Boise State football DC Marcel Yates: ‘It starts with being mentally and physically tough’

By Chadd Cripe
ccripe@idahostatesman.com
© 2014 Idaho Statesman

I met with Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and defensive coordinator Marcel Yates this week to preview spring football. I have posted highlights from Yates and a quick positional preview for the defense below. Here is the offense version, posted yesterday. Our spring preview package runs in Monday’s newspaper.

Coach Bryan Harsin held his pre-spring press conference Thursday. Here is my report and the full video from that.

•••

Yates has watched every game from last season at least three times. He’s careful with his words — he recruited most of the players in the defensive backfield (10 of the 17 on the spring roster) and is close friends with last year’s coaches — but it’s clear he didn’t like what he saw.

After five straight years of stout defense — including some great ones while Yates was the defensive backs coach under Chris Petersen from 2006 to 2011 — the Broncos allowed 24.8 points, 164.2 rushing yards, 249.2 passing yards and 413.4 total yards per game.

They looked particularly bad on the road.

Yates says the players on the roster can get the job done.

“There are some guys returning who want to do well,” he said. “They want to win. They know the standard. Sometimes I question if they understand how to get to the standard. That’s the one thing I want to emphasize. So many people talk about the Boise State standard. These guys are maybe thinking because we’re at Boise State we have the standard. They need to understand you get to the standard by how you work, how you prepare, how you train. That’s the standard. Not because you have on a uniform that says ‘Boise State.’ I’m going to make sure they understand that — in order to reach that standard, you’ve got to work.”

His No. 1 priority this spring: regain the “physically tough and mentally tough” brand of defense that made Boise State a Top 10 program.

“With the rules changes on targeting and all that, it’s kind of softened up defense a lot,” he said. “I think guys think that being tough is always a big hit, and that’s not true. To me, being tough is a defense that flies around and when you get a chance to hit somebody legally, you do. To me, a good tackle is a tackle where a guy is on the ground.”

Yates readily admits that his own defense at Texas A&M wasn’t good last season. He was the co-coordinator and defensive backs coach as the Aggies allowed 475.8 yards per game.

“I coached discipline and toughness and all that,” he said. “Sometimes you just have those down years that things aren’t clicking because of youth, because of experience. It was a year of offense, it seemed like. I don’t know (what went wrong) because I wasn’t here. Those guys that coached that defense are my friends and I know them and I know what they look for. I can’t knock what they did. All I can do is kind of push what I believe in and to me it starts with being mentally and physically tough.”

The scheme, Yates said, will be a mixture of the Justin Wilcox Boise State defense (2006-09), Pete Kwiatkowski Boise State defense (2010-13), Texas A&M defense and some of Yates’ own twists.

“It will be jambalaya,” he said.

On defense, though, he believes it’s more about players and attitude than scheme.

“My mentality is to be physical and run and fly to the ball,” he said. “As a coach, I want to see our defense play that way. That’s the goal this spring.”

The concepts and terminology won’t change much from what the players knew under Kwiatkowski, Yates said. That should reduce the learning curve this spring.

“We’ll install as much as they can pick up,” he said. “… As football coaches, sometimes we screw the game up a little bit with all these terms and all these great schemes. The game comes down to who can tackle, who can catch. You can only have so many coverages. To me, it’s about the Joes who are in those coverages and how they perform within the coverages. I don’t want to get to where we’re relying on the scheme.”

A couple other quotes from Yates:

— On the linebackers: “There’s some depth that I’ve never seen at Boise State before. We may have been better as far as the guys who are actually starters, but you look at the guys behind them and I don’t know if there’s been as much depth. We’ve got some guys who can play.”

— He said the ideal nickel will be 190 to 215 pounds, more safety than linebacker, with the ability to cover man-to-man, blitz and stop the run. Senior Corey Bell, the team’s second-leading tackler last year, will take a crack at that spot this spring. “He’s excited about it,” Yates said. “The kid works hard. And he wants to play that position. The one thing he said … he never worked on a lot of man-to-man coverage. We’re going to put him in man-to-man this spring to see if he can get that done. If he can’t, we’ll see what he can do. He’s too smart of a player not to have him on the football field. He’s going to be playing for us somewhere. Hopefully he wins that nickel position.”

•••

Here’s a quick spring primer on each defensive position (I did offense yesterday). I’ll post extensive previews of each position throughout the spring.

DEFENSIVE END
Roster

53 Beau Martin, 6-2, 271, R-Sr.
49 Darien Barrett, 6-2, 225, R-So.
97 Austin Silsby, 6-3, 219, R-Fr.

Signee:
Rondell McNair, 6-4, 250, R-Jr.

STUD END
Roster

94 Sam McCaskill, 6-3, 240, R-So.
33 Gabe Perez, 6-4, 226, So.
92 Kamalei Correa, 6-2, 244, So.
54 Mat Boesen, 6-4, 213, R-Fr.

Signees:
Jabril Frazier, 6-4, 225, Fr.
Kaleb Hill, 6-1, 215, Fr.

Returning starters: None.

Key returners: Martin finished second on the team last season with four sacks and tied for second with seven tackles for loss. Perez and Correa played as true freshmen and gained valuable experience. Perez was a big factor down the stretch, finishing with 2.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.

