On the day before fall camp began, Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates broke out his game face at an otherwise lighthearted press conference.
Yates hears all that talk about how good the Broncos’ defense could be this year – and he doesn’t buy it.
Not yet, anyway.
“For the past month and a half I’ve been hearing about how great our defense is going to be,” Yates said, “and that’s just been driving me crazy. We don’t look at it that way. We have work to do. We weren’t a great defense last year. I don’t know where this ‘great’ came from. But we need to start off by doing the little things right.”
The expectations are easy to understand. The Broncos return eight defensive starters from the Fiesta Bowl championship team, including four preseason All-Mountain West picks (“I don’t even know who those four guys are,” Yates said). During a four-game stretch from halftime of the San Diego State game to halftime of the Fiesta Bowl last season, the starters limited opponents to just seven touchdowns.
Yates’ frustration makes sense, too. It’s not often that an offense or defense that goes through historic struggles is considered a potentially dominant unit the next preseason.
The Broncos ranked 63rd in scoring defense (26.8 points allowed) and 48th in total defense (375.4 yards allowed) last season while allowing at least 30 points five times. They surrendered 13 plays of at least 50 yards, tied for the 10th-most in the nation.
The scoring defense was the worst in the Broncos’ 14 years at the WAC/Mountain West level. The team allowed a total of five 50-yard plays in 2012-13 combined.
“We’re not great by any means,” said junior linebacker Tanner Vallejo, the defensive MVP of the Mountain West championship game and Fiesta Bowl. “We definitely have potential, but so do a lot of other teams that end up not great.”
Yates delivered his message Wednesday.
Vallejo and junior cornerback Jonathan Moxey, who met with the media Thursday shortly before the first practice of the season, said they understood their coach’s take.
“Coach Yates is right,” Moxey said. “We’ve got a lot to work on. ... We’re trying to be a dominant defense. We’re just trying to put in the work in fall camp.”
The defense features extensive depth on the line, bolstered by the return of seniors Tyler Horn (redshirt because of injury), Justin Taimatuia (redshirt because of injury) and Tutulupeatau Mataele (NCAA suspension). They join junior end Kamalei Correa, who led the Mountain West in sacks last year, and all but one of the linemen who played in the bowl game (starting end Beau Martin graduated).
The linebackers are loaded, too, with four starter-quality players for two spots. Vallejo starts in the middle, junior Ben Weaver likely will start on the weak side and senior Tyler Gray and sophomore Joe Martarano likely will get serious playing time.
Senior cornerback Donte Deayon and senior safety Darian Thompson, who rank among the top three returning players in the nation in career interceptions, lead a secondary that should benefit from rebuilt depth at safety.
“Is the potential there? Yes,” linebackers coach Andy Avalos said. “Do we have good football players? Yes. Smart guys? No doubt. Guys that love to play the game and guys that play with swagger and have a passion for the game? There’s no question. But we all know there’s a lot of work to be done.
“All that matters is each individual day, each individual period, each individual rep in that period. It’s those little things that turn into big things, and that’s what we’ve got to focus on.”