Boise State cornerback Jalen Walker: ‘Big shoes to fill’
Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series previewing the 2019 Boise State football team by position. The previews will appear throughout August. Previously: Defensive line, running backs, tight ends. Check out the position-by-position roster here.
If junior cornerback Jalen Walker wins a starting spot for the Boise State football team this month — and that seems like a good bet — he won’t be intimidated by an opponent like Florida State.
Walker has started three of the Broncos’ past 14 games.
The first time, the opponent was Oregon and quarterback Justin Herbert — one of the nation’s top NFL prospects — in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl. The second time, the game was played in the hostile environment of Oklahoma State’s Boone Pickens Stadium last season.
In both cases, Walker proved up to the challenge. And now, he’s not stuck behind star cornerback Tyler Horton anymore.
“All those games that he got his first starts in ... they weren’t the easy opponents,” junior cornerback Avery Williams said of Walker, whose third start came at Wyoming. “They were all the toughest games. Something he showed was he can compete with those big-time receivers. That’s a guy you really have to look at this year because he’s going to give it his all.”
Walker’s development will be a key indicator of how the Broncos’ defense performs this season. The defensive line and safety/nickel groups are loaded, and the linebackers could be, too, depending on the health of Riley Whimpey (returning from a torn ACL).
But cornerback is a question mark. On the opposite side from Walker, Williams is a third-year returning starter who says his sophomore season was “average, at best.” Redshirt sophomore Marques Evans and true freshman Markel Reed have impressed early in fall camp but they lack experience.
First-year cornerbacks coach Jalil Brown said the players in his room understand that they’re possibly the only unsettled portion of the defense.
“We take it as a challenge,” Brown said. “The day I got here, we talked about our goals. That was one of the challenges, to develop some leadership in the room and somebody to go and solidify that position and be a leader and help the defense out as much as possible.”
Last year, the Broncos ranked 94th in pass-efficiency defense (17 TDs, seven interceptions) and 70th in passing yards allowed per game (233).
“That’s not somewhere we want to be,” Williams said.
The Broncos will try to improve while replacing the playmaking Horton, an All-Mountain West first-teamer last year who was known for his ability to create turnovers. Horton started 39 games.
Horton has served as a mentor for Williams and Walker. Walker still talks to him on the phone every couple of days to discuss the ups and downs of his practice performances.
“He’s given me and Jalen the blueprint, and we know exactly where to pick it up,” Williams said.
Walker waited for two years behind Horton for a larger role on the Broncos’ defense. He reminded himself each week that he needed to be ready to start, even though that was unlikely.
That might have frustrated some young players, Williams said.
“He’s always someone that’s been there and trusted the process,” Williams said. “It’s kind of hard to sit behind a guy like (Horton). There’s guys that will take it and be like, ‘Oh, I’ll never get a chance.’ And there’s guys like him that busted their butt and were like, ‘I’m going to get this done and I’m going to keep playing.’ ”
Walker brings confidence and personality to his newfound role as projected starter. He joked that he has “a little mouthpiece on me.”
“Especially if things are going my way, you’re going to definitely hear me,” he said.
He loves to play aggressively — press coverage is his favorite, and Brown has to chide him for being too aggressive at times. He said he hopes opponents challenge him as, potentially, the only player in the secondary who wasn’t a starter in last year’s season opener.
“I like this pressure, really,” Walker said. “I’ve now got big shoes to fill.”
Said Brown: “He’s a young guy eager for an opportunity to go out there and play. He understands now the stakes are a little different.”