The Fresno State football team prepares for spring practice. Roe Borunda / The Collegian

Football: ’Dogs hope for clarity in spring practices

The Fresno State football team prepares for spring practice. Roe Borunda / The Collegian

The Fresno State football team prepares for spring practice. Roe Borunda / The Collegian

There are facets of the game which Fresno State wants to improve upon.

The Bulldogs, co-Mountain West champions last season in coach Tim DeRuyter’s first year at the helm, want to run more plays on offense – more than the 77 they averaged per game, though there were four games where the second string played the whole second half. They want to raise that number to 90, offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said.

The defense is in the final phase of a two-year installation plan of the 3-4 base formation that revamped the unit entirely last season, defensive coordinator Nick Toth said.

But, with players battling for positions vacated by key pieces (see Phillip Thomas and Robbie Rouse), it remains to be seen how the final picture, the starting lineups and their backups, will unfold.

That’s what Fresno State hopes to have a clearer picture of by the end of spring practices.

With 15 practices leading up to the annual spring game on March 23, the Bulldogs intend on having a clearer picture as to how their two-deep lineup is going to shape up heading into fall camp.

“For us, the big goal is finding out who our two-deep is and feel good about that two-deep,” DeRuyter said.

“A year ago, we felt good about our ones, and selected backups, but we didn’t have consistent two’s. Our goal getting out of spring is to have a two-deep that we feel confident going into fall.”

Fresno State will practice in full pads today.

The JC effect

Fresno State’s latest batch of Bulldogs included an excessive (compared to previous years) 11 junior-college transfers.

With lack of depth in group positions such as the offensive line and the secondary heading into spring practice, the Bulldogs elected to bring in players with collegiate experienced who might be more refined.

There were 17 incoming high school graduates who will join Fresno State in the fall, but plugging urgent holes with experienced players who can likely contribute immediately – like Citrus College transfer Rodney Mathews and American River College transfer Josh Tremblay – should help in the development of younger players, Toth said.

“You always want freshmen to be able to get stronger and learn the package and not be forced to play right away,” Toth said.

“You’re a better team when you’ve got 23-year-olds playing than you are when you have 18-year-olds playing. We’d love to not play young guys. We’d like to have newcomers not to be a factor. But we have some junior-college kids coming in that will be a factor.”

“They’re going to have a big impact,” Toth added. “All of those guys, they’re going to compete to play right away. I think that’s one of the reasons we took some of the guys we took is that they’re very, very hungry kids. They’re all competitive. None of them are going to wait their turn. I feel confident that they’re going to have an impact.”

Backups battle

One of the most interesting battle positions heading into fall camp is at backup quarterback.

Fresno State signed Bakersfield College transfer Brian Burell to compete with Myles Carr and Marcus McDade for the No. 2 position behind incumbent Derek Carr, who will be limited in practice as the backup battle unfolds.

Greg Watson, who was No. 2 in the depth chart for most of last season before switching positions to wide receiver, is no longer in the mix.

The Bulldogs signed highly recruited quarterback Zack Greenlee of Lincoln-Stockton High School, but he won’t practice until fall camp, leaving Burell McDade and Myles Carr with a head start in the backup race.

“We’ll worry about Zack when Zack gets here in August,” DeRuyter said. “These guys right now get a chance to get a leg up on everybody else.

“All we’re worried about is the three guys we’ve got in camp right now. They’re going to compete. Friday we get to put pads on so it’ll be a little bit more cranked out competition-wise. And we want to see how they handle that with a little bit more pressure coming at them.”

DeRuyter saw improvement in the bunch during Wednesday’s practice. The trio threw one interception after throwing five on Monday, the team’s first spring practice.

“Much cleaner than it was Monday, which is to be expected,” he said.

“We went from five (interceptions) to one today. They’re getting much better. They’re understanding for the first time they’re taking reps with that first huddle. It’s a little bit different speed when they’re going against that (No.) 1 defense. To see guys improve is important, and we’ve got to get better doing that every single day.


Offensive line update

The offensive line enters spring practice having to fill the positions Richard Helepiko and Matt Hunt left at center and left guard – and have “good competition going on” between Alex Fifita and Justin Northern, Schramm said.

Fresno State brought in five new offensive linemen (three are junior-college transfers) to help fill the holes.

“Nobody’s got an etched-in position but obviously the guys that have played in the games, they have a lot more experience so they should have a little bit of an edge,” Schramm said.

“There is no exact lineup right now. We just have to find the best five guys.

We’ll know by end of spring. We’ll have a good idea going into fall camp. I don’t think it’ll be set, but at least we’ll have a good idea.”

The Bulldogs are a step ahead of where they were this time last year, when the line was more focused on conditioning and executing the basics of the up-tempo spread offense.

“We’re a lot further ahead than we were a year ago at this time,” Schramm said.