With Boise State's offense getting much of the publicity over the past decade, the Broncos have quietly assembled some excellent defensive squads. No one will claim that the Broncos have had weak defenses in that span and certainly not against the run. The Broncos' major question marks during that time have come from the defensive secondary—which was sometimes hot and sometimes cold—sometimes giving up passing yards in bunches and other time being much more stingy.
The 2006 season seemed like a major turning point for the Bronco "D" as the cornerbacks and safeties all finally got on the same page and showed that they can shut down passing games as well. A few hiccups occurred along the way against Hawaii and New Mexico State, but the Broncos' young defensive backs learned from their mistakes and came up big when they needed to.
Now with 2007 looming, the Broncos appear to possibly have the best cornerback tandem in the Western Athletic Conference, safeties with noses for the ball and some lockdown D-backs waiting in the wings.
Orlando Scandrick (5'11" 196 lbs.) burst onto the scene in 2005 as a true freshman and quickly turned heads with his quickness and playmaking ability. Scandrick immediately showed that he could be a game-changer…almost single-handedly winning the game against Hawai'i on the island by returning two blocked kicks for eight total points. In '06 he showed that history repeats itself as he repeated his feat again against the Warriors, but he also showed that he had become more aggressive…blitzing quarterbacks around the ends, batting down passes, hitting harder than anyone his size has any right to and getting in his opponents' heads; verbally and physically. In '05 Scandrick was fourth on the team in tackles with 52 and also added two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.
With Scandrick back for his junior season and two solid years of defensive play under his belt, he should be a force to be reckoned with. Scandrick has a major chip on his shoulder and plays like it. He has quickness that he brings to the defensive secondary, a great grasp of the Boise State defensive philosophy and could see some time as a kick or punt returner. I can't imagine many pass-happy WAC QB's not thinking twice before throwing Orlando's way…or many WAC receivers not thinking twice before catching a ball in "heavy traffic" for that matter. Scandrick was named "Camper of the Day" on the second day of fall camp, it should go without saying that this bodes well for 2007.
Kyle Wilson (5'10" 187 lbs.) will be a sophomore this season and is already up to "game speed" as he started about half the 2006 season as a freshman. The Piscataway, New Jersey native came up big in his first real playing time against Hawai'i, intercepting a Colt Brennan pass that seemed destined for the end zone. Wilson has shown that he is a sure tackler, notching 44 tackles in '06 (only eight behind Scandrick who had a few more starts). Wilson definitely has the swagger of a successful cornerback already as he recently told the Magic Valley Times-News that he gets "pissed off' when opposing QB's throw his way, because he feels they are "picking on him". One thing is for sure--if Wilson stays "pissed off", opposing offenses have little chance of "picking on" him…instead, they might find themselves "picked off". Take note: Wilson has switched from number 22 to number 1 this year and don't be surprised to see him make that number another valuable one (remember Chris Carr? Jerard Rabb?)
Rashaun Scott (5'10" 197 lbs.) and BYU-transfer Cade Hulbert (5'10" 172 lbs.) will back up Scandrick and Wilson and may well see time on special teams as both are capable kick and punt returners. In fact, local product Hulbert is one of the fastest players on the Boise State team. In case of an injury to a starter, however, don't be surprised to see another true frosh step in like Scandrick did in '05.
What more can you say about Fiesta Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player Marty Tadman (5'11" 180 lbs., Sr.) that hasn't already been said? Tadman is a vocal and well-respected leader on and off the field and has been since burning his redshirt in 2004 when an injury forced him into the lineup. Tadman is one of the smartest players on the field and seems to have a sixth sense as to where the ball is heading. Tadman was second on the team in tackles in '06 with 67 and also led the team with six picks, with two coming in the Fiesta Bowl. Tadman has 11 interceptions in his past two seasons and his senior season looks to be more of the same. Tadman, by all accounts has been an absolute ball-hog in Fall Camp, picking off passes left and right and fighting for them all the way. In one spring scrimmage, Tadman fought off a much larger Aiona Key for a ball and came away with it, going up high and landing hard on his back.
Tadman seems poised to have another all-WAC type of year, and if he can continue to be a vocal field general, he will keep our other D-backs in check and in the best positions to make plays. We will certainly all miss the heavily-tattooed Tadman after this year is through. I will go out on a limb and predict eight INT's for Tadman this year with him finally garnering first team All-WAC status.
The other Safety spot is far from decided, but two able individuals could crack the starting lineup and take the reins from the departed Gerald Alexander. First, Senior Austin Smith returns and could be the man alongside Tadman. Smith has been an excellent "nickel" type back over the past few years that can really lay the wood. Smith plays with excellent intensity and has been a special teams demon as well, carrying the hammer for the Broncos on more than one occasion. If a bit undersized, Smith makes up for his stature with a big heart and heady playmaking.
Freshman Jason Robinson has looked very good in the spring scrimmages and fall ball thus far. He is more physically imposing than Smith and seems to go all out on every play. If this youngster has progressed enough in the coaches minds to be where he needs to at all times, he may well get the nod--or at least see sufficient playing time.
With a relatively young secondary and under Secondary Coach Marcel Yates new look defense, the Broncos may have a very stingy pass defense for a few years to come. Big-time recruit Antwon Murray (5'11" 180 lbs.) out of Lakeland, FL should be a lockdown corner and be ready to go at a moment's notice. Murray may not be able to overtake Wilson or Scandrick in the short-term and may not become a full-time starter until Scandrick's departure, but look for him to possibly play early on special teams as he looks to be a gifted athlete. Brandyn Thompson (5'10" 160 lbs.) is another newbie to keep an eye on. He obviously needs to bulk up a bit, but by the time he enters the rotation, I am sure that he will be lean and mean.
Boise State's run defense has been phenomenal over the past few seasons with solid linebacker play and an underrated D-line. With Boise State's new brash and aggressive DB's and field smarts in spades, look for them to really shut down offenses this year. We should see at least one INT per game out of this crew and look for some big time helmet-crackin' as well.