Fall camp: Defensive line depth begins to unfold heading into first scrimmage

Fresno State’s defensive line first-team unit has been at a constant.

Seniors Nikko Motta and Andy Jennings are running things at the end spots with junior Tyeler Davison anchoring the interior at nose guard – their presence imposing.

That’s the lineup Fresno State ran with the last six of seven games of the 2012.

That’s how it’s been during the first 10 practices of fall camp. And, it might in all likelihood be how the starting defensive line rotation looks like on Aug. 29, when the Bulldogs host Rutgers in their season opener.

The experience, a year-and-a-half removed from the growing-pains assimilation process to the 3-4 base formation – one that junior-college transfers Claudell Louis and Ioane Sagapolu are currently going through – and the consistency the three returning starters have brought since the start of fall camp practices indicate that.

The Bulldogs, come Saturday morning when they hold their first fall camp team scrimmage, will be paying close attention to the rest of the line to find the “No. 4, 5 and 6” linemen on the depth chart, defensive line coach Pete Germano said – regardless of which spot on the line they typically line up in.

“We got three starters,” Germano said Friday afternoon. “So what you’re looking for is whose No. 4, 5 and 6. I’m not playing the backup nose. I’m not playing the backup right end. I’m not playing the backup left end if one of [the starters] go out. I’m putting the fourth-best player in the game.

“If it ends up being that the backup nose and the backup ends are all legitimate, good backups, it doesn’t matter who’s in – that’s one thing. I could have three four, but the fourth guy is going to be the guy that’s going in first in the game, and that’s what they’re playing for.”

And in the hunt to fill those spots are Todd Hunt and Maurice Poyadue.

Hunt, a 260-pounder who started at defensive end against Hawaii last season, and Poyadue, 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds, both have a year and half of experience in the defense and have been practicing with the second-team defense in team drills.

“Todd Hunt has had a great camp – he’s really pushing to get in that first unit,” Germano said.

“I think Maurice Poyadue has had a really, really good camp too. Those two guys have shown great improvement, which really helps our depth.”

Sagapolu, a Fresno City transfer, and Louis, from College of the Sequoias, were part of 2013 recruiting class that emphasized junior-college recruits more than previous years, mainly to help build immediate depth as younger players take time to develop — such as freshmen defensive linemen Nathan Masdsen and Ryan Steele.

Still, there is a learning curve that comes with learning the defense. These first fall practices have mainly dealt with installation.

“It’s been a little rough early on them mentally,” Germano said of Sagapolu and Louis. “They both have skills and talent that’s really going to help us with the depth. We just have to get them caught up mentally.”

Fresno State will hold its first live scrimmage Saturday morning and will have its first fall camp off day on Sunday.

“Tomorrow… will be a big indicator of where we’re at,” Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said.