Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Position Breakdown 2010: Defensive Line

Returning: Chris Carter, Cornell Banks, Chris Lewis, Logan Harrell, Mark Roberts, Chase McEntee, Matt Akers, Anthony Williams, Donnie Pritchett, Nat Harrison, Tristan Okpalaugo, Nikko Motta, Andy Jennings, Ben Letcher
Newcomers: Tyeler Davison, Quentin Toailoa (transfer), Aaron Howse (walk-on)
Lost: Kenny Borg (injury)

Chris Carter
Sr, 6'2", 240
Fontana (Kaiser HS)

On a defense that was, quite frankly, abysmal most of last season, Chris Carter is a legit WAC defensive player of the year candidate at defensive end. Playing with only one free hand (the other in a club cast) most of last season, he finished among the WAC leaders with five of the team's 11 total sacks. He's the fastest defensive lineman in school history, though a bit undersized, but has one of those motors that only comes along every few years on this team. The articulate Carter is also the undisputed vocal leader of the defense, and also leads by example. As he's drawing double teams and facing blocking schemes designed to stop his pass rush, the other line mates must step up to contribute.

DaCo on Carter: Chris Carter is worthy of a spot on anyone's list of all-time favorite Bulldogs. His personal drive to be great and work ethic are unsurpassed, and when combined with his embracing of all things Bulldog Football, makes him truly unique. Beyond that, he's phenomenally skilled. Carter can rush around the end with the best of them, chase down ball carriers in the open field and never, ever takes a play off.
FSDogs1 on Carter: No one moment displays what Carter is all about more than a day during fall camp when the team was practicing at a sluggish pace and Carter commanded everyone to circle around him on a knee. He proceeded to rip into the team for poor practice habits and "explained" how that would not cut it at the level the Bulldogs want to compete at. Teammate Kyle Knox joined the pep talk and it seemed to be a turning point in this team's maturity and practice tempo.

Cornell Banks
Sr, 6'3", 310
Fresno (Edison HS)
More than anyone else on the line, Cornell Banks is positioned to make a splash. He's always had the size and talent, and has performed in spurts (30 tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1 sack last season) but if he can turn into a dominant defensive tackle it could turn the defense from bad to great by relieving the pressure on Chris Carter to perform and helping the defensive backs get into more gamebreaking turnover opportunities. Banks had an outstanding fall camp, following the momentum of a strong finish to his 2009 season.

DaCo on Banks: It's taken longer than we'd all have liked, but Banks seemed as primed for success this year as he can possibly be. While he may physically be similar in size to past years, Banks as actually leaned up a bit by hardening his body more. He has also been displaying a new confidence and swagger, which has led to a flurry of tackles in the backfield in camp against one of the nation's top offensive lines.
FSDogs1 on Banks: Expect big things from Banks this season. Yes, it's a hunch -- but it's an educated hunch.

Logan Harrell
Jr, 6'2", 275
Santa Margarita (Santa Margarita HS)

Logan Harrell is another player a whole lot more should be expected of. He was a highly regarded recruit, played as a true freshman and has two seasons full of experience. But he finished with just 17 tackles last year, though he did have a team second-best two sacks (which shouldn't be second best on any team). Harrell too often gets tangled up and stuck at a stalemate on the line of scrimmage on passing downs.

DaCo on Harrell: Harrell is a guy that was forced into action as a true freshman, but would have benefitted greatly from a redshirt year. Now in his third year, Harrell has packed on the size and muscle necessary to be an effective presence in the middle. He's a stable presence on the line, but will need to be a more frequent playmaker this year, because the depth is ready to challenge him.
FSDogs1 on Harrell: I'd like to see more tenacity and a higher motor out of Harrell. If he doesn't turn into a player, the 'Dogs will be in trouble up front next season.

Chris Lewis
Sr, 6'3", 260
Fresno (Clovis West HS)

If the bowl game loss to Wyoming is any indication, Chris Lewis is far better suited for end than tackle. He bulked up to play inside last season, and de-bulked this year to move back outside, his natural position. But more than any other lineman, Lewis' motor has to be questioned. A four-star recruit out of high school who originally committed to Miami, Lewis has the strength, speed and size that should make him lethal -- but he just hasn't pulled it all together yet.

DaCo on Lewis: It's now or never for Lewis. Here's a guy that has a ton of ability, but is missing (to this point) that intangible that Chris Carter possesses. He gave Bulldogs fans a lot of hope after making his presence felt in the final game of 2009, but was hardly a standout in camp. He's clearly honed his physique into as good of a condition as it's been in though, setting him up for the season he's capable of.
FSDogs1 on Lewis: Chris Lewis can be as good as he wants to be at this level. As dedicated as he is to the weight room, the same dedication needs to carry over to making plays consistently and winning games. He's more than capable.

Donnie Pritchett
R-Jr, 6'5", 275
Santa Rosa (Santa Rosa HS/Santa Rosa JC)

Fans have been clamoring to see Donnie Pritchett since he arrived on campus last season as a JC transfer. Pritchett has only a few years of football experience under his belt, and spent last year redshirting to gain valuable experience for this level of football. Based on camp reps, especially in the first scrimmage when he replaced a knicked-up Chris Lewis in the starting lineup, Pritchett is an impact player in the wings. He's massive for an end, and gives the Bulldogs size at the position no one else can. If he knows his assignments and shows discipline, he'll be on the field often. He could even end up cracking the starting rotation before season's end.

DaCo on Pritchett: Pritchett competes with Lewis for time at the end spot, and based on fall camp, proved to be much more of a playmaker. Pritchett gets to the quarterback quite frequently, and has been a much more obvious and consistent presence. Lewis will likely get the chance to keep his spot, but Pritchett, who has a world of talent, has given every indication he could be in there and make a difference.
FSDogs1 on Pritchett: Think Nick Burley but about 30 pounds heavier with a wider frame. That's Donnie Pritchett, long neck and all. And if he plays anything like Burley, the 'Dogs defense is in for a big, big boost.

Anthony Williams
So, 6'2", 280
Humble, TX (Atascocita HS)

Since Anthony Williams arrived at Fresno State two years ago, he's looked like one of the top linemen on the team. But he's had very limited game action, redshirting his first year after a camp injury and finishing with 5 tackles last year (the same amount kicker Andrew Shapiro had). Williams has been setting weighlifting records galore in the meantime, and is among the team's best bull rushers. If Logan Harrell doesn't get it done, Williams is the obvious choice to step in and start. Either way, he should see a big increase in playing time.

