May 25, 2019

Battle to protect the QB’s blindside

Bryan Cole / The Collegian

The weather in Fresno may not be warming up, but the offensive position battles at spring football practice are.

The competition for every spot on the Fresno State offense is beginning to get more intense, as players are fighting for playing time once the 2009 season starts.

Players young and old are trying to raise their level of play by achieving their tasks at hand, in an effort to get the offense on the right track between now and the season opener in September.

Offensive lineman Devan Cunningham has been bouncing between guard and tackle, having to learn the different blocking assignments.

“Each position has their pros and cons,” Cunningham said. “Guard or tackle, I’m fine with it. Our coaches have been harping on us to play since January.”

Also on the line is center Joe Bernardi; the returning starter is not only looking to maintain his starting role, but also assume a leadership role.

“When you become an older guy and the one that’s in the middle of the offense, it’s your responsibility to assume that role,” Bernardi said. “It’s a young group and it’s funny for guys like me’ when you come out here and there’s no Ryan Wendell, no Bobby Lepori and there’s no Cole Popovich.”

Bernardi spent most of his Bulldog career playing alongside and learning from the three. He does believe that this new group will learn from him and play at a high level.

“I think overall it’s going to be a real good group as things shape on,” Bernardi said. “There’s a lot of potential with this group and right now we are all getting used to each other.”

Coach Pat Hill admits that the offensive line is a work in progress, with several young players vying for positions, especially at tackle.

“The two tackle spots are open, with Bryce Harris, [Kenny] Wiggins and [Devan] Cunningham playing tackle,” Hill said. “We’re playing a lot of young lineman out here and what’s really amazing is their execution.”

Despite the youth and inexperience, Hill doesn’t think his young line has disappointed, but the veteran coach wants his unit to grow as spring practice continues.

“Our line is not bad, especially in the blitz pick-up,” Hill said. “We’ll have a very athletic line and we’ll be a physical offensive line; we just need to mature.”

But when the line is blocking, the coaches want to see execution with the passing game. There was the issue of receivers not catching the football at the last scrimmage, before the spring break.

“On offense, we can’t have drops,” Hill said. “Those things we’ve got to correct. We don’t want to be the kind of team that has to win games by a scramble by our quarterback.”

Senior wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu knows that catching the ball is a must, especially when his position coach Keith Williams discovered him and his fellow receivers about making drops.

“He was telling us that we have to catch the ball. There’s no excuse for coming out and dropping the ball,” Ajirotutu said. “He said that if we drop a ball, we have to do extra work or do anything so that we can catch the ball.”

Ebahn Feathers is one quarterback looking to be on the same page as the receivers, regardless of who’s running the routes.

“Camaraderie in terms of receivers and quarterbacks is a big thing and we got to learn how to trust each other on the routes and throws,” Feathers said.

Feathers believes that no matter how inexperienced the offense will be, the unit will perform at a high level as the position battles continue to intensify.

“We got a lot of young talent on the offensive line and this is the first time we are actually going full-flex live and obviously there are some nerves shaking,” Feathers said. “But I have confidence in our offensive line; I know our coaches are doing the best they can to not put the quarterbacks in a position where we won’t get killed and I think we’ll be fine.”

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