Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Players returning: 8
Incoming: 3
Lost: 1 (Tim Lang)

It seems to be a common theme on the Fresno State offense, but, again, depth is the name of the game. Fresno State has had the “Wide Receiver U” reputation for a long time, but rarely if ever before this many guys who are considered on the verge of breaking out. The discussion begins with junior Marlon Moore (6-0, 190), who overcame a big mental mistake last season in fumbling away a victory at the goal line at Texas A&M, to close out the season with an average of 107 receiving yards in the final three games. Moore made a name for himself with 9 catches for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns in the win over Kansas State. While arguably the Bulldogs’ fastest player, Moore is also a standout in the weight room, and its well known among his teammates. The highest praise, though, for Moore is the comparison he often draws from coaches to former Fresno State great Bernard Berrian, now of the Minnesota Vikings. The two have very similar bodies and running styles, and Moore is also expected to see action in the return game. The Bulldogs had 16 players record a reception in 2007, and Moore led the way with 48 catches for 694 yards and 5 scores. He also rushed 5 times for 37 yards and a touchdown.

Moore was undoubtedly the No. 1 receiving target last year, but will have competition for that title this season from junior Chastin West (6-1, 215), who missed all of 2007 after an injury in a preseason scrimmage. West is back to his old ways of out-muscling and outrunning defensive backs. As a freshman in 2006, West led the Bulldogs with 33 catches for 365 yards and 3 touchdowns in a down passing year. He also showed off his speed that year with a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. West’s presence makes it extremely difficult for opposing defenses to choose who to concentrate on, especially with two other established threats.

The guy with the biggest upside, and biggest frame, is junior Seyi Ajirotutu (6-3, 210). He hasn’t come anywhere near reaching full potential yet, but showed glimpses last season as he finished with a team-high 16.9 yards per catch, and was third on the team with 491 yards on 29 catches. He’s still looking for that first trip into the end zone, however. Ajirotutu’s rare combo of speed and height make him the team’s best deep threat since Paul Williams (Tennessee Titans). He was arguably the MVP of spring camp.

So there’s the speed guy, the strong guy and the tall guy – how ‘bout the possession guy? That title belongs to junior Jason Crawley (6-2, 185). Crawley knows his role and plays it well. He’s dominant blocking downfield and has a knack for coming down with big grabs in tight spaces for first downs. Last season, Crawley had 199 yards and a touchdown on 22 catches. And while this entire unit (especially the four juniors) lead the team in swagger and charisma, Crawley takes it to a new level – he even showed up for spring practice with a feather sticking up from his helmet. Each of the receivers feed off each other’s bravado.

Two candidates are battling it out in fall camp for the fifth spot in former walk-on junior Darren Newborne (5-11, 185) and true sophomore Devon Wylie (5-9, 170). Wylie got off to a shining start in fall camp, and has shown improved speed and strength, as well as endurance (which was considered his biggest weakness last season out of high school). Watch for Wylie to develop into a dangerous weapon for worn out and spread out defenses when he comes across the middle and burns defenders to the outside. While most of his action came as a kick returner in 2007, Wylie’s highlight came in his first collegiate game at Texas A&M, when he recorded his only reception – for 44 yards. Newborne had three catches for 23 yards, but could develop into one of Tom Brandstater’s favorite targets in the corner of the end zone.

Sophomore Jamel Hamler (6-2, 205) is another star on the rise in the receiving corps, but will redshirt this season to preserve his eligibility. Hamler had 5 catches for 80 yards, averaging 16 yards per grab.

The next wave includes even more talent that will be hard to keep off the field in redshirt freshman J.J. Stallworth (5-11, 185) and greyshirt freshman Matt Lindsey (6-0, 185) out of Clovis High. Stallworth, the younger brother of the Cleveland Browns’ Donte’ Stallworth, still must improve his hands and route-running, but has shown great athleticism in camp. Lindsey may be even closer to playing time, with arguably the best hands, route-running and jumping ability of the unit (very rare for a freshman’s routes to be so refined). His biggest challenge will be improving on shedding physical corners who can sometimes disrupt his routes.

With so much depth, it’ll be hard not to redshirt true freshman Rashad Evans (5-9, 180), who was listed by nearly every preseason magazine as the WAC’s top recruit. Evans took some time to adjust to the college game, but by the end of the first week of fall camp had hauled in a 44-yard touchdown reception from fellow true freshman Ebahn Feathers.

Freshman walk-on Isiah Barton (5-10, 180) sustained an early fall camp injury, and doesn’t figure in to this year’s plans. As of the first week of fall camp, it remained unclear whether true freshman Anthony Johnson (6-0, 180) of Highland High (Bakersfield) would qualify. Overall, no one in the WAC has anywhere near the depth in playmakers of Fresno State.

Rating: 8 of 10

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