By Chadd Cripe
© 2011 Idaho Statesman
The Boise State football team opens fall camp Thursday at Dona Larsen Park. The Broncos will hold split workouts — veterans in the mornings, newcomers and select others in the afternoons — for the first four days and hold their first full-squad, full-pads practice Monday morning.
Camp ends Aug. 21, the day before school starts. In 18 days, the players will practice 18 times. The only practice open to the public is the scrimmage at 7 p.m. Aug. 20 at Bronco Stadium.
In advance of camp, I’m previewing the offense and defense. Today: the defense.
Key issue: The Broncos’ turnover production dropped from 35 to 27 from 2009 to 2010. They still were the No. 2 defense in the nation in yards allowed last year, but turnovers often are converted into points — so forcing more of them will be a focal point of camp. “That was the one goal we didn’t reach (as a defense),” defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “We didn’t get over 30 turnovers last year. Turnovers are going to be huge.”
Returning starters (7): DE Shea McClellin, DT Billy Winn, DT Chase Baker, LB Byron Hout, LB Aaron Tevis/J.C. Percy, CB Jamar Taylor, S George Iloka.
Position to watch: The Broncos didn’t learn much from spring ball about their vacancy at strong safety. Replacing Jeron Johnson, a three-year leading tackler, is difficult enough without injuries hitting as hard as they did in the spring. Senior Cedric Febis, who missed spring with a leg injury, is the favorite. But if he doesn’t stake claim to the job, it’s not out of the question that a true freshman could end up there.
Filling the depth chart: The Broncos could start four seniors and a junior in the secondary, but behind them are mostly question marks — particularly at cornerback and safety. Some of the team’s young defensive backs are going to have to step up, and again that could mean a true freshman getting into the mix.
Spring climber: Senior end Jarrell Root had his best spring as a Bronco and has emerged as the clear-cut No. 3 end, behind seniors McClellin and Tyrone Crawford. “I like to look at it like we have three ends that can go in and start,” Kwiatkowski said.
Breakout star: Look out for Taylor, a junior who was impressive as a first-year starter last season and has earned raves for his dedication and improvement throughout the spring and summer. Safety George Iloka said Taylor didn’t take days off in the summer. On weekends, he worked out by himself.
Fall climber: Predicting who will make a move during camp is like trying to pick the winner of a golf tournament, but grayshirt freshman defensive end Tyler Horn of Mountain View High showed well in spring ball and should get plenty of opportunities to compete for the No. 4 end spot. Since Boise State rotates two lines, the fourth end is likely to play a third or more of the snaps.
Welcome back: In addition to Febis, senior middle linebacker Byron Hout will give the defense a different look this fall. Hout was injured late last season and missed all of spring ball. His energy will help fill the void left by former nickel Winston Venable.
Notable: The Broncos' four departed starters are all in NFL training camps — Johnson, Venable, defensive end Ryan Winterswyk and cornerback Brandyn Thompson. The only starter lost off the 2009 defense also is in the NFL, cornerback Kyle Wilson.
Boise’s bowl game has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday to announce a new title sponsor. The release refers to the game as the “bowl formerly known as Humanitarian Bowl.”
The press conference is at 2 p.m.