Offensive line finds winning combo with Fifita at guard

The key, Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said, was to shuffle the combinations on the offensive line during fall camp practices to find the “best five guys.”

That included moving players left and right along the line – from tackle to guard, and from the edge to the interior – and up and down the depth chart.

Heading into their season opener against Rutgers on Aug. 29 at Bulldog Stadium, a mix-and-match fall camp has given way to this current rotation: Senior Austin Wentworth at left tackle, sophomore Alex Fifita at left guard, senior Lars Bramer at center, junior Cody Wichmann at right guard and sophomore Justin Northern at right tackle.

The starting lineup has yet to be solidified, DeRuyter said, though this was the lineup in the first two-deep that was released on Sunday.

The most recent developments, Fifita at guard and Northern at tackle, provide the Bulldogs with a beefier combination with Wentworth, Wichmann and Fifita all above 300 pounds and Northern and Bramer 280-pound range.

“They’re both competing for that tackle position,” DeRuyter said. “We feel really good with either of them. Inside, Alex gives us a lot more bulk compared to the guys that were in there competing.”

Fifita started at right tackle last season and “he’s done a good job at guard,” offensive line coach Cameron Norcross said, “but I’ll also throw him out at right tackle in the middle of a period and he does a great job.

“Since the middle of camp, he’s really picked up his speed and he’s playing faster. He’s getting more comfortable and more relaxed. I think he’ll be comfortable in either place we put him.”

Northern has had limited playing experience, appearing in the Colorado, Hawaii and Air Force games – all blowout wins for the Bulldogs – though has had a solid showing so far this fall.

Fresno State opens the season against a Rutgers team running a 4-3 base formation on defense. Three seniors are tabbed to start on the frontlines for the Scarlet Knights.

The most recent tape of the Bulldogs that Rutgers has to study is of their Hawaii Bowl performance against Southern Methodist – a 43-10 loss in which quarterback Derek Carr was sacked seven times.

“That’s the beauty of football: you get to move on to your next game,” Norcross said.

“If that would’ve happened in the middle of the year, we would’ve moved on to our next game. I realize you’re only as good as your last performance, but this unit as a whole hasn’t had any performances yet.

“We’re a different group right now. That team was 9-4. Right now we’re 0-0.”