Boise State spring football watch list: No. 5, defensive tackles

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

With the Boise State football team set to open spring practice next Monday, I’m using my blog this week to discuss five areas to watch — one a day, Monday-Friday.

Monday: Newcomers.
Tuesday: Offensive improvement
Wednesday: Cornerbacks.
Thursday: Quarterbacks.
Today: Defensive tackles.

The problem: The Broncos lost three of their top four defensive tackles from last season.

The solution: Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski has proven a master of developing productive tackles. Last year, the Broncos received major contributions from seniors Greg Grimes and Darren Koontz, who had breakout years.

This spring, the Broncos will have six tackles in the rotation. They add two potential contributors in the fall — junior college transfer Justin Taimatuia and high school signee Nick Terry.

Here’s a look at the six guys who will compete in spring ball:

Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, 6-3, 296, R-Sr.: Tjong-A-Tjoe is the unquestioned leader of the group as a returning starter. He tied for ninth on the team last year with 37 tackles. He also recorded 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. He received an honorable mention on the All-Mountain West team. He’ll need to adjust to his leadership role. “It’s weird,” he said in December. “I don’t know if I’m ready for it, but I’ll try. … We’ve got a lot of young guys to keep in check.”

Deuce Mataele, 6-3, 285, Jr.: The Broncos found Mataele (video below) late in the recruiting process but he could be a key figure this season. He’s here for spring ball, which gives him a chance to get acclimated before fall.

Tyler Horn, 6-5, 265, Jr.: Horn moved from end to tackle late last season to replace the injured Mike Atkinson. He likely will stay there this spring but it’s unclear where his long-term future will be. Coach Chris Petersen said last season that Horn could be a good tackle. “If you can move him inside down the road, to have that frame inside, that’s impressive stuff,” Petersen said. “He’s going to give us another dimension of flexibility and down the road we’ll figure out truly where he fits.”

Robert Ash, 6-3, 283, R-So.: Ash was part of what was supposed to be a key class of defensive linemen in 2011. End Sam Ukwuachu has delivered, but Ash has languished on the bench and tackle Jeff Worthy washed out of the program earlier this year. It’s not unusual for tackles to bloom late — look at Grimes and Koontz last year — but the Broncos could use Ash to step up.

40 Armand Nance, 6-0, 273, So.: Nance was thrown into the tackle rotation as a true freshman because of injuries and suspensions. He didn’t play much — he made nine tackles — but true freshmen who play usually blossom their sophomore years.

96 Elliot Hoyte, 6-4, 275, R-Fr.: Hoyte came to Boise State from England. He’d be a great story if he becomes part of the tackle rotation.

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Personnel at a glance:

OFFENSE
Returning starters (5 of 12): LT Charles Leno Jr. (sr.), C Matt Paradis (sr.), WR Kirby Moore (sr.), WR Matt Miller (jr.), QB Joe Southwick (sr.)
Lost starters (7): LG Joe Kellogg, RG Michael Ames, RT Brenel Myers, TE Chandler Koch, WR Mitch Burroughs/Chris Potter, FB Dan Paul, RB D.J. Harper
Key reserves returning: WR Aaron Burks (sr.), WR Geraldo Boldewijn (sr.), OL Spencer Gerke (sr.), OL Jake Broyles (sr.), TE Gabe Linehan (sr.), TE Holden Huff (so.), RB Jay Ajayi (so.), WR Shane Williams-Rhodes (so.)
Redshirts to watch: QB Nick Patti, RB Devan Demas, OL Travis Averill
Newcomers to watch: RB Derrick Thomas, WR D.J. Dean
Returning stat leaders: Ajayi 82 rushes, 548 yds., 4 TDs; Southwick 248-of-371, 2,730 yds., 19 TDs, 7 ints., 141.78 eff.; Miller 66 rec., 769 yds., 5 TDs; Moore 36 rec., 368 yds., 1 TD.

DEFENSE
Returning starters (5 of 11): DE Demarcus Lawrence (jr.), DT Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe (sr.), DE Sam Ukwuachu (so.), S Jeremy Ioane (jr.), S Darian Thompson (so.)
Lost starters (6): DT Mike Atkinson, LB Tommy Smith, LB J.C. Percy, N Dextrell Simmons, CB Jamar Taylor, CB Jerrell Gavins
Key reserves returning: DL Tyler Horn (jr.), DE Beau Martin (jr.), DE Kharyee Marshall (sr.), LB Blake Renaud (jr.), LB Tyler Gray (so.), N Corey Bell (jr.), S Dillon Lukehart (so.), CB Bryan Douglas (jr.), CB Donte Deayon (so.)
Redshirts to watch: DT Elliot Hoyte, LB Ben Weaver, LB Chris Santini, S Chanceller James
Newcomers to watch: DT Tutulupeatau “Deuce” Mataele, CB Cleshawn Page, LB Darren Lee
Returning stat leaders: Ioane 70 tackles, Lawrence 48, Renaud 46, Bell 45, Thompson 43; Ioane, Thompson 3 ints.; Lawrence 9.5 sacks, Horn 5, Ukwuachu 4.5; Lawrence 4 forced fumbles

SPECIAL TEAMS
Returning starters (1 of 2): P Trevor Harman (sr.)
Lost starters (1): K Michael Frisina
Other key returners: KO Dan Goodale (jr.), LS Kevin Keane (jr.), KR Shane Williams-Rhodes (so.), H Matt Miller (jr.)
Redshirt to watch: P Sean Wale
Newcomer to watch: K Tyler Rausa
Returning stat leaders: Harman 42 punts, 41.2 avg.; Williams-Rhodes 13 KO returns, 24.9 avg.

•••

2013 schedule

Aug. 31: at Washington
Sept. 7: vs. Tennessee Martin
Sept. 28: vs. Southern Miss
Oct. 26: at BYU
Mountain West home games (dates TBA): Air Force, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming
Mountain West road games (dates TBA): Colorado State, Fresno State, San Diego State, Utah State

•••

The Spring Game is at 5 p.m. April 13 at Bronco Stadium. The Beat Coach Pete Scholarship run and Walk is the same day, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Registration is available here.

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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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