Monday, August 25, 2008


Returning players: 16
Incoming: 2
Lost: 1 (Damon Jenkins)

With the strength of some of the WAC’s passing attacks, it’ll come in handy that Fresno State’s defensive strength is its secondary. Four players with starting experience return. Junior strong safety Moses Harris (5-11, 205) has assumed a leadership role for the defense, on the field and in the classroom. He hit the practice field during camp with a more boisterous confidence that is shared by the rest of the defensive backs. Harris, a workout demon, is one of the team’s hardest hitters and thrives in blitz packages. He’s beatable in pass coverage, but did a lot of running work in the offseason and should be improved all around – especially in his closing speed. Harris ranked fifth on the team with 62 tackles last season, including 3.5 for losses, an interception and a blocked kick.

The free safety job is still up for grabs. Junior Marvin Haynes (6-1, 205) was the starter last season and part of his redshirt freshman year, but missed spring camp with injury. That opened the door for much-improved senior Jake Jorde (6-1, 205), who came on strong in the final few games of the 2007 season. Haynes was third on the team last year with 65 tackles, including 2.5 for losses and a forced fumble. He looks to have added some upper body size in the offseason, and has split first-team reps with Jorde during fall camp. Jorde played mostly on special teams until last season, capping the year with a game-sealing interception against Georgia Tech in the Humanitarian Bowl. He finished with 23 tackles on the year. Both are sure to see significant playing time.

At cornerback, the Bulldogs have a trio rotating for the top two spots. So far, they’ve all been playing so well there’s no clear cut winners. Junior Damion Owens (5-11, 200) was the best coverage corner last season and looked to be on his way to stardom. After starting all 13 games as a sophomore, Owens finished with 42 tackles, 1 for loss and an interception. More interceptions are expected from Owens, and the rest of the unit, this season after they were tied for last in the nation with 4 in 2007. In fall camp, Owens biggest improvement was the way he jumped routes, picking off two passes in a short 11-on-11 drill during camp’s first week.

Another corner who looks more aggressive than a year ago is junior A.J. Jefferson (6-0, 190), who is one of the 2 or 3 fastest players on the team. Jefferson was chosen for preseason All-America honors by several publications for his kick return abilities. He had 37 tackles last season, and has the closing speed to give quarterbacks and receivers fits.

The standout this season though, might be senior Sharrod Davis (5-11, 190), who’s brings a high level of physicality to the table. Last year was Davis’ first as a Bulldog, after transferring from Grossmont College via Oregon. Davis has great awareness of where the first-down marker is at all times and does a superb job of keeping the receiver from reaching it. He also showed last season he’s capable of delivering a knockout blow, which he did in a shutout of San Jose State in 2007. Davis had 16 tackles in 10 games last season, but is miles ahead now of where he was entering camp in 2007.

Another senior, Will Harding (6-1, 200), will be a big boost to the secondary. He was granted an extra year of eligibility because of a season-ending health issue while at Modesto College. Splitting his time between corner and safety in his first year as a Bulldog, Harding (the older brother of running back Anthony Harding) recorded 10 tackles, 2 for losses and a sack. He’s another much-improved corner.

A bit of encouraging news at safety is sophomore Lorne Bell (5-10, 200) was able to participate from Day 1 of fall camp. His season was ended last year with an injury against Kansas State that was thought to possibly keep him out a good portion of this season as well. But he’s looked good speed-wise in recent contact drills. If healthy, Bell is as good a safety as there is on the Bulldogs and will see plenty of playing time. Another one of the team’s hardest hitters, Bell was tied for sixth on the team with 51 tackles (3.5 for losses).

Another safety expected to emerge this season is redshirt freshman Zak Hill (6-2, 200), the son of coach Pat Hill. Hill earned scout team defensive MVP honors last season, and has good coverage speed and game knowledge. Still, he had an up-and-down first week of fall camp, and didn’t do a whole lot to stand out. But he’s definitely got that potential, though it may be a year away. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see Hill converted to linebacker if depth issues arise.

Big things could be in the near future for redshirt freshman cornerback Isaiah Green (5-10, 180) if he’s healthy. Green missed sat nearly all of the first week of fall camp, but has blazing speed. He ran the 100 meters in 10.50 seconds in high school. Greyshirt freshman Jermaine Thomas (5-11, 180) may not find the field as quickly as Green, but is another youngster to keep an eye on for the future.

Junior Frank Manquero (6-1, 190), a former walk-on from Orosi High, is working with the third team. He’s still raw and inexperienced, but adds solid depth and works hard. The young safeties to watch include greyshirt freshman Phillip Thomas (6-0, 190) of Bakersfield who should eventually develop into a standout. Thomas has seen a lot of reserve reps during camp and stood out. He’s joined by redshirt freshman Terrance Dennis (5-11, 170), who has looked solid in camp but needs to put on at least 20 pounds to be as physical as the Bulldogs would like.

Walk-on redshirt freshman corner Desia Dunn (5-9, 175) was tested early in camp with coverage assignments against the Bulldogs’ tallest receiver, Seyi Ajirotutu. Dunn held his own despite the obvious height difference. If he develops into a guy who can contribute it’ll be a nice bonus. The same holds true for junior walk-on safety Dorian Penn (6-0, 195), who has received plenty of reps in camp. He’s got comparable size to the starters.

A couple walk-ons round out the unit in freshman corner Kevin Russell (6-0, 180), a twin brother out of Clovis East High, and junior corner Raul Hernandez (5-10, 175). Neither is likely to play this season. The lone 2008 signee at corner, athletic L.J. Jones (5-11, 170) didn’t report to camp. He was expected to compete for immediate playing time.

Rating: 8 of 10

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