Boise State junior cornerback Bryan Douglas intercepted a pass last week in fall camp and broke into the open field.
He ran and ran and ran. And he looked awfully fast.
"I can't tell you how good that feeling was," Douglas said Wednesday, "to finally get my hands back on a ball and show my speed again and show people that I'm actually back."
Douglas - the Broncos' No. 3 cornerback last season, learning under seniors Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins - tore an anterior cruciate ligament Oct. 27 at Wyoming.
He returned to the field Aug. 5 for the first day of fall camp. He wasn't able to compete in every practice, but he has progressed enough that defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake expects him to provide the stability and leadership his young crew of cornerbacks needs.
"Bryan looks great," Lake said. "We have had to spoon-feed him a little bit, but now basically the straps are off. He can run around as much as he wants. The trainers are like, 'You have him.' And he's been doing a great job, so I don't envision any setbacks."
Lake expects to use four to six cornerbacks in the season opener Aug. 31 at Washington. Four of them haven't played a major college football game and three are newcomers to the program.
In fact, only three of the nine cornerbacks on the roster were on the team at this time last year.
"It's been exciting to watch, really, for me," Lake said. "It's very, very competitive every single day - everybody is just fighting and scratching trying to make plays."
He declined to rank his top six cornerbacks - Douglas, true sophomore Donte Deayon, junior college transfers Cleshawn Page and Mercy Maston, redshirt freshman Chaz Anderson and true freshman Jonathan Moxey.
However, he did give an edge to the two players with experience. Douglas has four starts; Deayon, who played the final five games last season, has one.
The long-term starters likely will be determined by game action.
"Last year we had a couple of guys that we could really lean on and they never came off the field," Lake said. "We could eventually get to that point this year as well, but right now we're going to throw those guys out there and let them battle and then the cream is going to rise to the top."
The Broncos were dominant in pass defense last season. They ranked fifth nationally in pass-efficiency defense, sixth in passing yards allowed and first in touchdowns allowed (four).
Taylor and Gavins made a point of passing their knowledge and work habits to the younger players, which made an impression on Douglas and Deayon.
"They set the bar pretty high, and we all have the mindset that that's the level we need to play at to be a great secondary," Deayon said.
Douglas (5-foot-9, 178 pounds) was an important part of the secondary before his injury. He started the first three games in place of Gavins, who was overcoming his own knee injury, and continued to receive quality time as the No. 3 corner.
The torn ACL not only ended his season, but also cast some doubt on whether he would be ready to assume a front-line role as expected in 2013.
"It made me grind even harder, actually," Douglas said, "because I've got some big shoes to fill without (Taylor and Gavins). Those guys were awesome players."
He had nine months to heal before fall camp. Lake received calls updating him each time Douglas hit a milestone - and the progress was rapid.
"The timeline was tight," Douglas said. "I hit it right on the head. Hopefully I can come back better than I was."
He is 12 pounds heavier and significantly stronger. He feels quicker.
The trick will be shedding the rust accumulated after missing two months of practice last season and all of spring ball.
"He took this setback, this little adversity that hit his life," Lake said, "he took it and said, 'OK, I've just got to get bigger, faster, stronger. I'm not going to let this hold me down.' We're excited to watch him."
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat