With Boise State Hall of Famer Pete Kwiatkowski returning to his alma mater to coach the line for the Broncos, the prospects for the defensive line have never looked better. Coach K was one of the all-time leading defensive linemen in Boise State history, with 62 tackles for loss. That total is second in Boise State history only to Erik Helgeson. Kwiatkowski drew raves for his coaching at Montana State, where the Bobcats became the first team in Big Sky history to lead the league in total defense for three consecutive years.
Add in the genius of new Bronco defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who was one of the PAC-10's best coaches at California, and fans can expect huge improvement on the defensive front beginning this season. That has to be scary to opponents for a defensive line that returns three of four starters and was 16th in the country in rushing defense last year and 17th in the nation in sacks.
Boise State was 73rd in tackles for loss with just 5.92 per game behind Western Athletic Conference schools San Jose State, Fresno State and Utah State and schools like UNLV, Washington State and Duke. That's something Kwiatkowski can begin improving right away.
Alex Guerrero was the spirited leader of the defense last year and his hustle and team attitude will be missed. Defensive ends Mike G. Williams (6-3, 244) and Nick Schlekeway (6-4, 262, Jr.), however, are poised for big years. Williams is now a senior and will be counted on to provide leadership, help the rest of his line mates learn the new schemes and system that Wilcox is putting in to place, and help the younger Broncos along. He was a key force last season with 24 tackles, 3 sacks, four tackles for loss, 1 pass breakup and 1 fumble recovery. Former Eagle High School star Schlekeway accounted for 33 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 1 pass deflection and 1 forced fumble in 2005. Schlekeway is strong, fast, and ferocious and gets better and better.
Mike Dominquez (6-2, 255, Sr.) and Mike T. Williams (6-4, 238, So.) are solid backups and could start on many teams. In limited duty, Dominquez responded with 10 tackles, 4 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. Expect Dominquez to play often in passing situations. Williams recorded 8 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 4 pass breakups last season and 28 tackles as a true freshman. He was ranked as one of the top 20 defensive ends in the west coming out of high school. Williams, who played running back for the nation's top-ranked high school team (De La Salle), chose Boise State over Oregon and Washington State.
Those four are so good that pass rush specialist Dennis Ellis (6-3, 270, Sr.), a four-star recruit last year out of junior college, is finding it tough to crack the two-deep. Ellis originally signed with Texas A&M over offers from Texas, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma, among others. He was in on 11 tackles, with 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss in spot duty last year. Look for Kwiatkowski to improve the other facets of Ellis' game so he can see the field more often this fall.
Senior tackle Andrew Browning (6-0, 278) is an award candidate as the veteran of this group and another example of the high success rate of walk-ons at Boise State. Browning has been named outstanding defensive lineman for the Broncos each of the last two years, earning 2nd team All-WAC last year and Honorable Mention his sophomore year. Browning recorded 35 tackles (8th on the team), 1 sack and 3.5 tackles for loss in 2005. In '04, he finished with 31 tackles, 4.5 for loss, a sack and a forced fumble in helping Boise State rank 10th nationally against the run. After redshirting in 2002, Browning played extensively as a freshman, recording 31 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a pass breakup. He is a hard worker that will only get better.
Senior Tim Volk (6-2, 289) will take Guerrero's spot and big things are expected of him. He's been a part-time starter the last two years at both defensive tackle and end and possesses good leg strength. Volk has gained over 25 pounds in preparation for this fall. At Notre Dame High School in Thousand Oaks, California, Volk's play for a 21-2-1 team earned him accolades from the Los Angeles Times as a member of its First-Team Defense. Juniors Dan Gore (6-5, 300) and Ian Smart (6-3, 278), both who have only seen limited action in their Bronco careers, provide backup at tackle. Gore has gained 50 pounds since coming to Boise State, thanks to the work of strength and conditioning Coach Jeff Pitman. Joe Bozikovich (6-1, 294, So.) was highly thought of when recruited to Boise State, being named Defensive Player of the Year in the Portland Interscholastic League--expect him to see playing time this year as well.And, Boise State has also added Steven Reveles (6-1, 263) of Ventura College in California, who will be a junior this fall. He was a two-time all-conference player at Ventura.
In the past, Boise State has generally adopted the "bend but don't break" philosophy on defense. Although Wilcox will still stress stopping the run as the number one priority, Kwiatkowski was hired to teach aggressiveness to his troops. The huge improvement in the Bronco secondary will help out the defensive line tremendously. It is not a stretch to think Boise State can move into the top ten in quarterback sacks this year. One area the Broncos will need to improve on is containment. Too many times in the last few years they have successfully pressured the quarterback, only to let him slip away for big gains. This has cost Boise State dearly in big games like the 2004 Liberty Bowl against Louisville.
The 2006 Boise State defense will be vastly improved from recent years. It will be that stingy, aggressive, hard-hitting, ball-hawking defense that should keep the Broncos in every game this year no matter what the circumstances. The play of the defensive line will be crucial to the high hopes for the Bronco "D". That's where it all starts. Defense wins championships, and the Bronco defensive line will be one of its finest in years.
Bronco Two Deep:
LE--Schlekeway, Mike T. Williams
RE--Mike G. Williams, Dominquez