DaCo on Williams: Williams is the strongest man on the team, which is a trait the defensive line could use. Williams has shown tremendous promise in spurts, and is on the verge of breaking out at any time. Williams is ready for extended game action, and is one of the key guys to keep your eye on during the season, because of his relevance to the defensive line's development for the future.
FSDogs1 on Williams: Finally -- finally! -- coaches are hyped up on "A-Dub's" potential. Us at The Bounce have been writing for two years that he needs to play. Now listed second on the depth chart, fans should hope it happens.

Mark Roberts
Sr, 6'2", 295
Modesto (Modesto HS)
Credit Mark Roberts for sticking with it and working hard going into his final year after dropping in the rotation last season. The former starter had just 7 tackles in limited action, but stood out in live game situations in fall camp and has moved back to second on the depth chart at tackle, behind Cornell Banks.

DaCo on Roberts: Roberts' conditioning in practice had been an issue in the past, but like Banks, he appears to be ready to put forth a consistent 2010 season. He has performed well in game situations against the run, and has climbed back into the mix for playing time at DT.
FSDogs1 on Roberts: His speed could be a liability against a scrambling QB, but his size is a plus against between-the-tackles runners.

Chase McEntee
Jr, 6'2", 275
Galena Park, TX (North Shore Senior HS)

With Mark Roberts and Anthony Williams rising on the depth chart, Chase McEntee has fallen a bit. He remains very much in the mix as a former starter, but probably wasn't ready to start when he did. He had 19 tackles (2 more than Logan Harrell) last season to go with 2.5 for loss. But his pass rush was almost nonexistent, and the Bulldogs can't afford that any longer.

DaCo on McEntee: McEntee, like Harrell, is the other tackle who was forced into action before either was physically ready. McEntee is a wide, powerful 275 pounds, and appears to have slipped down the depth chart a bit, despite his apparent improvement. This means good things for depth, though.
FSDogs1 on McEntee: Just a thought, but coaches ought to consider redshirting McEntee this season (since he played as a true) with all the depth at tackles and both Banks and Roberts graduating after this year.

Nat Harrison
R-Fr, 6'2", 230
Fresno (Edison HS)

There aren't many guys Pat Hill is talking up more than Nat Harrison. And it's the second straight offseason Hill's been excited about the young pass rusher. Harrison put on some pounds (230 is probably generous), but is still undersized and unproven. Fans should be anxious to see what all Hill's excitement is about.

DaCo on Harrison: Harrison appears to play with tenacity, a trait all 11 guys of a Bulldogs defense have been known for in the past. He is very fast from his end spot and has true playmaking ability. He is one of a handful of guys to get excited about this season, with his first game action upcoming.
FSDogs1 on Harrison: Size-wise, Harrison could end up looking similar to Chris Carter eventually. Carter really started to come on strong his second year in the program and maybe Harrison will do the same?

Matt Akers
So, 6'2", 225
Bakersfield (Liberty HS)

The Bulldogs looked to undersized Matt Akers to create an edge presence with his speed last season, but he was sometimes too overmatched by the big uglies to do anything. He had 8 tackles (1 for loss) but doesn't look like he bulked up much, if at all. He's been passed on the depth chart by Nat Harrison, but continues to shine in agility drills.

DaCo on Akers: Akers gets great jumps off the ball, but his lack of size means he gets pinballed on any chip block on his way to the quarterback. Following his redshirt season, Akers appeared to be on track, until he decided to intentionally lose weight. He's far from 225 pounds, and really can only function as a speed rusher for 3rd and long situations at this point.
FSDogs1 on Akers: Akers is another highly touted recruit, but he doesn't seem to be able to put much more size on his frame. If he can't bulk up to handle the large o-linemen, he'll continue to be limited in what he can do.

Tristan Okpalaugo
R-Fr, 6'5", 240
Livermore (Granada HS)

The Nigerian end was a walk-on last season who had lots of height, but little weight. He put on about 20 pounds in the offseason and showed up to fall camp competing hard, and competing well. Tristan Okpalaugo even had an interception in the first fall scrimmage. His ridiculously long arms make him a threat, but he still needs to learn to use that to his advantage more.

DaCo on Okpalaugo: Okpalaugo came into camp noticeably bigger, having added a lot of muscle to his once lanky frame. Still, he has a lot more room to fill out, which will give him a chance to make a more significant impact. He is an under the radar prospect with loads of talent, and has been progressing very quickly. He's been a consistent disruption during his fall camp reps, and has been tabbed as one to keep an eye on in this program by Pat Hill.
FSDogs1 on Okpalaugo: Nothing to lose in trying to develop this prospect. Okpalaugo has a high ceiling if coaches can develop him. If not, there are lots of others who can be worked with.

Nikko Motta
R-Fr, 6'3", 265
Sanger (Sanger HS)

The youngster was converted from offensive line early last fall camp, and has flourished at his new position. He might not see the field much this season, if at all, but is capable of playing now if need be. Motta excels in practice drills and game situations, and has valuable position flexibility.

DaCo on Motta: Based on the size difference between Motta and the large offensive lineman, you wouldn't expect the kind of disruptions he's made. He's shown a knack to shed blocks well and often times sneaks behind the line to make tackles.
FSDogs1 on Motta: Motta's development has been a pleasant surprise for a unit that didn't expect to have him ready this early in his career. If he keeps working, he has a chance to battle for a spot in the rotation next year.

Andy Jennings
R-Fr, 6'3", 270
Turlock (Pitman HS)

Andy Jennings sat out most of the open portion of fall camp with an injury, but the Turlock prospect is coming along nicely. Pat Hill is high on him already, despite the fact he came in as a project player who was fairly raw.

DaCo on Jennings: The first thing you notice about Jennings is the size of his legs and calves. He's built very powerfully in his lower half, a valuable trait when you're talking about defensive linemen. Due to injury, he hasn't had the chance to really show what he can do, but he is being talked about behind the scenes as part of a bright future for the line.
FSDogs1 on Jennings: 270 pounds? I would have pegged him for 290-300 via the eyesight test. He'll be a fun one to watch.

