In this preview, we'll take a good look at what keeps
offensive coordinators tossing and turning in their beds at night and we'll
catch up with former defensive tackle Joe Bozikovich in a humorous and often
irreverent look at the current line, how they have performed in the past, what
it will take for them to continue their success, as well as a myriad of other
For the first time in recent memory, the Bronco D-Line
returns the entire two-deep. This is
a unit that held opponents to just 120 rushing yards per game including holding
powerhouse programs Oregon and TCU, their two highest-ranked opponents, to
stingy production totals of 31 and 36 yards, respectively.
The line, for the most part, was highly effective in shutting down the
run game against opponents with only a few exceptions.
The line struggled against future NFL first round draft pick, Ryan
Still helmed by newly-promoted Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, the line possesses unlimited potential as it is fortified by a stable of up and coming new blood. This immense depth gives Kwiatkowski the ability to regularly rotate in fresh groups, custom tailored to match whatever the anticipated offensive look provides. These different packages are central to the line's success and will prove to be devastating to opposing offenses as consistent pressure is meted out with punishing consequences and maximum disruption.
The interior should be so completely owned by juniors Chase Baker (6-1, 300) and Billy Winn (6-4, 290) that they will need to set up an
appointment with a title company to close on it.
Baker possesses incredible core strength and the ability to power through
double teams and shut down running lanes. He
racked up 37 tackles last season in addition to four tackles for loss and two
sacks. Winn brings athleticism and
speed rarely seen in defensive tackles. His
ability to penetrate and disrupt the backfield is evident by the 12 ½ tackles
for loss and six sacks he delivered while adding 44 tackles and Second Team All
Also competing for playing time will be juniors J.P. Nisby
(6-1, 314) and Chuck Hayes (6-2, 292), sophomores Michael "Bacon" Atkinson
(6-0, 335) and Greg Grimes (6-0, 273), along with redshirt freshman Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe (6-3, 282). Nisby has
been a beast in the weight room, recording the team's top bench press (445
lbs.) and will have opportunity to prove that he can also dominate interior
linemen. He plays with a nasty
streak and this could be a breakout year for him.
Hayes returns after a season-ending injury and will be eager to show he
has fully recovered. If he can stay
healthy, Hayes will be a solid contributor to a rotating unit.
Atkinson has shown real promise but nagging injuries plagued him
throughout the season and hindered him from showcasing his talents.
During the fall scrimmage he proved to be more than adept at executing
effective bull rushes, often times against the double team to jam up the
backfield. In a continuing theme,
Grimes missed the first half of the season and played in a limited capacity the
last half of the season, seeing mostly mop-up duty.
This season should see him enhancing the line's ability to rotate in
fresh madmen to terrorize offenses. Tjong-A-Tjoe
has also exhibited a lot of potential and impressed many with his good hand use,
speed, and stamina. Look for him to
develop into a juggernaut within the next few seasons.
When the defensive end depth chart was released,
reefer-smoking hippies everywhere were heard to remark, "Whoa…deep…"
Highlighted by bookend players, senior Ryan Winterswyk (6-4, 267) and
junior Shea McClellin (6-3, 258), the defensive ends should be locked in a tough
but friendly competition seeing who can rack up the most sacks while causing
maximum damage and mayhem in the process. For
the second year in a row, the indomitable Winterswyk earned First Team All-WAC
honors from a campaign that included 41 tackles and team-high totals of 14
tackles for loss and nine sacks. Winterswyk's
base strength and quickness were evidenced as opponents failed miserably at
containing him as he seemingly shed them without effort.
At the other end of the D-line, Shea McClellin quietly earned a starting
spot in the early part of the season, compiling 36 tackles, six tackles for
loss, and three sacks. McClellin in
many ways is a carbon copy of Winterswyk in both ability and execution.
Shea had an excellent fall scrimmage in which he recorded four sacks and
was adept at closing down the outside run game.
Behind Winterswyk and McClellin is a trio of equally nasty
ends who will be frothing to get in the rotation.
Junior Jarrell Root (6-3, 259), freshman Kharyee Marshall (6-1, 212), and
JC transfer junior Tyrone Crawford (6-4, 275) will all be vying for playing
time. Root exhibited raw talent that
should greatly be refined this year. Not
cutting his ‘fro last season paid dividends for the team and it remains this
season to further the good mojo and attract the ladies.
His mix of good instincts and aggressive play ensure that whenever he's
on the field, he'll be a contributor.
A man who is all too familiar with causing unwanted bowel
movements is Joe Bozikovich (2004-2008). Despite
a season-ending injury in 2005 that tore his MCL,
since graduating from
just living the dream! Working as an admissions advisor for an online university
and spending time with my family. Fishing, camping you know, the usual
John: You were part of a defensive line that had
a rotating group of starters in various year groups who saw different levels of
production. Your sophomore
year saw a unit that allowed an astonishing 83 yards per game in rushing.
The effectiveness slipped the next year to 131 yards per game but
improved by your senior year to 118. What
made the difference between 2007 and 2008?
