The first stop in our magical tour of the Justin Wilcox era starts at Boise State. We chatted with Drew Roberts from One Bronco Nation Under God.
1. What was the hallmark of Wilcox's defenses at Boise?
I'd say the hallmark of Wilcox's defenses at Boise was being extremely aggressive. Wilcox would vary the schemes and fronts with regularity throughout the game and kept offenses guessing where the pressure would be coming from.
2. How consistent was Wilcox in his Boise scheme, year to year, vs adjusting to the talent he had available?
This might be Wilcox's best legacy, in my opinion. In Wilcox's first season as DC, the Broncos still had a lot of pieces left from Dan Hawkins successful teams, so Wilcox stuck largely with the 4-3 defense that had been installed prior to his taking over. However, the next season with some of the Broncos better linebackers having graduated—Wilcox shifted to a 4-2-5 defense to highlight the speed of the defense. The roving "nickel" safety allowed the Broncos to bring pressure from all over the field and drop extra men into coverage when the offensive look necessitated it.
3. How much autonomy did Wilcox have to run the Boise defense vs it being a joint production with the HC?
Since he was here under Chris Petersen's regime and Petersen was notoriously tight-lipped, it's hard to say...but Pete was very good at delegating responsibilities and due to how drastically the defense evolved under Wilcox, I'd say he had his run of things.
4. How would you assess Wilcox as a recruiter at Boise?
It's a well-known part of Boise State lore that it was Wilcox and not Bryan Harsin (OC) or Chris Petersen that was responsible for the Broncos offering QB Kellen Moore. I'd say that he saw potential in a very lightly recruited, unathletic kid like Moore (who only won 50 games at Boise State) speaks volumes about his ability to evaluate talent.
5. What were your biggest frustrations with Wilcox as a defensive coordinator?
It's hard to say because the years he was in the booth were some of the best years of Bronco football ever (both defensively and offensively) but I would say that sometimes, when the Broncos got a big lead, he'd "call off the dogs" rather early. Halftime adjustments sometimes were not as visible as fans would have liked them to be as well...but the guy got results and it's hard to nitpick too much considering how many games were won (or secured by the D) during his tenure.
6. What would you consider Wilcox's best performance as a defensive coordinator?
His best performance is either the '10 Fiesta Bowl against TCU, where they held the Frogs to 36 rushing yards and 1-for-12 on 3rd downs (and had a cornerback blitz sack on Andy Dalton that nearly broke him in half) OR the '09 home opener against Oregon where the Broncos held the Ducks to just six first downs and 152 total yards (yes, this was the LeGarrette Blount punch game AND Chip Kelly's inauguration).
7. Who were the players that developed and excelled the best in Wilcox's schemes?
Wilcox was lucky to have some excellent talent on his Boise State teams and had plenty of guys that went on to play on Sundays...but I'd say it was unheralded guys like nickel Winston Venable (now playing in Toronto) that had a giant impact in Wilcox's schemes. The Bronco defenses were so disciplined under Wilcox that having that it was like having an extra man on defense...with complete autonomy to sack the QB, pick off a pass over the middle, or nearly disintegrate James Rodgers.
8. Now that he's a head coach, how do you anticipate Wilcox performing given what you've seen of him in the Boise State habitat?
If I'm being completely honest, Wilcox was the guy I was really rooting for to land the Boise State gig when Pete skipped town and the reason was because of his recruiting and talent evaluation abilities. Before Wilcox, Boise State had been known more as an offensive team but when he left, they were complete teams...able to totally shut down other offenses, whether they were P5 or not.