BOISE — New Boise State defensive line coach Steve Caldwell has a simple goal for his group.
“I want to dominate the line of scrimmage,” Caldwell said Saturday. “I want them to have to block us twice. I don’t want them to think they anybody can line up and block us one on one. I want the attitude that we’re going in there to win every one-on-one battle.”
Caldwell has his hands full in his first year with the Broncos. He takes over a defensive line that must find a way to replace three starters, two of whom are currently in NFL training camps.
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence was a second-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys and defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe signed with the San Diego Chargers as a non-drafted free agent. Kharyee Marshall, a starter and leader, used up his eligibility and leaves a hole as well.
Defensive tackle Armand Nance is the lone returning starter up front. Beau Martin steps in as the replacement for Lawrence, Tyler Horn takes over for Tjong-A-Tjoe, and sophomore Kamalei Correa fills the void left by Marshall.
Nearly the entire group of linebackers and defensive backs returns for a defense that suffered uncharacteristic struggles last season, meaning the new faces up front will be counted on for immediate production to help turn things around.
“If we’re going to be good on defense, we have to be good up front,” Caldwell said. “We harp that, and they’ve been good. When they had the great football teams here, it wasn’t all offense. The defense played well too, so we know for us to be a great defense, it starts up front.
“We have experience, we have a lot of guys that have played football here in this conference, but they have to take that next step to that next level. We have to find somebody in there. I talk to the guys all the time: You want to be the guy they feel like they have to block twice.”
Martin battled a case of plantar fasciitis in his left foot last season but still appeared in all 13 games and had 21 tackles. He finished tied for second on the team with seven tackles-for-loss and also had four sacks, two pass breakups, two passes defended and a fumble recovery.
Completely recovered and finally able to walk without pain, the senior now must find a way to replace Lawrence and his 10.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles-for-loss last season.
“I had a feeling I’d be asked this question,” Martin said. “There’s a lot of things about DeMarcus that I really appreciated that I’d like to emulate. He was a great player for this program, and I miss playing with him.
“I have my own body type and my own gifts, so I want to try and utilize those. But there are things I can learn from DeMarcus from the past and try to do things he did to help this defense.”
Horn, also a senior, has bounced around between defensive end and defensive tackle the past few years. He appeared in 12 of Boise State’s 13 games last season and had 44 tackles, including 5.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack.
He’s found a home at defensive tackle and, like Martin, is hoping to help the Broncos overcome a number of key departures.
“We lost Ricky and DeMarcus, and those are two great players, but we have a lot of guys who are eager to step up,” said Horn, a Mountain View High graduate. “I think we’ll be alright. … We got a bunch of players. We have people that can make plays. We’re going to step up.”
Sophomore Gabe Perez figures to see significant playing time as well, both at the defensive end and STUD positions. Justin Taimatuia, Ellot Hoyte and Robert Ash could see playing time on the interior.
Junior college transfers Antoine Turner (tackle) and Rondell McNair (end) both are expected to be in the mix to make an immediate impact as well.
“We have more kids on scholarship on the defensive line than any place I’ve ever been,” Caldwell said. “We’re very fortunate. We are getting to the point where we’re above average at the two-deep (depth chart). We have to continue to bring that third d-end along and the third tackle and nose guard, which will make us a better football team.”
As for trying to replace Lawrence’s production? Caldwell knows the challenge will be stiff.
“He was a game changer,” Caldwell said. “I don’t know if we have a DeMarcus yet. We’re going to continue to work.”