The most-watched battle at spring camp (other than the one between Octavius Evans and John Hightower for best hair) is obviously QB, and Coach Harsin has been rather candid about how the hopefuls are doing (Bachmeier = killin’ it). But there are other position battles and position changes happening under our noses and one that I’m personally interested in is at linebacker.
As you know, the Broncos lost what appears to be a generational talent at linebacker in Leighton Vander Esch prior to last season and it turns out, that kinda sucks. Boise State didn’t come close to replicating LVE’s skill set last season and although the defense played admirably overall, their lack of LB punch (on sale at Albertsons currently) stung them a time or two. Then towards the end of the season, Tyson Maeva—arguably one of the brighter spots on that unit—was removed from the team, leaving the 2019 season chock full of more holes and question marks than we’d bargained for. Who’s going to step up this spring and help patch some of these gaping holes? Let’s look.
In the middle, only two guys on the roster are listed at MLB—Benton Wickersham and DJ Schramm. Schramm is coming off a redshirt season and Wickersham was just placed on scholarship, so the experience level at MLB won’t win any awards (not even a SAG Award). Sophomore Zeke Noa played well at times last year and many think he might slide into that MLB spot when all is said and done, but well...nothing has been said or done yet. There’s also a chance that one of the two big-time LB recruits for 2019, Lolani Langi or Casey Kline could end up in the middle someday, but Langi won’t be on campus for a few months and Kline is coming off shoulder surgery and is expected (hopefully) to be more of a fall camp mover-and-shaker.
At OLB...the Broncos currently have ONE guy listed there on the roster—Casey Kline, and like I said..he’s less than 100%, so who’s holding down the OLB spots this spring? That’ll probably have to be answered at the spring game (unless I’m able to get to a practice before then). Remember, Boise State also lost Desmond Williams to transfer and he might have been more of our nickel/SLB guy, but he had the range and talent to slide into any spot they deemed necessary, so the skeleton crew will have to get us through till fall.
SLB has TWO guys listed—and they’re both redshirt freshman, Brandon Hawkins and Roman Kafentzis, so if you thought SLB was going to be our platoon, look again. It’s WILL linebacker that actually has the relative glut of guys. That’s where Zeke Noa, Phillip Mills (another RS frosh), Riley Whimpey (coming off injury), Bruno DeRose, and Nick Provenzano are lined up (for now). So, who has starter potential out of these 3(ish) units? Well, consider that before Andy Avalos fled (or was possibly kidnapped) to Eugene, there had been a lot of talk about moving to more of a 3-4 defensive scheme and if Schmedding/Danielson decide to stick with that, all these different LB sub-classifications make a lot of sense. You’ll likely see 4 LBs on the field with 3 down lineman...and I assume a few of the STUDs can also fill an OLB slot if the down-and-distance calls for it.
So, strictly speaking of spring...who we got? I didn’t come all this way to say “your guess is as good as mine”, but frankly, until we see more team reps, that’s probably the way things have to be. I think the guys with the experience level to be “those dudes” are probably (right now) Noa, Wickersham, DeRose, and Whimpey. Whimpey is almost certainly not back from injury yet, so hold those questions for fall. The additions of Kline and Langi will bolster that group in a big way, and the redshirt guys will be more known quantities by then as well. One thing is certain...we’re going to continue to miss Leighton “Wolf Hunter” Vander Esch for a little while.
Where do you think our linebacker talent lies? Is there a solid “starting four” in that group? Is the off-season really the worst?