Ben Letcher
R-Fr, 6'3", 240
Corona (Centennial HS)

Letcher is a strong, long-armed defensive end. That said, he is arguably the most forgotten of all the defensive lineman on scholarship. Pat Hill has marked him as another promising defensive end, but he may need a little more seasoning before he is ready to make the impact he is capable of.

Tyeler Davison
Fr, 6'2", 300
Scottsdale (Desert Mountain HS)

Tyeler Davison adds immediate size to a line that has been undersized for longer than hoped. Davison is strong and wide from top to bottom, giving him a great base to start from. But he will have to improve upon his quickness after struggling through some routine drills at points in camp. That said, Davison seemed to respond very well to live situations, flashing an ability to move offensive lineman with ease at times. Bulldogs coaches are hoping he is an impact tackle down the road.

Quentin Toailoa
So, 6'4", 285
Redlands (Redlands East Valley HS/Nebraska)

Given the more recent history of the Fresno State defense, getting another addition to the defensive line is very much welcome. Toailoa is a transfer from nebraska, and will sit out this year per NCAA rules. The huskers had attempted to make Toailoa an offensive lineman over the past year, but so far, Fresno State coaches have been comfortable with him at his original defensive line spot. Toailoa is an athletic looking lineman with evenly distributed weight, making him appear leaner than your typical tackle. With only two years to play after this season, Toailoa will have to get comfortable in the system quickly, because competition will be fierce.

Aaron Howse
Fr, 6'3", 240
Sacramento (Sheldon HS)

As a high school linebacker, Howse recorded 134 tackles, meaning he obviously has instincts for the game. Howse also turned down scholarship offers from FCS schools for the chance at being a Bulldog, which automatically earns him points. Still, it will be a tough mountain for Howse to climb to overtake any of the defensive lineman currently on the roster.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Position Breakdown 2010: Offensive Line

Returning: Andrew Jackson, Kenny Wiggins, Joey Bernardi, Devan Cunningham, Bryce Harris, Leslie Cooper, Matt Hunt, Richard Helepiko, Marcel Jensen, Austin Wentworth, Max Devlin, Trevor Richter, Lars Bramer
Newcomers: Andrew Gustafson, Cody Wichmann, Cameron Henderson (walk-on)
Lost: Richard Pacheco

Bryce Harris
LT, Jr, 6'6", 300
Tulare (Tulare Union HS)

Left tackle Bryce Harris, with a full year of starting under his knee braces, is Fresno State's least experienced starter on the offensive line. He's a big, strong, athletic player who will go from protecting lefty Ryan Colburn's front side this season, to protecting Derek Carr's blindside next season. Harris is expected to be an All-WAC caliber player as soon as this season.

DaCo on Harris: Harris is long and lengthy, with a build more suited for pass blocking. Even though he is a very capable run blocker, he is still learning to maximize his leverage. All in all, Harris is a very good tackle on an offensive line without an weaknesses.

FSDogs1 on Harris: Bryce Harris' development is of utmost importance for the Bulldogs, as he could be the only returning starter next season, when the team breaks in a new quarterback and possibly enters a new conference.

Devan Cunningham
LG, Sr, 6'6", 360
Rancho Cordova (Grant Union HS)

Devan Cunningham entered the program as one of the most heralded offensive line recruits in school history. He didn't exactly set the world on fire from the get-go, but he turned into a constant, dependable contributer last season. No one will ever successfully bull rush him (he's too dang big), but trimming down and adding some speed would work wonders for his overall game. That hasn't happened. Still, he'll be one of the WAC's top guards.

DaCo on Cunningham: The Kamala look-a-like is one person who does know how to use leverage. Cunningham is a run blocker extraordinaire, largely because he is so difficult to move at his size.

FSDogs1 on Cunningham: He'll never top the fluke winning TD catch at Illinois last season that got him highlights galore on ESPN, but I'm sure getting a few more wins this year will make up for it.

Joey Bernardi
C, Sr, 6'2", 285
Flagstaff, AZ (Flagstaff HS)

With 29 career starts, a father who's a longtime successful FBS assitant coach, a passion for Fresno State and an outspoken and loyal personality -- Joey Bernardi is the unquestioned leader of this unit and possibly the entire team. And he's made his voice more heard than ever (imagine that) this fall camp, making sure the younger players understand how to practice from Day 1. Bernardi is a likely All-WAC center, and has been the only snapper out of the shotgun to show consistency all camp.

DaCo on Bernardi: It's a shame the casual fan really doesn't know more about Bernardi. His leadership, energy and embracing of all things Bulldog Football are magnetic. He's played through surgery after surgery, and still is a top flight center. Hopefully every returning offensive lineman gobbles up as much of what he has to offer before senior day arrives.

FSDogs1 on Bernardi: Another of those "Mr. Bulldog" type of players that fans love to have, Bernardi will be sorely missed next season.

Andrew Jackson
RG, Sr, 6'5", 295
Grass Valley (Nevada Union HS)

Hands down the best offensive lineman in the WAC, Andrew Jackson enters his season year with an offseason of NFL Combine and draft to follow. But, first things first, while breaking in new starting running backs, Fresno State needs Jackson to be flatout dominant. During former Bulldog Logan Mankins' senior year (2004) the team ran right behind him play after play in an MPC Computers Bowl win over No. 17 Virginia. That type of confidence in a lineman would go a long way this season, but it's yet to be seen if Jackson truly can be THAT good. Jackson has loads of experience with more than 30 career starts.

DaCo on Jackson: Jackson is not in the mold of your normal guard. Just look at his left guard linemate Cunningham. Jackson has a lean midsection, monster legs and his overall size is a tribute to his commitment to football and the weight room. He's a dominant lineman no doubt, but even he has the potential to raise his game to a new level this season and beyond.

FSDogs1 on Jackson: The man built like Frankenstein (think giant, in-shape rectangle of a man) has turned into one of the best linemen this decade for the university. Enjoy seeing him one final season...

Kenny Wiggins
RT, Sr, 6'7", 315
Elk Grove (Elk Grove HS)

Like Andrew Jackson, Kenny Wiggins is a returning All-WAC player (noticing a common theme among this talented starting line?). For being the tallest of all the 'Dogs, it's a bit surprising he might have the quickest feet of all the linemen, but it's true. And it's a huge plus, being that he's responsible for protecting Ryan Colburn's blind side. He has the Bulldog mentality at the position, similar to former 'Dogs Joe Schey and Bobby Lepori (who both loved putting in that one extra hit during the whistle).

