Cornerback Bryan Douglas noticed the criticism of the Broncos' defensive backs last season.
It came from all corners most notably, from the former players who helped turn the program into one of the nation's top producers of NFL defensive backs.
The criticism that the Broncos weren't playing to the program's lofty standard was fair, Douglas says.
"It made us mad, actually, that we weren't where we want to be and we're working twice as hard to get back," said Douglas, a senior who is one of five returning starters in the secondary. " We all made mistakes. We all gave up plays. We're trying not to let that happen this year."
The Broncos ranked 88th in the nation in passing yards allowed (249.2 per game) and 73rd in pass-efficiency defense (129.73 rating, 17 TDs, 16 interceptions) last season.
They had finished in the top 15 in pass-efficiency defense in four of the previous five seasons, including the top five three times.
"We've got to get better," said first-year coach Bryan Harsin, whose team will stage its Spring Game at 5 p.m. Saturday. "We need to get better in pass defense. That group naturally has been challenged, just based off of last year."
Four of the returning starters seem safe. Senior safety Jeremy Ioane (59 tackles; All-Mountain West second-teamer), junior safety Darian Thompson (63 tackles, four interceptions) and senior nickel Corey Bell (76 tackles) bring veteran savvy to the defense and have performed like starters this spring. And junior cornerback Donte Deayon, an All-Mountain West second-teamer who led the team with six interceptions, is one of the top returning defenders in the league.
That leaves a massive competition for the second cornerback spot a scrap that began in August of last year and will continue at least through August of this year.
"Competition brings out the best in everybody," Douglas said. "It's neck and neck right now. It's definitely hard, but it all comes back down to the details and who's going to be more consistent."
The contenders include Douglas, who started the first 10 games last season; senior Mercy Maston, who started the last three games in place of Douglas and one other as the nickel; sophomore Jonathan Moxey, who started one game as a true freshman; senior Cleshawn Page, who recorded an interception and three pass breakups in Saturday's scrimmage; and sophomore Chaz Anderson, who has surprised this spring.
Maston also plays nickel, where he could spell Bell in certain situations. Defensive backs coach Julius Brown said he could play as many as seven defensive backs in certain situations.
"We have a really athletic group," Brown said. "I think we're pretty deep and we're talented. The main thing for me is there is a lot of competition at a lot of different spots and those kids know that. The depth chart can change weekly. And they're seeing it."
Moxey is the youngest competitor at cornerback but the only one who played as a true freshman usually an indicator of future success in the Broncos' secondary. Previous true freshman contributors have included Deayon, Jamar Taylor, George Iloka, Brandyn Thompson, Orlando Scandrick and Chris Carr.
Moxey received spot duty last season. He started against Southern Miss in a three-cornerback alignment.
"Now I feel like I'm getting older and the game is starting to slow down," he said. "The new coaching staff, it's helped me out so much. Competing with three seniors and a junior, it pushes me every day."
Moxey came to Boise State from West Palm Beach, Fla., with that competitive attitude already in place.
"I was determined to play," he said. "I didn't want to redshirt. I'm just out there trying to get better, trying to position myself to play more this season."
To get there, he likely will have to go through Douglas, who is trying to shake off some lousy luck to create a memorable senior year. Douglas tore an anterior cruciate ligament in October 2012, just as he was emerging as a future staple of the defense, and dealt with some minor issues in that knee throughout last season.
The physical issues, combined with the mental doubts those issues inspired, caused his play to slip, he said.
"I definitely went into the season with high expectations," Douglas said. " It was kind of hard because I've been here so long. You think you've put in the work and you're supposed to be on the field.
"This is my last season. I want to give this team all I've got. I'm putting everything on the line for my teammates. I want to make big plays for them and I'm trying to step up and do that."
To test the cornerbacks, coaches have put them in man coverage for much of the spring. They'll sprinkle in zone coverage during the season - it's too risky to play man all the time.
"The best way to evaluate who your cover guys are going to be is to put them in coverage," Harsin said. " We want to see guys compete and see them put on an island."
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398,Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat