Matt Weir / The Collegian
The Fresno State football team returns key starters on both sides of the ball.
With the season opener against Cincinnati less than a week away, the Fresno State football team has been preparing extensively for their Big East foe.
Fall camp came to a close when school began last week, but game planning for the Bearcats is in full swing.
The Bulldogs held their mock game on Saturday by going through a game-day schedule to help familiarize players for the routines and rituals on game days.
This season the ‘Dogs are returning 17 total starters: Eight on offense, eight on defense and kicker Kevin Goessling on special teams. But more importantly, Fresno State returns Jeff Grady, its offensive coordinator. This will be the first time in five years that the ‘Dogs have been able to retain its offensive play caller.
With Grady back, expect big things from the quarterback position. Leading the ‘Dogs on offense will be Manning Award candidate Ryan Colburn. The senior quarterback will be asked to air it out much more often in 2010, especially with the loss of last season’s leading rusher Ryan Mathews to the NFL.
Colburn went through growing pains last season as a first-time starter, throwing seven interceptions in his first four starts. However, as the season progressed, Colburn’s play improved steadily.
“The last seven games of the year, he was amongst the best in the country as far as passing percentage,” head coach Pat Hill said of Colburn. “He threw it over 62 percent. He played very well down the stretch. I think he’s an outstanding quarterback.”
In Colburn’s last nine starts, he completed over 66 percent of his passes with 131 completions on 197 attempts. Colburn’s touchdown-to-interception ratio also improved during that span, throwing for 12 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
Assisting Colburn on offense will be Devon Wylie and Jamel Hamler, last year’s No. 2 receiver, and senior Vince Pascoe. Pascoe started 12 games last year from his tight end position. He is third among returning receivers, behind only Hamler and Wylie, with six catches for 52 yards.
On defense, the ‘Dogs return three seniors on the line in defensive ends Chris Carter and Chris Lewis, along with defensive tackle Cornell Banks. Junior Chase McEntee will return as the starter at the nose tackle position.
The starting four combined to record 116 tackles, 23.5 tackles for losses, six sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception.
Also looking to make an impact on the defensive line is sophomore Anthony Williams. Williams improved his strength and physique in the offseason. Hill said that the sophomore set an all-time bench press record at Fresno State in the summer by lifting 470 pounds.
“He improved his 40 time by three-tenths of a second,” Hill said of Williams. “He trimmed his body fat by four percent.”
Senior Ben Jacobs will be leading a linebacking corps that also returns junior Kyle Knox. Sophomore Travis Brown is expected to fill in at the outside linebacker position that was vacated by former starter Nico Herron, who left the team in the spring.
Junior Shawn Plummer will also try to make a hit with the linebackers. Plummer started the final three regular season games last year.
In the secondary, the defense returns senior safety Lorne Bell and cornerback Desia Dunn. Bell is considered by teammates to be the fiercest hitter on the team.
“Toughest hitter on the team—it’s got to be Lorne Bell,” Brown said. “Definitely, he’ll knock your head off.”
The ‘Dogs kickoff a much anticipated seven home-game schedule this Saturday at 7 p.m., when they host back-to-back Big East champions Cincinnati.