DaCo on Wiggins: A mountain of a man that not only can dunk a basketball (he is tall afterall), but dunk it like an athlete with 360s and such. Wiggins is also another Bernardi-type guy in the element of outgoing personality. Another guy with a professional future as well.

FSDogs1 on Wiggins: Big Wigs is poised for his best season yet, in his second as the starter.

Matt Hunt
So, 6'2", 315
Carson (Carson HS)

Matt Hunt is the perfect insurance policy -- good enough to where he should be a starter, but young enough to where he can be a great back up for one more year before stepping in next season. Hunt was a late signee two years ago after passing up an offer from USC. He's a boulder of a player, who just doesn't get pushed around. If any guard suffers an unfortunate injury, Hunt can step right in.

DaCo on Hunt: Hunt is a strong, rock solid guy who is extremely tough to move. His center of gravity and balance have been very evident this camp, and he is easily of starter quality right now. He'll fit into the line seamlessly at any point, whether he fills in this year or beyond.

FSDogs1 on Hunt: Bulldogs fans know one thing for sure -- they can be confident in at least one of the reserves stepping in to start next season. In fact, Hunt might be better than some of the outgoing seniors.

Leslie Cooper
Jr, 6'4", 305
Compton (Dominguez HS)
Like Matt Hunt, Leslie Cooper has the ability to step right in without the Bulldogs' offense skipping a beat. As the surprise player in the unit last season, making strides of progress in camp, Cooper stepped in and started two games in place of an injured Andrew Jackson. And the running game continued to dominate, a sign he's more than competent. Cooper has also worked on snapping a little bit, meaning he may step in at center if need be this season or next.

DaCo on Cooper: Cooper has gotten more comfortable in the offense within the last year and a half. Although he has game experience, Cooper wasn't necessarily fully ready to play at the same level as Bulldogs fans are used to from there starting offensive linemen. His development by the time the 2011 season arrives is important.

FSDogs1 on Cooper: It's always a good thing to have position flexibility with your top reserves, and that's what Cooper offers. He's put on some weight since he first arrived on campus, but remains one of the fastest linemen (I still can't get over that high school film where he outran his running back as the lead blocker downfield).

Richard Helepiko
So, 6'2", 300
Moreno Valley (Moreno Valley HS)

Last season, Richard Helepiko was one of the big improvement stories and really started to show progress in his development. It was enough to put him on the depth chart at center. But he seemed to regress this fall camp, consistently making bad snaps in the shotgun formation. He'll now likely have to compete to win the starting job next year.

DaCo on Helepiko: The shotgun formation is not going anywhere in this offense, so Helepiko needs to get himself right in that area. He's a good lineman, but he also still needs to make that stride and find his comfort level in the offense, because he'll be asked to step up next year.

FSDogs1 on Helepiko: The backup outlook at center is one of the biggest concerns on offense. Even when the quarterback is under center, there have been a few mishaps, but the shotgun problems are big right now.

Austin Wentworth
R-Fr, 6'5", 305
Rocklin (Whitney HS)

Offensive line experience will be a big concern for the Bulldogs next season, and with Austin Wentworth on pace to earn the starting right tackle job once Kenny Wiggins graduates, it'll be key to get him some live game reps this year, at least on special teams. He's got great size and natural ability and stands out amongst the younger guys in technique drills.

Marcel Jensen
R-Fr, 6'6", 255
Fairfield (Rodriguez HS)

After years of battling back to recover from a gruesome leg injury, Marcel Jensen was listed second on the depth chart at left tackle in spring. He's still working out in that spot and is a massive presence at the position, but a lighter, quicker version of linemen compared to what the team will start this year. The converted defensive lineman seems to be on a quick learning curve at his new position.

Max Devlin
So, 6'5", 275
Windsor (Windsor HS)
Max Devlin is one of the more mysterious hogs on the offensive line. Now in his third year in the program, Devlin has steadily progressed, yet hasn't received the amount of time with the advanced units (to this point at least) that would lead you to think coaches feel he is capable of being a consistent in-game contributor. That being said, Devlin is far from a weak link and adds the usual depth to a 'Dogs o-line, while still possessing the potential, given his youth, to develop into something more.

Trevor Richter
So, 6'4", 280
El Segundo (El Segundo HS)

After two years in the program as an offensive tackle, Trevor Richter is now getting reps as an offensive guard. In that role, Richter has already proven his ability on both sides of the line, receiving second team reps at both LG and RG in camp. He is powerful in size and performance, with much more room to grow and develop. It's not out of the question that he could blossom at this position and push for a job this time next year.

Lars Bramer
R-Fr, 6'5", 260
Clovis (Buchanan HS)

Considering his lack of size (at least on the scale), Bramer is showing progression as a center -- just not as much as hoped. The good news is he obviously is still very young in the program, especially as a center and anchor of a line that requires a ton of responsibility. Bramer will need to try and bulk hard over the next year, which will help his chances of competing for the vacant center spot in 2011. Considering he can already go toe-to-toe with guys bigger and stronger than he is, that extra size might be the launching pad he needs.

Andrew Gustafson
Fr, 6'6", 265
Scottsdale, AZ (Chaparral HS)

Andrew Gustafson caught our attention early on -- in voluntary summer workouts. The youngster was very receptive to his teammates' teaching, and in turn, they were plenty eager to help him get his foot in the door. In one of the final summer workouts, Gustafson went head-to-head with senior DE Chris Carter on back-to-back plays, and stopped the all-WAC first-teamer cold in his tracks, earning rowdy approval from his linemates. Although Gustafson had some beginner's luck with Carter, he still has the ideal body type for a tackle, and has shown a surprising mean streak in camp.

Cody Wichmann
Fr, 6'5", 290
Mariposa (Mariposa County HS)

Physically, Cody Wichmann is one of those guys who, as a true freshman, will make you do the Sgt. Slaughter face plus head nod in approval of his advanced appearance. Wichmann automatically has a physical advantage most newcomers don't have, but he will still have to be a sponge for offensive line coach Derek Frazier. Wichmann did nothing to bring concern about the his performance in his first camp, but didn't standout either. He's currently logging time as a right tackle, where he has a chance to make a terrific bookend with a any number of other Fresno State tackles in the future.

