Friday, August 22, 2008


Returning players: 10
Incoming: 6
Lost: 4 (Tyler Clutts, Jason Shirley, Charles Tolbert, Jason Roberts)

This unit is a tough one to predict. It’s possibly the deepest defensive line in Pat Hill’s tenure, but most of the depth comes from guys who have little to no college experience. The one guy who has plenty is senior tackle Jon Monga (6-2, 280). While a bit lean for his position, Monga is a tenacious player who has quietly developed into one of the WAC’s most feared pass rushers while playing in somewhat of a shadow cast by former teammates Tyler Clutts (Canadian Football League) and Jason Shirley (Cincinnati Bengals). But 2007 marked a breakout year for Monga, who finished second on the team with 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for losses. Monga has 11.5 career sacks. Coming off his first year as a starter, the man with light poles for arms added another key element to his game – becoming a vocal leader. Monga has taken charge of this group, shouting instructions and giving hands-on examples during drills for the younger players. He’s definitely got respect from his teammates. For the defense to be strong this season, Fresno State will need Monga to step his game to another level and become a guy defense game plan against.

That’s something the team has had for at least seven straight seasons now, but is somewhat in question this year. After Monga, at least six other linemen are plug-and-play, meaning they’ll be mixed and matched based on personnel groupings and stamina. Senior end Ikenna Ike (6-2, 255) is the next most experienced linemen. The former walk-on has made major strides in the weight room since starting sporadically over the past two seasons. And injury last year cost him about half the season. Ike is another player who’s earned teammates’ respect and taken on a leadership role in fall camp. He’s shown a knack for harassing the quarterback since he first stepped on the gridiron. In 6 games last year, Ike recorded 21 tackles, 1.5 for losses and a sack.

Junior end Wilson Ramos (6-4, 270) has made eye-opening improvements since his freshman year when he was constantly facing the wrath of coaches in practice. They must have seen the potential, as Ramos got his first starting experience last season, finishing with 27 tackles, 7 for losses and 3 sacks. Ramos strength is his versatility – he can play end or tackle.

An interesting battle is ongoing at the other starting tackle spot between sophomores Cornell Banks (6-3, 300) and Mark Roberts (6-2, 300). Banks added about 35 pounds from the start of 2007, while Roberts looks to have lost at least 20. Banks, a local Edison High product, got significant playing time last season with 23 tackles (3.5 for losses) and the added size should help him become the run stuffer up the middle coaches are hoping for. But, as the preseason favorite for the job, he’s facing a heck of a fight from Roberts, who’s new shape has allowed him to make huge strides in quickness, agility and endurance. The improved speed he demonstrates going through drills is jaw-dropping compared to his redshirt year. Roberts played in 9 games and had 7 tackles, 1 for loss and a sack as a redshirt freshman.

Not far behind those two is redshirt freshman Bryce Harris (6-6, 280), who fans should be drooling to see. Harris is large, to put it simply. The former Tulare High basketball standout is an athlete and added Division I strength during his redshirt year. He just might be a darkhorse who surprises some people this year.

At the same time, either of the second-string ends just might jump into impact roles at any time. Senior Michael Stuart (6-2, 250) looks to be listed 10-20 pounds under his actual weight. He had a strong offseason in the weight room, yet the converted tight end kept most of his speed. Stuart originally signed with USC as a tight end out of high school, before transferring to junior college and then Fresno State. Now that he’s settled in on the defensive side of the ball, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him break through.

But a guy with even more potential might be sophomore Chris Lewis (6-3, 260), formerly of Clovis West. Lewis hasn’t yet seen any playing time after serving a season-long suspension last season. The former state No. 1-ranked heavyweight wrestler in high school, Lewis originally signed to play football under his father’s childhood friend Randy Shannon at Miami, but decided Fresno State was where he wanted to be before his freshman season started. Lewis was a very highly rated recruit, and will be fascinating to keep an eye on with his physical prowess and bodybuilder’s physique. He’s had a strong fall, specifically in the passing game where he’s stood out as a guy who can drop into coverage and show off his jumping ability to bat down passes.

A big blow to the Bulldogs during spring was an injury to possible starting end sophomore Kenny Borg (6-3, 245), who is likely out for the season. Sophomore Taylor Smith (6-3, 250) has battled a recurring injury since his final year at Buchanan High (Clovis). His speed makes him a very interesting prospect if he can stay healthy. Smith has been a diehard, lifelong Fresno State fan.

Then there’s the wave of youth. Never before under Hill have the Bulldogs brought in such a large crop of newcomers who are all physically ready to play. Each of the four has seen time with the veterans in camp, and at least one or two is likely to play right away. Logan Harrell (6-2, 275) might be the best candidate based on the fact he can play tackle or end. Harrell has shown well in camp, and been tough against the run. The same holds true for tackle Anthony Williams (6-2, 280) of Humble, Texas. Williams is already one of the most physically imposing guys of the group, and should figure in large in the team’s future plans.

Tackle Chase McEntee (6-2, 265) of Galena Park, Texas was the first true freshman to get called in for practice with the veterans, and didn’t disappoint. McEntee is an enthusiastic youngster who’s catching on quicker than some predicted. Most knew end Matt Akers (6-3, 240) of Liberty High (Bakersfield) would be one to watch. Coaches have taken an interest in Akers in practice, as he’s working out some technique fundamentals.

The Bulldogs also got a huge boost when their biggest defensive line recruit of last year, Porter Hill (6-4, 275), was cleared to practice. Hill’s status was in limbo after a transcript mix up kept him off the practice field all of last season. Though large and muscular in stature, Hill spent the early weeks of camp in need of conditioning. He’s the type of guy who could end up being a future star.

The same holds true for redshirt freshman end Kyle Bell (6-4, 260), a former Mt. Whitney High (Visalia) standout who transferred from Oregon State. Bell is known for tremendous speed, and has already been a standout in practice, but must sit out this year because of NCAA transfer rules.

The only two disappointments in this unit were the two no-shows to fall camp. Tackle James Robinson (6-4, 315) and end Marcel Jensen (6-6, 230) were unable to report to camp.

Rating: 7 of 10

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