Fresno State’s defense is entering this season with a fresh mindset and new direction under defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer.
The defense ranked 68th in the country in yards per game allowed and sixth in the Mountain West Conference. The coaching staff has been working hard since it arrived to transform the defense from the middle of the pack into one of the best in the conference.
“We just had to build a strong foundation,” Steinauer said. “We had to let [the players] know what our standards were and what our expectations were, because just holding them accountable to stuff that they don’t know makes it tough and frustrating for any individual.”
The defense looks different from recent years, transitioning to a 4-3 base defense from a 3-4 scheme. New players will fight for playing time with the new game plan.
Johnny Johnson and Kesomi Mafi, two transfers who could be key players at the cornerback and safety positions, offer promise that the ship can be turned around.
However, the goal is to have at least two quality players in each position defensively, head coach Jeff Tedford said.
“Every position on defense is competitive and up for replacement,” Tedford said. “It’s important to have depth, so we’ll trade guys in-and-out to have at least two deep in every position that’s quality. Very few guys have a lock on a position.”
While some players look to gain a spot on the depth chart, others look to lead.
“James Bailey has been a consistent leader,” Tedford said. “Through spring football, summer program and through camp, he’s been very consistent and does a great job motivating the defense.”
As a freshman in 2015, Bailey played in all 12 games with three starts. He accumulated 47 tackles that season, which tied the record for most tackles by a Bulldog freshman. Kevin Adams accomplished the same feat in 1995.
Bailey ranked No. 5 among true freshmen in the Mountain West in tackles that season.
His numbers only improved his sophomore year in 2016, and now in 2017, the leash to the defense is his for the taking.
“I think [Bailey] has taken another step,” Steinauer said. “He’s been more vocal but most of all he comes to work every day and works hard.”
Steinauer said that Bailey has something called “a care factor,” which is hard to evaluate on tape.
“He really cares, and the good thing is he’s not alone. I would echo what coach Tedford said, he’s got a bright future ahead of him if he keeps his head on straight.”
Bailey agreed with Tedford and Steinauer’s assessment.
“I consider myself the leader of the defense,” Bailey said. “I’ve been here since my freshman year, and now I’m coming up on my junior year. Just growing up and being here, I had to sit back and learn from other guys and learn from their mistakes so I could become a leader.”