Tradition is built for a reason. The names change, but the result is the same. At Boise State, the cornerbacks and safeties like to call it “DBU,” or Defensive Back University.
Names like Quintin Mikell, Kyle Wilson, Jeron Johnson, George Iloka, Jamar Taylor, Darian Thompson and Donte Deayon starred for the Broncos and made NFL rosters. When the players who preceded them graduated, they all had to step up. That’s the mindset of this season’s edition as Thompson and Deayon, with their 36 combined interceptions, are with the New York Giants.
“Year in and year out, we always find a way to get it,” senior cornerback Jonathan Moxey said. “We’ve lost players every single year I’ve been here, and it’s never been a huge problem. In my head, I don’t expect any letdown.”
Though the prolific tandem has departed, their lasting effect is the lessons and example they left for those who return this season.
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“What they did a great job of was teaching us their game. They taught us different little tricks we can implement into our game to help us win and get turnovers, interceptions, stuff like that,” junior safety Cameron Hartsfield said.
Three returning defensive backs — Moxey (two), senior cornerback Raymond Ford (two) and senior safety Chanceller James (one) — had interceptions last season. An area of emphasis in fall camp has been getting their hands on passes.
Cornerbacks coach Ashley Ambrose, another NFL veteran, said Moxey and sophomore cornerback Tyler Horton have done a good job of that. But they’ve also dropped about six interceptions between them in fall camp, he said.
“I’m kind of wishing they would capitalize on turnovers,” Ambrose said. “I’m trying to turn good plays into great plays.”
Moxey said the defensive backs have made winning the turnover battle a focus. This camp, whenever a ball hits the ground, be it a fumble or even an incomplete pass, the defense swarms to the ball, picks it up and starts to run. It’s slightly frustrating to not catch the passes, but there is a positive in just being there.
“We’re definitely getting around the ball a lot, sometimes we’ve just got to catch it,” Moxey said. “That’s part of the game. Being in the right place is the hardest part. We’re getting there, but we’ve just got to capitalize and finish plays.”
The veteran Moxey has taken to heart his role as a leader, being open about last season when he drew untimely penalties. He said, “I feel like my whole journey is all about growth, personal growth.”
Ambrose also praised Horton, who he said “had a really good camp.” Horton played last season as a true freshman and has battled with Ford for a starting spot. They’ll be joined by perhaps two true freshmen in Reid Harrison-Ducros and DeAndre Pierce, who Moxey said “remind me of myself. They came in hungry, eager to learn. ... I’m glad we’ve got those guys to be part of our group.”
On the back end, James anchors a group that should not lack for depth. Playing nickel and safety, James had 55 tackles, three sacks and six pass breakups last season.
“Everybody’s jelling together. Chance is a great leader,” redshirt freshman safety Evan Tyler said.
Sophomore Dylan Sumner-Gardner earned a redshirt last season after a broken ankle ended his season in the fourth game, but his status for the season opener is hazy after an arrest in November to which he pled guilty in February.
Coach Bryan Harsin said of Hartsfield, “I’ve really been impressed,” and he could be a factor in the first-team group. Tyler has been solid with the second-team defense, and junior Kameron Miles could see some time between safety and weakside linebacker.
Defensive back depth chart (projected)
- CB Jonathan Moxey, 5-10, 185, Sr.: Has 17 pass breakups, three INTs in 25 starts; has taken leadership role seriously
- CB Tyler Horton, 5-11, 178, So.: Talented, intelligent prospect with high upside, he’s aimed to further understand defense in fall camp
- S Chanceller James, 6-2, 208, RSr.: Safety and nickel playmaker last season (three sacks)
- S Cameron Hartsfield, 5-10, 196, RJr.: Has 12 career tackles, but has been earning first-team snaps
- CB Raymond Ford, 5-10, 191, RSr.: Had a pair of INTs last year and did not allow a TD
- CB Reid Harrison-Ducros, 5-10, 170, Fr.: Has competed with fellow freshman DeAndre Pierce for playing time
- S Dylan Sumner- Gardner, 6-1, 201, RSo.: Coming off ankle injury, off-field incident, may need to play way back into starting role
- S Evan Tyler, 6-2, 185, RFr.: Track standout in high school has made plays in fall camp