Boise State football LBs preview: Youth movement arrives


Linebackers drill (Tyler Gray, Joe Martarano, Darren Lee)

By Chadd Cripe
ccripe@idahostatesman.com
© 2013 Idaho Statesman

Here is my linebackers preview, which is accompanied by a story in tomorrow’s paper:

LINEBACKERS

Roster
32 Jonathan Brown, 5-10, 206, R-Sr.
56 Dustin Kamper, 6-1, 216, R-Sr.
45 Travis Saxton, 6-1, 214, R-Jr.
13 Blake Renaud, 6-2, 243, Jr.
38 Corey Bell, 5-11, 210, Jr.
36 Tyler Gray, 6-4, 228, So.
31 Andrew Pint, 6-0, 221, R-Fr.
51 Ben Weaver, 6-0, 233, R-Fr.
25 Chris Santini, 5-11, 205, R-Fr.
44 Darren Lee, 6-1, 221, Fr.
7 Joe Martarano, 6-2, 234, Fr.
20 Tanner Vallejo, 6-1, 217, Fr.
54 Mat Boesen, 6-4, 213, Fr.

Projected depth chart
Weak-side linebackers: Gray/Weaver
Middle linebacker: Renaud, Saxton
Strong-side linebacker: Brown/Bell

Storyline: A youth movement has arrived at linebacker, where 10 of the 13 players have been on the roster for two years or less. That includes true juniors Blake Renaud, the starting middle linebacker, and Corey Bell, who likely will share the strong-side linebacker job. The weak-side linebackers are even younger — true sophomore Tyler Gray and redshirt freshman Ben Weaver. “We’ve got a lot of young energy and young leaders,” Weaver said.

Keys to success: The Broncos allowed 146.2 rushing yards per game last season, including 157 to Colorado State, 227 to Nevada and 205 to Washington in the last three games. That’s a trend they need to reverse immediately in a rematch with Washington tailback Bishop Sankey.

Reason for concern: No position lost more production than linebacker, where the Broncos must replace top tackler J.C. Percy (118 tackles) and No. 3 tackler Tommy Smith (61). “Ultimately, it’s motivating,” Weaver said. “It really gives us good leaders to look up to and good film to look at. Coach Gregory shows a lot of clips (of them). It kind of helps us strive to do the stuff that they did and better.”

Star player: There isn’t one — yet. But Renaud has had the look of a future standout since he played as a true freshman. He’s a big hitter with six Hammer awards and a playmaker who has shown a knack for the interception in practice but not yet on game day. “I enjoy being the guy in the front,” he said. “I’m just trying to be the best linebacker I can. I like being that guy. I’m not much of a talker. I like to try to show it on the field.”

Breakout performer: Gray’s combination of size and athleticism should make him a stat-sheet stuffer. He’s got the right body type to be effective as a blitzer and he’ll get his hands on some passes.

Newcomer to watch: Weaver is a Percy type — a run-stuffing linebacker with a nose for the ball. “He has a very good feel for the run part of it,” linebackers coach Bob Gregory said.

Quotes/notes:

— Darren Lee, a true freshman who arrived in January after serving a mission, will play this year, Gregory said. He provides depth at inside linebacker but will get most of his playing time initially on special teams.

— Weaver, the Scout Defensive Player of the Year last year, on scout team: “It was awesome. Having to go against our first team definitely will make someone better.”

— Gregory on Gray vs. Weaver: “Both those guys are very talented. They’re very close right now and they’re both probably going to play.”

— Gregory on Bell vs. Brown: “It’s very hard to tell if there’s much difference between those two guys. Both have played a lot of football, both are very smart, both have great leadership, so we feel really good about both of them.”

— Saxton, a walk-on from Eagle High: “I’m learning a lot more and I’m just feeling like I’m a lot more comfortable with the defense and I’m making more plays out there. I feel like I have grown a lot with experience. I’ve learned the plays and learned the speed a lot better.”

— Saxton on the group: “We’re a tight group. We call each other LBP — Linebacker Pride.”

— Coach Chris Petersen on the group: “We have some guys in there, we really do, that are young and they’re going to take some seasoning. They’re going to have to get their feet wet — and they’re going to get more than their feet wet. They’re going to get wet up to their neck here shortly.”

OTHER PREVIEWS

Quarterbacks, tailbacks, wide receivers


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Chadd Cripe has spent the past 12 years as the Boise State football beat writer. You can follow him on Twitter @IDS_BroncoBeat.

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