Unleashing the Hard-Hitters

While the Bronco secondary this fall is young, it is loaded with talent. As Blue Tundra points out in this, the seventh edition of BroncoCountry's fall preview, the strong performance of the interior defense is needed in order for the DB's to reach their full potential.

In my forty plus years of being a stalwart Bronco fan, I've never witnessed anything close to the absolute volumes being written about this program this year. That is a very good thing for us fans but not such a great thing for writers who hope to find a 'new angle'. Simply rehashing what others have written isn't enjoyable for the reader or this writer. Despite this, I promise to give it my best shot. If I succeed then we've both gained. If not, then we can be consoled by the fact that there's no longer any reason to complain about lack of good information on this Boise State football program.

It's no secret that the Bronco defense suffered in ‘07, at least compared to previous Bronco teams. Being curious how the ‘07 defense compared to that of 2006; I compared the number of total team tackles and tackles by position. I found some mind-boggling facts. If statistics aren't your thing then feel free to jump over this next paragraph.

The 2007 defense had to make 313 more tackles than did the ‘06 squad. Or to put it another way, they had to make 63% more tackles. It was largely one group of players who had to absorb most of that difference. In 2006, the Bronco safeties made 110 tackles. In 2007 the safeties were forced to make an astounding 263!  The ‘07 safeties made 31% of total team tackles, compared to the '06 squad's 21%.  While every other ‘07 position had more total tackles than they did on ‘06, safety is the only position that had a higher percentage of total team tackles. Every other ‘07 position actually had a smaller percentage of tackles than in ‘06. While the ‘07 cornerbacks had almost three times as many tackles as did the ‘06 corners, the 2006 corners had 26% of the total team tackles. The '07 Bronco corners only made 5%.

Those ‘07 numbers are chilling. It shows that way, way too many times the defense lost containment.  It also shows that when teams aren't forced to throw, they don't.  What this proves is that what we see from the Boise State safeties and corners is very much dependant on how the ‘front' of the defense does their jobs.  The defensive line and linebackers simply must understand and perform their jobs better this year.

If the defense can return to it's previous excellence against the run, its likely to mean that the cornerbacks can concentrate more on their jobs, and when they can do that, it means more interceptions. There is nothing more demoralizing to an opponent than losing seven points while on offense.


The Safeties

The excellence of Bronco safeties has been very well documented. There is no position that has put more of it's players in the National Football League.   Since the new millennium the names are names are synonymous with Bronco success; Harts, Mikell, Nurse, Carr, Alexander and Marty Tadman.  While these names give the Bronco defense something great to build on it also lays some heavy responsibility on the shoulders of this year's young safeties.

Of the 15 defensive backs, only three are upperclassmen.  Over half of that list is freshmen who have never played a gameday down for the Broncos.

On the safety side that leaves only three Broncos who have seen any gametime.  That list includes senior Ellis Powers, who, in true Bronco fashion, has been willing to do whatever the coaches have asked of him.  After playing nickel and dime DB for two years, he was asked to move to linebacker last year where he did a respectable job.  This year he's been moved to safety where, as the DB's elder statesman, he's likely to see quite a bit of playing time, though he currently has two talented sophomores in front of him; Jeron Johnson and Jason Robinson.  While over the years the Broncos have definitely created excellence at the safety position, these two guys just might be taking it a notch or two.  Defensive Back Coach Marcel Yates says that while they yet need to work on understanding the game, both are more physical than Alexander. Considering that he‘s starting on the Detroit Lions secondary, that‘s pretty hefty praise indeed.

Last year both Johnson and Robinson impressed, though Jeron (JJ) seemed ahead of the learning curve.  Even though he was injured for four games, he was still fifth on the team at 55 tackles. Among other preseason honor givers, Phil Steele, who I think is among the best prognosticators, named Johnson first team WAC. Johnson knows where to be and when to be there. When he gets there, he hits like a truck.  He's the Mack of the WAC.

While Robinson hasn't put up quite the spectacular numbers Johnson has, he's still been impressive, especially considering he was a freshman.  I'm willing to bet that Robinson will join him on that first or second All-WAC team by the end of the ‘08 season.

A very promising up and comer is true freshman George Iloka who is currently fighting with surprise redshirt Travis Stanaway for the backup role behind Johnson.  Iloka surprised everyone when he jumped from a talented, though little used receiver slot his junior year to safety his senior year.  He learned the spot well enough in one year to record 80 tackles, 60 of which were solo.  He also forced two fumbles and had four interceptions.  Stanaway had 98 tackles, three forced fumbles and two interceptions his senior year.

Coming up behind them is junior college transfer Garcia Day, who was a preseason JC All-American.  He played well as a JC, but as a Bronco is an unknown quantity.  At this point it appears Tyler Jackson will redshirt this year.  Keep an eye on TJ.  I predict this young man is going to continue the long line of safety excellence.

These Bronco Safeties have as much potential as any group in Boise State history.  If they're allowed to do their jobs and don't have to be constantly concerned about stopping the errant runner, this years safety defense will be crippling to the opposition.


The Cornerbacks

Bronco fans have spent a good deal of time talking about the youth of the Boise O-line.  When it comes to youth though, they're not all that much younger than the Bronco corners.  At this time, the only true corners being listed are a junior, two sophomores and two freshmen.  While there's no question that the o-line must play together as an intelligent unit, there may not be a tougher position to play at BSU than corner.  Coach Chris Petersen's defensive set leaves these guys on an island and they've got to be tremendously film-savvy and prepared.  When something goes wrong for a CB, it's glaring.  Fortunately the junior, Kyle Wilson, is quickly proving to be one of the best Broncos to ever play CB.  He has achieved, among other preseason picks, another Phil Steele preseason WAC All-first teamer, Wilson is explosive, damn smart and just fun to watch.

Opposite Wilson is sophomore Brandyn Thomson.  Thompson played last year as a true freshman and showed great promise. He's come on even stronger in this year's fall camp where he was named Player of the Day.  Coach Petersen was especially impressed with Thompson's tight coverage.

Backing Wilson and Thompson up are redshirt Cedric Febis and freshman Jamar Taylor.  Bronco fans have been looking forward to seeing Febis on the field since seeing him play at Bishop Kelly High in Boise.  He came to Boise State as a fairly raw player, but his athleticism is just wowing people.  At 6'3 and 190, he's a big corner, and is almost certain to become a Bronco great.

Taylor was a major find for the Broncos.  He was All-CIF first team his senior year and second team junior season.  He achieved first team All-East County League honors as a senior and second team his junior season.  As a senior he had 50 tackles, four interceptions, three breakups and one forced fumble.

This is likely as talented a group of defensive backs as we Bronco fans have ever seen.  When combined with the extreme talent we see at quarterback, running back, receiver, tight end, linebacker and both young lines, this year's Bronco team has absolutely breath-taking potential!

Now we'll see if they can stop the run.


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