Last year, the Bronco defensive line enjoyed the best of times and the worst of times. Against very good, traditional offenses such as Southern Mississippi and Fresno State, the Bronco line studded up. And they manhandled the bottom-dwellers of the Western Athletic Conference. But against teams that featured spread formations or mobile quarterbacks, the d-line couldn't consistently disrupt the quarterback or plug the holes. Too often, the defensive end would over-pursue, or a defensive tackle couldn't occupy more than one blocker. It wasn't a precipitous decline, but it was a retraction in excellence.
In all, last year's defensive line still was a part of the best overall defensive crew of the WAC, but it was not as dominant as the defenses Bronco fans have become accustomed to. For the Broncos to return to championship form, the defense must reassert itself as an elite team, capable of going toe-to-toe with the very best. The coaching staff has done some intriguing reshuffling that appears to take advantage of its mix of experienced seniors and athletic freshmen.
While it is easy to bemoan that last year there was no Andy Browning or Alex Guerrero to be the tenacious, nasty, and stout DT, the Broncos bring a mix of experience, smarts, and heft. It is this depth that might yield the best surprise for the Broncos in 2008. Veteran Sean Bingham (6-3, 260) and seasoned Joe Bozikovich (6-0, 273) are the seniors penciled in as preseason starters at DT. "Boz" certainly has the nasty streak and consistently good technique, but he does come in under 280 lbs. Former defensive end Bingham is even more undersized, but he demonstrated the requisite toughness and execution in spring ball to justify this switch.
Behind these seniors await highly regarded redshirt freshmen Billy Winn (6-4, 282) and Nisby (6-1, 295). Winn was dogged by injuries in spring camp, and so it is very difficult to assess his progress. He brings in athleticism to the position, but he may be one year of development away from a breakout season. Nisby has shown plenty of strength, heft and veracity during spring practice, and with a summer of conditioning, his stamina should improve. In either event, Nisby and Winn will be in the rotations. Grayshirt Chase Baker (6-1, 284) will be in the thick of it as well, listed as the #2 behind Boz; like Nisby, he brings in the fearless attitude and he has a huge motor, and he could just as well be the fireplug Bronco fans have been pining for. Interestingly, Chuck Hayes (6-2, 260) has also been switched to DT, and the move might allow him to come to prominence. With these freshmen, the seniors know that they have to perform, or they will have missed their shot.
While many BroncoCountry posters are drooling over true freshmen Greg Grimes (6-0, 270), Mike Atkinson 6-0, 320) and Darren Koontz (6-3, 255), the depth and seasoned experience above them should allow the coaching staff the luxury of being highly selective in opting to burn one of their redshirts.
The situation at defensive end is much clearer, with Mike Williams (6-3, 248, Sr.) and Ryan Winterswyk (6-4, 258, So.) established as the starting bookends. In terms of pass rushing, Williams and Winterswyk should be the best tandem in the WAC. Winterswyk has enjoyed a full season as a freshman starter, and his considerable football intelligence and awareness (having been a safety in high school) means that he will only improve. As a part of the shuffle, Steven Reveles is being moved to the DE slot; slowed by injuries last season, he'll become a valuable role player. Set in as #2 behind Williams is redshirt freshman Jarrell "Voltron" Root, last year's Scout team defensive player of the year. Root sat out spring ball with an injury, but he should recover and gain considerable experience with the rotations. Clearly Root is being groomed to become the next bookend to Winterswyk, giving the Broncos a top-tier tandem for the future. Shea McClellin (6-3, 255) is a grayshirt freshman, a converted running back from Marsing, and may find some time being placed into the rotation.
The prospects for improvement in the defensive line's performance are very good. That Will Lawrence moved to the offensive line likely indicates the kind of depth Boise State has on the DL to allow for that movement. Mike Williams has been named a team captain, and he has other senior leadership who should be able to guide the unit to excellence. It is their year to prove it. And if not, the Broncos have a truckful of freshmen ready to introduce themselves to the WAC just as Winterswyk did last year.
Join us tomorrow for a look at the Bronco linebackers this fall!