By Chadd Cripe
© 2013 Idaho Statesman
With the Boise State football team set to open spring practice next Monday, I’m using my blog this week to discuss five areas to watch — one a day, Monday-Friday.
One look at the NFL Draft board tells you that defense starts with cornerbacks and defensive linemen. I’ll write about the linemen later this week.
At cornerback, Boise State has established a strong tradition of outstanding, consistent play that has been a critical piece of its often-dominant defense in recent years.
Since 2008 — the year Boise State became a defensive force — the regular starters at corner have been Kyle Wilson (NFL first-round pick), Brandyn Thompson (seventh-round pick), Jamar Taylor (likely to go in the first three rounds this year) and Jerrell Gavins (a possible draft pick this year).
With that group, the Broncos finished fifth in the nation in pass efficiency defense last year, 43rd in 2011 (when Taylor and Gavins were injured), second in 2010, 13th in 2009 and third in 2008.
To keep that trend alive in 2013, the Broncos are going to need big years from an unproven bunch of corners — a group that is extremely thin this spring. The only cornerback on the team with extensive experience is junior Bryan Douglas, who shared the field cornerback job with Gavins last season before tearing an anterior cruciate ligament Oct. 27 at Wyoming. Douglas is out for the spring and it’s unknown whether he will be full strength in time for the season opener — 10 months after his injury.
Here are the candidates who will compete through spring ball:
— Deon’tae Florence, junior: Florence joined the Broncos last summer as a junior college transfer and played sparingly. He showed flashes of his potential, particularly in fall camp, and should benefit greatly from his first spring ball.
— Cleshawn Page, junior: Page (above) joined the team in January as a transfer from Los Angeles Harbor College. He has great speed and will have an edge on fellow transfer Mercy Maston, who doesn’t arrive until summer.
— Donte Deayon, sophomore: Deayon is one of the most intriguing players of spring ball. Coaches took the unusual step of pulling his redshirt in November, after Douglas was injured, and made a point of playing him regularly. He even started the regular-season finale against Nevada. “He’s been ready to go for a while,” coach Chris Petersen said after Deayon’s debut. “We’ve been excited about him. We’d watch him play on scout team and say, ‘Man, this guy is not only going to be a very good player, he’s a good player now.’ We’ve been saying that for a few weeks, that if we had to use him we’d have no problem with that.”
— Chaz Anderson, redshirt freshman: Anderson, like Deayon, was a highly regarded recruit when he signed in 2012. He spent last season on the scout defense, which quarterback Joe Southwick said was as difficult to handle as some of the Broncos’ opponents.
That’s only four cornerbacks for the spring. Another five — Douglas, Maston and high school recruits Jonathan Moxey, Cameron Hartsfield and Dionza Blue — join the competition in the summer.
Senior Ebo Makinde, who started four games at cornerback in 2011, moved to safety last season. He’s expected to stay there but he could take snaps at corner in the spring if necessary. The only other safety with corner skills is sophomore Darian Thompson, who is the returning starter at free safety.
Personnel at a glance:
Returning starters (5 of 12): LT Charles Leno Jr. (sr.), C Matt Paradis (sr.), WR Kirby Moore (sr.), WR Matt Miller (jr.), QB Joe Southwick (sr.)
Lost starters (7): LG Joe Kellogg, RG Michael Ames, RT Brenel Myers, TE Chandler Koch, WR Mitch Burroughs/Chris Potter, FB Dan Paul, RB D.J. Harper
Key reserves returning: WR Aaron Burks (sr.), WR Geraldo Boldewijn (sr.), OL Spencer Gerke (sr.), OL Jake Broyles (sr.), TE Gabe Linehan (sr.), TE Holden Huff (so.), RB Jay Ajayi (so.)
Redshirts to watch: QB Nick Patti, RB Devan Demas, OL Travis Averill
Newcomers to watch: RB Derrick Thomas, WR D.J. Dean
Returning stat leaders: Ajayi 82 rushes, 548 yds., 4 TDs; Southwick 248-of-371, 2,730 yds., 19 TDs, 7 ints., 141.78 eff.; Miller 66 rec., 769 yds., 5 TDs; Moore 36 rec., 368 yds., 1 TD.
Returning starters (5 of 11): DE Demarcus Lawrence (jr.), DT Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe (sr.), DE Sam Ukwuachu (so.), S Jeremy Ioane (jr.), S Darian Thompson (so.)
Lost starters (6): DT Mike Atkinson, LB Tommy Smith, LB J.C. Percy, N Dextrell Simmons, CB Jamar Taylor, CB Jerrell Gavins
Key reserves returning: DL Tyler Horn (jr.), DE Beau Martin (jr.), DE Kharyee Marshall (sr.), LB Blake Renaud (jr.), LB Tyler Gray (so.), N Corey Bell (jr.), S Dillon Lukehart (so.), CB Bryan Douglas (jr.), CB Donte Deayon (so.)
Redshirts to watch: DT Elliot Hoyte, LB Ben Weaver, LB Chris Santini, S Chanceller James
Newcomers to watch: DT Tutulupeatau “Deuce” Mataele, CB Cleshawn Page, LB Darren Lee
Returning stat leaders: Ioane 70 tackles, Lawrence 48, Renaud 46, Bell 45, Thompson 43; Ioane, Thompson 3 ints.; Lawrence 9.5 sacks, Horn 5, Ukwuachu 4.5; Lawrence 4 forced fumbles
Returning starters (1 of 2): P Trevor Harman (sr.)
Lost starters (1): K Michael Frisina
Other key returners: KO Dan Goodale (jr.), LS Kevin Keane (jr.), KR Shane Williams-Rhodes (so.), H Matt Miller (jr.)
Redshirt to watch: P Sean Wale
Newcomer to watch: K Tyler Rausa
Returning stat leaders: Harman 42 punts, 41.2 avg.; Williams-Rhodes 13 KO returns, 24.9 avg.
Aug. 31: at Washington
Sept. 7: vs. Tennessee Martin
Sept. 28: vs. Southern Miss
Oct. 26: at BYU
Mountain West home games (dates TBA): Air Force, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming
Mountain West road games (dates TBA): Colorado State, Fresno State, San Diego State, Utah State
The Spring Game is at 5:30 p.m. April 13 at Bronco Stadium. The Beat Coach Pete Scholarship run and Walk is the same day, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Registration is available here.