Spring storyline: The Broncos hit these positions hard in recruiting because of the lack of depth. Starters Demarcus Lawrence (10.5 sacks, 20.5 tackles for loss) and Kharyee Marshall (6.5 tackles for loss) are gone. Spring is a big opportunity for guys like Perez, Correa and Boesen, formerly a strong-side linebacker, to position themselves ahead of the newcomers.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Roster

69 Tyler Horn, 6-5, 265, Sr.
90 Justin Taimatuia, 6-0, 281, Sr.
58 Robert Ash, 6-3, 291, R-Jr.
40 Armand Nance, 6-0, 288, Jr.
96 Elliot Hoyte, 6-4, 275, R-So.
50 Nick Terry, 6-3, 271, R-Fr.
Deuce Mataele, R-Jr. (ineligible this year)

Signees:
Antoine Turner, 6-3, 280, R-Jr.
Dereck Boles, 6-2, 275, Fr.
David Moa, 6-3, 235, Fr.

Returning starters: Armand Nance tied for eighth on the team with 51 tackles last season.

Other key returners: Horn made 44 tackles last season. He’s getting bigger and should have his best year at tackle. Taimatuia, a JC transfer last year, also should be better this year.

Spring storyline: Coaches have indicated that Turner, for sure, and Boles, likely, will factor into the rotation this season. That puts pressure on guys like Ash, Hoyte and Terry to develop now or spend another season well down the depth chart.

LINEBACKER
Roster

45 Travis Saxton, 6-1, 214, R-Sr. (out for spring)
13 Blake Renaud, 6-2, 243, Sr.
36 Tyler Gray, 6-4, 228, Jr.
31 Andrew Pint, 6-0, 221, R-So. (suspended for opener)
51 Ben Weaver, 6-0, 233, R-So. (out for spring)
25 Chris Santini, 5-11, 205, R-So.
44 Darren Lee, 6-1, 221, So.
20 Tanner Vallejo, 6-1, 217, So.
7 Joe Martarano, 6-2, 234, R-Fr.

Returning starters: Vallejo and Renaud shared the middle linebacker job around their various injuries and Gray and Weaver did the same on the weak side. Weaver led the team with 89 tackles as a redshirt freshman. Vallejo was tied for eighth with 51 as a true freshman. Gray added 43 and Renaud 25.

Other key returners: Santini and Lee also received quality playing time. Saxton returns from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Spring storyline: The Broncos have impressive depth and are still young at linebacker. Many eyes will fall on Martarano, the former Fruitland High star who gets his first chance to push for playing time. Vallejo’s development also will be interesting.

CORNERBACK
Roster

1 Bryan Douglas, 5-9, 178, R-Sr.
3 Cleshawn Page, 5-8, 179, Sr.
19 Mercy Maston, 5-11, 196, Sr.
34 Promise Amadi, 5-9, 185, R-Jr.
5 Donte Deayon, 5-9, 151, Jr.
6 Chaz Anderson, 5-10, 176, R-So.
30 Jonathan Moxey, 5-9, 175, So.
16 Dionza Blue, 5-11, 186, R-Fr.
21 Cameron Hartsfield, 5-9, 188, R-Fr. (out for spring)

Signee:
Zavior Hoxie, 5-11, 190, Fr.

Returning starters: Deayon was an All-Mountain West second-teamer (54 tackles, nine pass breakups, six interceptions). Douglas (35, nine, four) is a returning starter, too, but he actually lost the job late last season to Maston (44, three, zero).

Other key returners: Page and Moxey also were part of a season-long search for the right pair of cornerbacks.

Spring storyline: The cornerback competition likely will be hotly contested all the way through August and all but two of those guys will be on the field in spring ball. Deayon seems safe, but the other spot is wide open.

SAFETY
Roster

10 Jeremy Ioane, 5-10, 190, R-Sr.
38 Corey Bell, 5-11, 210, Sr.
24 Taylor Loffler, 6-3, 212, R-Jr.
4 Darian Thompson, 6-1, 200, R-Jr.
28 Dillon Lukehart, 6-0, 207, R-Jr.
22 Chanceller James, 6-1, 205, R-So. (out for spring)
47 Brandon Brown, 5-11, 192, R-Fr.
Dylan Sumner-Gardner, 6-1, 202, Fr.

Signee:
Kekoa Nawahine, 6-3, 190, Fr. (expected to go on a mission)

Returning starters: Ioane was an All-MW second-teamer with 59 tackles. Thompson finished fourth on the team with 63 tackles and grabbed four interceptions. Both have been key figures on the defense for two years. Then there’s Bell, who becomes a nickel safety in the new defense. He was second on the team last year with 76 tackles as the strong-side linebacker but it’s unclear if he can meet the coverage requirements of his new position.

Other key returners: Lukehart and Loffler were key special-teamers who saw some time on defense. Lukehart, in fact, finished 10th on the team with 46 tackles.

Spring storyline: The safeties might be under the most pressure from Yates to rebuild the physical nature of the Broncos’ defense. He developed players like Jeron Johnson and George Iloka at Boise State; he’s going to expect that type of play from his starters. Also, the search is on for the right guy to man the new nickel spot and Sumner-Gardner — the early-arriving high school graduate with a top-100 recruiting ranking — will try to become the latest true freshman to break out in the secondary.


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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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