Kyrie Wilson and Karl Mickelsen both saw playing time in all of Fresno State’s 13 games during the 2012 season – but had to compete with prominent players in those inside linebacker spots to crack the rotation.
Travis Brown, who graduated this spring, anchored the inside linebackers and was one of the defense’s mainstays – and so were Patrick Su’a and Jeremiah Toma, when healthy.
That left Wilson, a redshirt freshman last season, and Mickelsen, then a sophomore, in an uphill battle for playing time on defense. The duo did not have the experience or the edge in grasping the concepts of the Bulldogs’ 3-4 base formation needed to unseat their upperclassmen teammates. Both were key contributors on special teams.
But, perhaps the most important lacking ingredient: confidence.
That’s old news.
The dynamics have shifted during the offseason and into fall camp. Wilson and Mickelsen are the frontrunners to start opposite of each other on Aug. 29 at Bulldog Stadium against Rutgers.
Seniors Toma and Su’a faced injuries throughout spring and fall practices though will be in the rotation. Wilson and Mickelsen have shined in their sporadic absences.
“Right now, it’s going to be Kyrie and Karl (at inside linebacker),” Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said after Wednesday’s practice. “They both have done a great job. With Jeremiah and Patrick getting injured, they got passed a little bit. But the nice thing is that all four are going to play, and we have great depth in that position.”
The starting lineups at inside linebacker (a position both DeRuyter and defensive coordinator Nick Toth have characterized as “deep”) for the season opener seem to be established. Freshman Jeff Camili has also made a strong push for playing time in fall practices.
“We have a couple of guys banged up still,” DeRuyter said, “and so there’ll be a little of movement there when guys are healthy and come back. But for the most part, we’re pretty set with our ones and our ones-and-a-half.”
Crucial in the development of Fresno State’s two emerging starters was that confidence variable that Wilson said has materialized for this offseason. Wilson said he has a better understanding of the defense, he anticipates the offense with a keener sense and has the inner trust to make calls and assignments, a cornerstone duty of the “Mike” linebacker position he lines up at.
“Last year, I was still iffy about the decision, but now I feel more confident making the calls and just being more confident in my plays and reading the plays better,” Wilson said.
Earning the starting spot “was real hard because Jeremiah and Su’a are both great linebackers,” Wilson said. “It was a good battle. It’s all about competition. We all just went out there and just competed.”
Wilson made 20 tackles last season. Mickelsen had 24.
Game captains for season opener set
This season, Fresno State is establishing a new system when determining its game captains.
Quarterback Derek Carr and safety Derron Smith, selected by the team, will be Fresno State captains throughout the entire season. The other two selections will be determined on game-by-game basis and are selected by the coaching staff.
Toma and offensive lineman Austin Wentworth (both accumulated the second-most votes in the team nomination period) will join Carr and Smith.
“Each week it may change, it may not, depending on how guys play and what they’re doing leadershipwise.”