Cameron Henderson
Fr, 6'2", 285
Moreno Valley (Moreno Valley HS)

As a walk-on, Cameron Henderson, as you might expect, has had the most difficult time adjusting to the Divison I level. That story has been written plenty of times, though, with several past walk-on lineman getting the chance to prove themselves in a limited amount of time before coaches decide whether they can make the cut as a 'Dogs lineman. Henderson possesses the size necessary for a guard, but doesn't have the conditioning that he'll need quite yet. Only time will tell if Henderson can be an asset for the Bulldogs in the future, but he'll have plenty of hurdles to climb.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Position Breakdown 2010: Tight Ends

Returning: Vince Pascoe, Tapa Taumopeau, Ryan Skidmore, Michael Butler, David Gory, Ryan Bouchma
Newcomers: Riley Barnes (walk-on)
Lost: Isaac Kinter

Vince Pascoe: Sorry, can't Pascoe or collect $200
Sr, 6'1", 250
Exeter (Exeter HS)

He's not exactly what you'd call a receiving tight end, but Vince Pascoe led Fresno State tight ends with 6 catches for 52 yards last year -- a stat that points to how little the Bulldogs are throwing to tight ends. Part of that is because of personnel. Pascoe, a former walk-on and cousin of former Fresno State star Bear Pascoe (Giants), is much better as a blocker than a receiving threat (unless you're playing NCAA Football 11 on PS3). Don't expect his role to change much this year. He'll line up at tight end and H-back and pave some openings for Bulldogs backs.

DaCo on Pascoe: Pascoe has made it clear that he is the premier blocker at tight end for this team. He maximizes his body, strength and leverage to move much bigger bodies. Pascoe is also a valuable chain mover, with usually reliable hands. He's one of those unheralded players you appreciate when he's gone.

FSDogs1 on Pascoe: It's impossible not to love a story like "Cub" Pascoe's. He's the guy with the 4.0 GPA in mechanical engineering who worked his way up from walk-on status to a starting job. Basically, he proves that hard work pays off.

Ryan Skidmore: Time on the bench about to hit the Skids
Jr, 6'5", 240
Bakersfield (East HS)

Remember that bit about Vince Pascoe leading all Bulldogs tight ends in receiving last year? Well it won't happen this season, not if Ryan Skidmore is healthy. Skidmore has missed practice recently with his arm in a sling, but is essentially a big wide receiver playing tight end. Unlike the rest of the players at the position, his strong suit is receiving and his weakness is blocking -- which is why former tight ends coach John Baxter didn't have him on the field all that much last season. Expect that to change with new coach Pete Alamar. It's been obvious since spring Skidmore is high on the depth chart, and it's been obvious for two years the quarterbacks enjoy having him as a target.

DaCo on Skidmore: As a receiver, Skidmore's potential is nothing short of exciting. He adds the element of making plays out of the slot, creating huge mismatches. His top-end speed is wide receiver-esque, and hasn't been seen since former TE Jeremy Johnson (2001). His downfall thus far is his inability/lack of progress as a blocker, and his tendency to lose focus on easy catches (despite his good hands). Every tool, from size to speed, is in his arsenal. If he figures it all out, he will be far and away the best tight end in the WAC, at the least.

FSDogs1 on Skidmore: As can be expected, Ryan Skidmore was involved in the first skirmish of fall camp. The team needs him to separate himself as the go-to tight end and be Mr. Reliable at the position, especially since he can be a deep threat.

Tapa Taumopeau: Wishing we could hear all the different Taumopeau pronunciations
So, 6'3", 220
Euless, TX (Trinity HS)

The end of the New Mexico Bowl still haunts those Red Wavers with attention to detail. Many recall Ryan Mathews trying to plunge into the end zone on four straight downs and failing to make it in during the eventual loss to Wyoming. But lost in the embarrassment was Tapa Taumopeau missing a crucial blocking assignment that led to Mathews being dropped in the backfield. Tapa (we know no one calls him by his last name, or his full first name of Mulitapa for that matter) cannot have those types of errors if he expects to get on the field and help this team.

DaCo on Taumopeau: Tapa is clearly undersized at tight end, especially considering he didn't add much, if any, bulk during the offseason. His ability as a receiver is largely unproven, which is just fine considering the wealth of receiving talent. He is a hard worker, though.

FSDogs1 on Taumopeau: I'd love to see Tapa with a more aggressive attitude on the field -- something any player needs when his main objective is to knock defenders into oblivion on any given play.

Michael Butler: The Butler, in the back of the end zone, with the football
So, 6'3", 240
Fresno (Sunnyside HS)
The local prospect Michael Butler has been battling to find a niche since arriving on campus, and that battle will continue. But he may have been the most successful young tight end in fall camp, with the highlight being a 40-yard catch in traffic from Derek Carr in the first fall scrimmage. Butler might see his first significant game action this season and, if so, must take advantage to move up the depth chart.

DaCo on Butler: There is no question Butler is a really good dude, a quality that can be assigned to a lot of different Bulldogs. His hang-up on the field has been consistency, despite his showing of consistent improvement. He is a strong and willing blocker, which are traits that could give him a role this year, and definitely one when Pascoe graduates.

FSDogs1 on Butler: We'll always have a soft spot for a hometown kid who was so enthusiastic about recruiting other top prospects to join his Bulldogs when he committed. Give it up for Michael Butler!

David Gory: Will the 2010 season have a Gory ending?
So, 6'4", 235
San Ramon (California HS)

David Gory was thought to be a diamond in the rough after being injured his senior year of high school and slipping through the radar of all the Pac-10 teams who probably would have offered him scholarships. His appearance brings back plenty of Bear Pascoe memories -- with an almost identical frame. Because of this and the potential Gory showed in camp last season, he was expected to contend for a starting spot this year, but hasn't lived up to the billing yet. One reason is he can't overcome the injury bug (again missing practice this fall camp). But don't be surprised if he's a constant by season's end if he gets healthy.

DaCo on Gory: Health and football inexperience have hurt Gory thus far in his young career. It's hard to progress when time on the field is limited, which makes his inconsistency understandable. But Gory was supposed to be blocking-ready for this season, and that just doesn't seem to be the case at this point. He is a definite wild card for the position.