Joe: In ‘07 we had great players like Nick Schlekeway and Ian Smart but we battled injuries throughout that season. Anytime
you're dealing with all these different types of players with different skill
sets, it's a serious balancing act to get the right combination put together and
sometimes due to injuries you might not have that right combination in place.
By ‘08, as a unit we were getting bigger and faster and more athletic
and since then we've been picking up amazing recruits. There's no way we could
have landed a player like Billy Winn my freshman year, but now we're getting
more national recognition and with that comes bigger, faster, and stronger guys.
John: With a rotating roster on the front four,
was there ever a challenge with gelling as a unit?
Joe: We came together
fairly well. You know we'd all been
through the same stuff - summer practices and fall camp, etc.
The further you get into the season, you get the communication down and
eventually, as a group, you could tell where the play was going to go.
We ended up working well.
John: Shifting gears, what was your analysis of last year's
D-line? Were there any players that
stood out in your mind?
Joe: The D-Line played awesome. "Swyk" was a
real leader and it was great to see him step into that role.
Baker and Winn really brought their "A" game.
These guys have improved year by year and for them to step up and play
that role is huge. They improved
tremendously and every one of them brings something to the table that is unique.
The two deep was definitely two deep.
Coach Wilcox and Coach Kwiatkowski have the ability to put the right
people in on the right play depending on down and distance.
John: Has there ever been a Bronco team that has had bigger
expectations placed on them?
Joe: At this point every season is the biggest
season they've ever had. You've got games that all mean so much like
John: How do the players handle those expectations and that
pressure? They're dealing with a
friggin' SI Cover for crying out loud!
Joe: Pete keeps us focused, he definitely does
not want us creating locker room material and the guys on this team are humble.
They live for that battle, they look forward to it and for those days they are
John: When you played, did you pay attention to the hype?
Read SI, watch
Joe: You always check ESPN but I try to steer
clear of everything else. I would do
my own research of other teams but I never worried about what the media had to
say. I wanted to know how they were
blocking and I could figure that out myself.
John: What's your take on guys like Mark Mays
and Craig James – you never hear any credit given to the team for anything
they do and they're the first to bag on anything
Joe: As far as I'm concerned, let them hate
us. I don't care.
John: How is the start of this season different from 2005 and
Joe: Now we're more groomed toward the national
stage, then we were not and
John: What are the strong points of this year's D-Line?
Joe: Depth. There is tremendous depth and each
one of those guys brings something different to the table.
You've got a guy like Bacon who's 4'11 but weighs over 300 pounds.
How do you block that? You've
got a defensive end like Swyk who's tearing it up and started off as a safety.
Baker is like a Mack truck with legs and Winn is so athletic - we haven't
seen athleticism like him ever. You've
got Hout, if he plays any defensive end; he's got huge energy and does not stop.
JP Nisby has been doing yoga and I hear he can now touch his toes - when
he got here he couldn't touch his shins.
John: What will it take for them to be successful?
Joe: They've got to keep it coming every play.
And with that two deep, they'll be able to do it.
Every play is a chess match as you battle the other team.
John: You started in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl as a sophomore.
What was your mentality and mindset going into the game and what was
going through your mind when you first lined up against that huge
Joe: That was one of the most unique experiences
I've ever had in my life. I didn't
find out I was going to start until
, the night
before. Coach K came around at bed check and I was joking around with him and
saying "how many reps am I going to get tomorrow?" He then said,
"You're starting." My eyes got
real big. When we finally lined up
on the field, it was the coolest feeling. I
was scared stiff but after that first pop, it all goes away.
My energy level was super high and I was so anxious to see how it was all
going to go down.
John: Did you blow chunks?
John: What attracted you to
Joe: BSU for me, came around pretty early, and
was there but then fell off of my radar. I
ended up making a visit and Browning was my host.
I saw the type of guys they had out there and they were really cool with
each other and tight. I was really
attracted to the outdoors scene. Coach
Hawk really came up big and gave me a chance.
John: What games stand out for you as the most memorable or fun?
Joe: Most memorable for me would have to be
John: Is there a game that you consider your personal best?
Joe: I'd say ISU against Mitch Rudder and then
John: Any tales of tomfoolery or shenanigans you would care to
Joe: In 2007, we were headed to
John: Standard answers
aside, was it ever difficult to get up for a game against a team that you knew
you were going to shut out? Was
there ever a tendency to look past them?
Joe: No! Definitely,
no. Half the fun was playing in
games against teams you would blow out. You'd
start off real intense but then once the game was in hand, you'd start doing
stupid stuff like line stunts. Against
ISU it was so much fun. Bingham was
using dummy calls and having so much fun and then by the end of the 3rd quarter,
you're done. As a young player, you
chomp at the bit for games like that because you're going to get some playing
time and showcase what you can do.
