As fall camp winds down, confidence is in the air as the Bulldogs prepare to open the football season against Rutgers on Aug. 29.
After winning their first Mountain West Conference championship – and making it to the Hawaii Bowl – the goal of 2013 has been simple: improve.
“To have so many guys back this year, [they] have very high expectations for themselves and they’re going to reach to get there,” Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter said.
Aug. 1 was the first day of training camp for the Bulldogs, and the first day of football since their spring game on Mar. 23.
Despite the return of the coaching staff and key players such as Derek Carr and Derron Smith, the Bulldogs also lost a couple of key players: safety Phillip Thomas and running back Robbie Rouse.
Thomas was drafted by the NFL’s Washington Redskins in the fourth round and Rouse, who went undrafted, became the all-time leading rusher in Fresno State history with 4,647 career yards.
Throughout fall camp, Rouse’s absence did not go unnoticed. A pressing issue for DeRuyter and his staff was finding the player who would fill that spot at running back.
Juniors Malique Micenheimer and Josh Quezada and sophomore Marteze Waller are names that have consistently been mentioned as possible No. 1 starters in the backfield. Waller was Rouse’s backup last season, carrying the ball 41 times for 174 yards. Quezada, coming from BYU, had 86 carries for 298 rushing yards during his sophomore year in 2011.
Micenheimer, who started last year as a linebacker, switched to running back during spring football earlier this year. Although his transition has been productive, he suffered an injury during camp, which has slowed down the process.
With three top-notch running backs ready to be starters, choosing the No. 1 has not been an easy task for running backs coach Joe Wade.
“I don’t want to pigeon hole myself by saying this or that,” Wade said. “We’re going to act accordingly based on production and how they practice and so far no one has given an inch yet. Right now someone has to run with the ones and someone has to run with the twos.”
Scrimmages provide depth for the offense
The fall scrimmages provided ways for the Fresno State coaches to solidify the backups and figure out who would be their No. 2s and 3s.
Quarterback Brian Burrell, a junior transfer from Bakersfield College, began to separate himself from the others. He completed six out of 10 passes during the first scrimmage, compared to seven of 15 for Myles Carr and nine of 20 for Zack Greenlee. Greg Watson, a former backup quarterback who changed his position to wide receiver, caught three passes for 37 yards.
The second scrimmage saw redshirt freshman running back T.J. Thomas and Burrell work together on the No. 2 team. Thomas carried the ball seven times for 23 yards and caught a touchdown pass from Burrell. The No. 3 team saw Greenlee work with running back Jordan Brown and wide receiver Delvon Hardaway.
“There’s some guys that are either a two or a three competing to be a two, but for the most part our ones are set and our twos and threes are fairly set,” DeRuyter said after the final scrimmage.
And now, the focus is on time. This opening match will be the first time Fresno State will host Rutgers. The last they played was in New Jersey in 2008. Fresno State won that game 24-7.
“We’ve had all offseason to get a game plan on both sides of the ball and special teams,” DeRuyter said. “We’ve been working a little bit of Rutgers stuff sprinkled in, but now it’s full time.
“Guys had hints of what we’re doing, but now it’s all Rutgers all the time.”