FSDogs1 on Gory: Tight end might be the team's weakest position right now, and Gory is a guy who can change that if he reaches his potential. I'd like to avoid the "time will tell" cliche, but it's true.

Ryan Bouchma: Is Bouchma the next surprise breakout?
R-Fr, 6'4", 235
Bakersfield (Bakersfield Christian HS)

When talking about exciting walk-ons on the current roster, Ryan Bouchma has to be in the conversation. He hasn't yet done anything to stand out in game-like situations, but he's got the prototypical tight end body and, as a high school teammate of Derek Carr, has the chemistry with the guy who will be at the helm the next two to three years.

DaCo on Bouchma: Definitely a good decision by coaches to move Bouchma to tight end after beginning his career as a defensive end. Bouchma has very good hands and a Skidmore-like frame, making him an intriguing receiving prospect.

FSDogs1 on Bouchma: Bouchma isn't likely to get playing time this season, but he's definitely worth keeping an eye on to see how he progresses the next two years.

Riley Barnes: Partaking in a Barnes and noble task
Fr, 6'2", 225
Tulare (Tulare Union HS)

An incoming walk-on, Riley Barnes has a long ways to go to crack the rotation, but he's similar to Bouchma in that he's got the size to develop into a contributer. That scenario will play out over the next few camps.

Position Breakdown 2010: Wide Receivers

Returning: Jamel Hamler, Devon Wylie, Rashad Evans, A.J. Johnson, Matt Lindsey, J.J. Stallworth, Matthew De Los Santos, Taylor Stewart

Newcomers: Victor Dean, Isaiah Burse, Josh Harper, Jalen Saunders, Davon Dunn, Alex Jefferies

Lost: Seyi Ajirotutu (Chargers), Chastin West (Packers), Marlon Moore (Dolphins), Darren Newborn

Jamel Hamler: Peanut butter Melly time
Jr, 6'2", 205
San Leandro (San Leandro HS)
As predicted, Jamel Hamler busted onto the scene last season after missing the previous year with eligibility issues. On a receiving corps that featured three NFL-bound seniors, Hamler was second with 503 yards and 5 touchdowns. The later Fresno State got in its season, the more Hamler blossomed into one of Ryan Colburn's favorite targets, and it was easy to see why with the extra effort and awareness he displayed in the thrilling last-second touchdown catch at Illinois. The biggest difference for Hamler now will be adjusting to being the focus of opposing defensive backfields. But he reportedly shed some weight and upped his speed to prepare.

DaCo on Hamler: Hamler is easily one of the best receivers in the conference, if not multiple other conferences. Add to that the plethora of weapons to complement him on this team, and his ceiling raises even higher. That said, he will be targeted greatly, allowing those other receivers to steal some thunder. Still, Hamler is one of the best, most well-rounded receivers Fresno State has had in awhile.

FSDogs1 on Hamler: I thought Hamler was plenty fast enough last season, so if he truly has improved speed he could really be scary. I expected him to get off to a running start in fall camp but he got a case of the dropsies for a few days. But there's no reason to doubt he'll be ready to improve on last season's stats.

Devon Wylie: Defenses, prepared to be wizard-ed
Sr, 5'9", 170
Roseville (Granite Bay HS)

While Jamel Hamler is the expected go-to receiver, there's no reason Devon Wylie can't challenge for that title. His speed (the fastest Bulldog ever with a 4.25 40-yard dash) makes him one of the toughest mismatches in the nation at any position. With his acceleration, there simply is no way to cover him in the first 10 yards of his route. And if he gets a defender biting with the slightest false step, forget about it (see 70-yard touchdown vs. Wisconsin last season). Wylie, or "Wiggles" as receivers coach Keith Williams calls him, has just one thing to overcome -- injuries. He's been injured for parts of all three seasons as a Bulldog and needs to avoid that to reach his senior season potential. Wylie was limited to just 17 catches in 10 games last season for 259 yards and 4 scores. Like Hamler, Wylie is a legit NFL prospect.

DaCo on Wylie: The acceleration and agility from this man is like few things you'll ever see. He has impeccable body control, and has been blessed with supreme athletic ability. He is a touchdown threat on literally every route he runs, and has an entertaining tendency to jello-leg defenders along the way. A healthy Devon Wylie is lethal Devon Wylie.

FSDogs1 on Wylie: His small stature and blurring speed make this Star Wars buff a fan favorite. Let's just hope the fans get to see a healthy Wylie play in each game this season. Oh, and watch for him on the end around.

Rashad Evans: RE: the secret is out
R-So, 5'9", 180
San Jose (James Logan HS)

Shhhh. Don't tell the "experts" writing the college football mags, but the Bulldogs have a super secret weapon no one is talking about. Rashad Evans, who impressed as a possession receiver and return man as a true freshman (think crucial first down grab on sideline at UCLA and punt return TD at La Tech), is back in the rotation after redshirting last season. Evans had 21 catches for 232 yards his freshman year. He battled injury last fall, but looked like yet another go-to guy at times this fall with more speed (4.35 40-yard) and a more muscular frame (he was a bit on the fragile side as a freshman). Evans looks to be a large part of the offense both as a receiver and a "wildcat" quarterback, and has arguably the best hands on the team.

DaCo on Evans: Shad has WAC offensive p.o.y. ability -- this year. That's not a prediction, but a statement on his versatility and ridiculous talent. How has he become so forgotten? He is lightning in a bottle. He has great hands, gets into open space, makes tough catches in traffic and runs the wildcat like nobody's business. In a nutshell, I think he's really good.

FSDogs1 on Evans: Together, Evans and Wylie will bring back memories of the 2001 "Smurfs" at Fresno State with WRs Rodney Wright and Charles Smith. Only they're both better than Smith, and time will tell how they compare to Wright, the school's all-time leader in career yards.

A.J. Johnson: Johnson ready to be remembered
R-Fr, 6'0", 180
Bakersfield (Highland HS)

With all the incoming talent at receiver, A.J. Johnson has been somewhat overshadowed. But let's not forget, before last season Pat Hill said Johnson could be the team's biggest breakout player. That didn't happen, as he ended up redshirting, but good things are still expected. The mystery right now, as is the case with a couple others at the position, is where he falls on the depth chart. He had a solid fall camp showing and should find his way onto the field. That said, he seems to have more of a connection with Derek Carr (a fellow Bako buddy) than Ryan Colburn.