John: What was your specialty against O-linemen – rip, swim,
spin, bull rush? Are most of
today's linemen pretty versatile or do they tend to excel at one or two
Joe: I usually employed the bull rush or a quick move to the
inside as my first move. Everyone has their go-to first move that they like to
use - it's their bread and butter. You
might use a bull rush into a rip or a bull rush into a club. Every play is like
a chess match: how his set is, what type of punch he has, if you can get your
timing off and work the gap, etc.
John: Against TCU in the last Fiesta Bowl it seems like Wilcox and
Kwiatkowski threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Horned Frogs,
especially where the ends were concerned. It
seems that you were hard pressed to find a play when a DE wasn't dropping back
into coverage or lining up as a linebacker, only to drop down onto the line
right before the snap. Do you
remember glimpses of this prior to that game?
Joe: I guess we saw a bit of it.
I'm watching the game and I'm only one year removed from playing in
the program at that point. After the
first quarter, I had no clue what was going on and this was a system that I felt
I knew pretty well. I saw Chase
Baker screaming out to the flats for a play, I think I did that like one time in
my entire playing career. Wilcox and Kwiatkowski are the greatest football minds
I've been around. Ever. When you
have players with all those great abilities and each one bringing a little
something different to the table you're able to scheme and execute like that.
John: Virginia Tech returns a stacked and loaded offense with
seven starters included RB Ryan Williams (1,655 yards, 21 TD's) and three
returning linemen. They bring a
balanced attack with an experienced receiving corps as well as Tyrod Taylor who
has the ability to rush. What would
your strategy against the Hokies be?
Joe: The biggest key is to stop the run and to
put the helmet on the QB and rattle him. We've
got to bring the noise and drop the hammer.
When you can bring that pressure, it'll force the offense to put it in
the air and our secondary will more than take care of business.
John: How much time did you spend in the weight room?
It seems that most linemen shed 40-50 pounds after they leave the game,
how hard is it to maintain that type of bulk and weight?
Joe: Too much.
Probably eight plus hours a week during the summer. You'd
be doing two hours a day on top of condition and the rest of the year, you're
at it four days a week. But that's
where games are won. With the way we lift and train, and with the nutritional
plans we had, it was not too difficult to keep the weight on. By your senior
year, you'd been living like that for 5-7 years depending if you started in on a
program in high school or not. I
usually played at 280 lbs but at the Fiesta Bowl I was at 303. Now the weight is
gone and my knees are good.
John: What opponents did you really respect?
Joe: I respected them all. Ultimately they were guys just like
us; they had to suffer through two-a-days, through summer workouts. They did it
all. I gave respect to every single person I lined up against. It's such a tough
lifestyle, few make it out alive.
John: Were there any opponents that you felt that didn't respect
the team or maybe underestimated you guys?
Joe: I don't know if anyone really
underestimated us but as far as not having respect:
John: What stadiums stand out to you as hostile or more difficult
to play in?
John: What did you do then?
mean after I got up off the ground? I
grabbed the battery and moved out. I
still have it to this day!
John: So did he use Duracell or Energizer?
man. It was one of those Costco
John: I tell you, that's just adding insult to injury.
If you're going to bean some guy with a battery, you at least owe him
the respect of hitting him with a name brand battery.
I guess it makes better financial sense, if you're doing it often, to
go with a Costco brand, though.
John: How much of your success on the field can you attribute to
the lunatics and idiots in the South End Zone?
Joe: Ah, the South End Zone Idiots.
The lunatics provided some of the highlights of my career.
From your guys' face paint and when I made a request for Ultimate Warrior
face paint, you guys actually did it! But the Boz T-shirts you guys made were
definitely the coolest things ever. I've
got one framed. My
brother-in-law says in the picture I look like Rocky after Ivan Drago beat him
John: Besides VaTech, who will give
John: Recently, there's been a little brouhaha over some
comments that President Kustra made about the Vandals.
Weigh in on playing
Joe: Hey, mad respect to Bob on that one. I like
where his head is on that one. We've
got one more win to erase their streak but I would like to see us keep playing
them. They've got to get tired of losing sometime, huh?
It's the Vandals. That's
a big game and I'd like to see it continue.
You really get up for that game.
John: How about the MWC move?
Joe: Any opportunity to get better competition
is welcomed. Membership in the PAC 12 would have been nice, but you know we
didn't get from the bottom to the top overnight. With better competition the
program will continue to improve. There's
nothing saying that we couldn't join the PAC at some later date.
John: So, what does the future hold for you and
is there football in that future in some shape or form?
Maybe some coaching?
future is a mystery for me right now. I'm just trying to take it one day at a
time. As for football, I could see myself getting into coaching down the
road but for now I'm just happy sitting back and getting a chance to see it
from the other side of the spectrum.
John: Finally, probably the most important
question to discuss – Lady GaGa. Hot
chick or really just Marilyn Manson in drag performing pop music?
Joe: Marilyn Manson. Dude, she creeps me out.
Upon witnessing the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945, Dr.
Robert Oppenheimer – the scientific director of the Manhattan Project –
quoted from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, "I am become death, destroyer of
He might as well have been witnessing the emergence of the Bronco
Defensive Line from the tunnel at Fed-Ex Field.