackle Robert Ash (fr.), tackle Rory Connop (jr.), tackle David Cushing (sr.), end Elliot Hoyte (true fr.), tackle Justin Jungblut (jr.), tackle Greg Grimes (sr.), tackle Jeff Worthy (fr.)

Projected starters: Koontz/Horn, Lawrence/Ukwuachu, Atkinson, Tjong-A-Tjoe

Joining in August: Ends Sam McCaskill (Eugene, Ore.) and Darien Barrett (Inglewood, Calif.).

Notes/quotes:

— The line is being coached by newcomer Andy Avalos and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. “We get on them,” Avalos said. “We coach them hard. We expect them to have a mentality that is second to none in terms of toughness and being physical football players. They’re a great group of kids.”

— The Broncos don’t have anyone with experience at the stud end position, which requires a combination of line skills and pass coverage skills. The three players practicing there — Lawrence, Ukwuachu and Martin — haven’t played a down of major college football. “It’s a big challenge for those guys,” Avalos said. “They’ve got a lot to learn in a little amount of time. … We don’t have any time to waste.”

— Avalos on replacing the starting D-line: “They understand the challenges in front of them. We’ve just got to come every day in the meeting rooms, starting when we get to the facility, with a purpose and get better. The guys are starting to understand what that means. Are we there yet? Are we doing it right every day? No. But they’re starting to understand, and that’s a step forward.”

•••

Boise State recruit Joey Martarano of Fruitland High is the top corner infielder in the baseball draft class of 2013, according to ESPN.com. That could give Martarano a difficult decision next spring.

•••

Atkinson is listed as a “potential sleeper” in the CFL draft this year. Crawford is one of the top prospects but plans to play in the NFL instead.

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What's the bigger question mark

The D-line or QB?

QB

I have no concerns with the defensive line. Atkinson and TAT are great, and Demarcus Lawrence is supposed to be a total beast. With Hightower returning to the FS position, and Ioane making major improvements, I'm not worried about the DBs either. My only question mark for the defense is the LB Corps.

To Mike Atkinson

I rarely write comments, but this one is worth my time.

The CFL would be crazy not to draft you. That said, Bronco fans would be really bummed if you left early, the NFL would rather have you stick around Boise, you'd miss the weather here, you wouldn't get your degree, you'd all-around regret it!
I could think of more reasons, but I'd better get back to work now.

Atkinson

It's not that he'd leave. The CFL just drafts guys as they're going into their redshirt senior year and the team retains the rights for next season.