DaCo on Johnson: Johnson quietly goes about his business, and has been a forgotten man after greyshirting a couple of years ago. Johnson has clear-cut speed, yet it is still deceptive for defenders. He is very good on go and post routes and definitely has a place on this team.

FSDogs1 on Johnson: As good as some of the newbies have looked, Johnson will have to turn up the dial a notch to earn a spot on the depth chart behind the three starters.

Matt Lindsey: Lindsey proves he is 'hair' to stay
So, 6'0", 200
Clovis (Clovis HS)

OK, OK, so Matt Lindsey stood out with his leaping ability and hands during his redshirt year, then seemed to regress last season in practice, and now is shining again in fall camp. The problem (for Lindsey) is the Bulldogs have an almost ridiculous amount of depth at the position now. But Lindsey offers characteristics that should help him get playing time -- size, ability to go up and pull down the ball and sticky hands. He'll be competing with A.J. Johnson, J.J. Stallworth and the newcomers for valuable reps. Oh, and he has a luscious head of hair on him.

DaCo on Lindsey: To avoid a future on the bench, Lindsey needed a breakout camp this year. Safe to say that was the case. His hands and general athleticism were never questioned, but his progression as a receiver was. This camp, Lindsey stole the show on occasions with surprising and truly impressive explosiveness and top end speed, putting himself right back in the WR mix.
FSDogs1 on Lindsey: I really like Lindsey as a possession receiver this year -- a guy who can be potentially be relied on to show sure hands in pressure third down situations. But he hasn't yet recorded a catch in a real game, so he still must prove he can fill that type of role if he wants to play this year.

J.J. Stallworth: A S-tall mountain to climb
Jr, 5'11", 185
Sacramento (Grant Union HS)

The younger bro of NFL standout Donte Stallworth, J.J. Stallworth has been competing for playing time behind an array of talented receivers the past few years. And that hasn't changed. He hasn't shown the every-rep consistency yet, but made strides in spring and fall as far as making big grabs in traffic. It's still unclear what type of niche he can fill for this team, and being that there are so many quality candidates for playing time, he may have to compete just for a spot on the travel squad.

DaCo on Stallworth: Stallworth is certainly a quality receiver who can make plays, but he is in a mix of crown jewels right now. His knowledge of the offense, work ethic and pure desire to play is what keeps him progressing, but it will be tough for him to earn a big role. That said, Stally has surprised the defense at times this year, and can be a solid possession guy.

FSDogs1 on Stallworth: There are faster receivers, bigger receivers, ones with better hands and better route runners -- which means Stallworth will have to outwork guys to earn a role.

Victor Dean: It's not easy being Dean
Fr, 6'6", 200
San Diego (Lincoln HS)

The most exciting of the incoming freshmen is Victor Dean, simply because he offers a unique element to the game with his height. Believed to be the tallest receiver in school history, Dean is slated to play right away and is flatout deadly on the corner fade route. During one fall camp session, Dean scored four straight touchdowns on the same route against different cornerbacks. He's a big, athletic receiver who can go up and get the ball as good as anyone. His shortcoming right now being fresh out of high school is his route running. Coaches will surely be working with Dean on making cleaner, sharper cuts in his routes and getting the initial burst and making a first move to get open quickly.

DaCo on Dean: Dean, as you might imagine, is a long-strider with sneaky speed. He's also not only 6-6, but he's 6-6 with tremendous leaping ability. He's clearly not as polished as he will be in the future, but he is already dangerous in his current role and his ball skills are simply amazing when the ball is up for grabs.

FSDogs1 on Dean: Don't be surprised if it's "VD" for the TD in the season opener. His first career catch just might be for a score.

Josh Harper: A talent worth Harp-ing on
Fr, 6'1", 187
Stockton (St. Mary's HS)

According to a recent barkboard.com report, Josh Harper is also expected to play as a true freshman, which came as a bit of a surprise being that so many other newcomers looked more ready to make an impact. Harper was the highest rated of any Fresno State recruit coming out of high school, and is the most physically ready receiver, but struggled with his hands during open fall camp. The daily drops kept him behind Dean, Jalen Saunders and Isaiah Burse, but he did make some quality plays in the first fall scrimmage.

DaCo on Harper: The cal decommit has legit superstar tools, no question. He showed consistent progression throughout camp, and shined when the lights were brightest in the open scrimmage. Harper clearly is the real deal and is a well-rounded, every down kind of receiver.

FSDogs1 on Harper: His build should have Bulldogs fans excited, but it's far from clear how often he'll make it on the field during games this season. If he indeed plays as a true, Pat Hill must be thinking ahead to getting the young receivers experience so they're ready for Derek Carr's debut next season and beyond.

Isaiah Burse: Future star ready to Burse onto scene
Fr, 5'11", 180
Modesto (Modesto Christian HS)

From the first drills on the first day of fall camp, Isaiah Burse was excelling amongst the newcomers with the crispness of his route running -- beyond the norm for a guy right out of high school. That, along with the fact he can play quarterback in the "wildcat," should lead to him playing as a true freshman. Burse led his high school to a state title at quarterback, and also played point guard on the basketball team. His biggest impact this year is likely to come from the quarterback role.

DaCo on Burse: Considering he's a true freshman, Burse is a respectable threat at wide receiver. He's elusive and already an impressive route runner, impressive for a former QB. His versatility as a wildcat QB is what makes playing him as a true a real tease, because he can run, option, throw or receive out of the formation. His presence will make preparing for the Bulldogs offense a headache for opposing teams for years to come.

FSDogs1 on Burse: He's still raw when lined up at pure receiver, which is why it was so surprising he was the standout route runner of the group. But what he brings to the quarterback position is fascinating (being that he can actually throw the ball as well as run it).

Jalen Saunders: News flash, Saunders is fast -- and good
Fr, 5'10", 170
Elk Grove (Pleasant Grove HS)

While Victor Dean's size makes him the most exciting of the newcomers, Jalen Saunders' speed makes him the biggest big-play threat. There wasn't a practice that went by in open fall camp when Saunders didn't wow with his speed and ability to get open deep. Barkboard.com recently reported he has an NCAA Clearinghouse issue and may end up having to greyshirt and sit out this season, but if he is declared eligible he's almost a lock to earn playing time. And he'll fit in quite nicely with the Wylie/Evans "Smurf" squad. The key for Saunders in the year ahead is to add strength to his thin frame to battle press coverage that is sure to be used against him to negate his speed.

DaCo on Saunders: Let's say Devon Wylie's speed is a given, which at a 4.25 40, shouldn't be a problem. Now this: it is very difficult for the naked eye to see a difference between the straight-line speed of Wylie and Saunders. That's fast. Saunders has shown no fear in competing with veterans and could be one of the biggest steals of the class. He's improved every day, displaying solid hands, precise route running and definite big-play ability. Good luck not getting giggly and giddy when watching his development unfold before your eyes.

FSDogs1 on Saunders: I don't know how fast Saunders runs, but by the time his Bulldogs career is finished, he'll be one of the fastest in school history. And he'll be a heck of a weapon in this athlete-riddled offense the team is piecing together.

Davon Dunn: One tough son of a Dunn
Fr, 5'11", 175
San Diego (Lincoln HS)
Davon Dunn, the son of former Fresno State and NFL receiver David Dunn, was late gaining his clearinghouse eligibility, but as soon as he padded up for camp he looked like one of the better athletes on the field. He's good enough to play right away, but will likely redshirt because there's so much depth at the position. When he does hit the field, he'll be a threat catching the ball, running the ball and returning the ball. And he looks taller than expected.

DaCo on Dunn: All it took was one touch of the ball by Dunn and it became clear he was as good as advertised. Yet another guy with great body control and explosiveness, and may be the best all-around playmaker of the bunch. Unfortunately, the clearinghouse delay stalled his chance to prove himself in time to get on the field this season (at least for now).

FSDogs1 on Dunn: Dunn is probably the most athletic and agile of the new WRs, and like Saunders, Dean and Harper, is capable of being All-WAC (er, should we say All-MWC) in the next few years.

Alex Jefferies: No more grey area for Jefferies
G-Fr, 6'0", 171
Rialto (Eisenhower Senior HS)

Alex Jefferies was part of the previous recruiting class but eligibility issues forced him to greyshirt last season. His arrival in spring, and solid routes in fall camp have been wonderful to see. And he's already established a connection with Derek Carr on and off the field. But with the depth, he's also expected to redshirt this season.

DaCo on Jefferies: This is just ridiculous now. Jefferies is seemingly yet another obvious star-worthy talent at the position. Like A.J. Johnson, Jefferies has flown under the radar, but he is easily in the conversation when comparing him with the rest of the wide receiving talents on the roster.
FSDogs1 on Jefferies: Don't be surprised if he climbs the depth chart in the next couple years and becomes a big part of the offense. The competition at the position will be nothing less than spectacular.

Matthew De Los Santos: 'De La' showing impressive growth
So, 5'11", 180
Ventura (St. Bonaventure HS)

A walk-on last season, and brother of KSEE24 sports reporter Senerey De Los Santos, Matthew De Los Santos has surprising speed and looks much improved from last season. He seems to have responded well to the coaching. But there are just too many talented receivers ahead for him to get game action the next couple years.

Taylor Stewart: Considering the talent, at least he's on the team
R-Fr, 6'0", 185
Clovis (Buchanan HS)

Also a walk-on, Taylor Stewart, son of defensive coordinator Randy Stewart, has a year under his belt in the program, but isn't at the level where he'll compete for playing time any time soon. Gotta love the Bulldog Spirit though.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Position Breakdown 2010: Fullbacks

Returning: Austin Raphael, Dylan Cruz, Ibe Nduka

Newcomers: Tim House
Lost: Reynard Camp

Austin Raphael: Offense likely won't be sans Raphael
Jr, 6'2", 225
Jamestown (Sonora HS)

It remains to be seen how Fresno State plans to use its fullbacks this season, but all signs point to not much in the passing game. No one on the depth chart has a single career reception, including Austin Raphael, who was converted from linebacker before last season and is the only player with game experience. Raphael doesn't have the pulverizing build of recent stud fullbacks Reynard Camp, Nathan Adams and Roshon Vercher, but the Bulldogs' offense is built more around speedy, shifty athletes who can spread the field nowadays. Raphael received essentially all first-team reps in fall camp.

DaCo on Raphael: Raphael is one of several fullbacks, who, because of Fresno State's evolving style of offense, will likely have a minimal role. Raphael's biggest potential for impact is as a mismatch in the flats against linebackers, because he does possess decent speed and skill with the ball. However, for those mismatches to come into play, he'll also have to establish himself as a valued run blocker.

FSDogs1 on Raphael: Despite his 0 career catches, Raphael is capable of being a last-read target for Ryan Colburn. But what will really determine how good he'll be at the position is how his impact blocking comes along. One thing is for sure -- he's improved from last season.

Dylan Cruz: All aboard the Cruz ship
R-Fr, 5'11", 225
Fontana (Redlands East Valley HS)

For now, Dylan Cruz is a young walk-on nobody knows about. But don't count on that being the case for long. He redshirted last season and has the prototypical power fullback build. Couple that with tailback-like footwork and a linebacker's explosiveness, and you've got a heck of a fullback prospect. That's what Cruz is. Fresno State has a history of turning walk-ons into difference makers at the position (Reynard Camp, Nathan Adams, Stephen Spach) and Cruz just might be the next in line. That said, if Austin Raphael remains the starter, and the Bulldogs don't plan for the fullback to be a big part of the offense, Raphael may be the only one to dress, given Fresno State's tight end position flexibility.

DaCo on Cruz: Simply put, Cruz is a tremendous athlete. Watching his reps in practice, it's easy to earmark him as the guy with the impressive physique and the agility of a running back. His potential as a bulldozer type is very much unproven though, even in his practice time. Still, Cruz is a hybrid-type player at the position, and is a legitimate prospect at fullback.

FSDogs1 on Cruz: Sign me up for the Dylan Cruz fan club. I've seen enough talent during his practice reps to be sold on his potential, but came away from fall camp wishing he would have been given more of a shot at a starting role.

Ibe Nduka: One guy you don't want to Nduk' it out with
R-Fr, 6'0", 220
Etiwanda (Etiwanda HS)

Though he's not yet up to par with the others competing for playing time, Ibe Nduka might have the most upside -- the most room to blossom. He was converted from defensive end during his redshirt season and has the powerful, compact frame, but doesn't yet hit the gaps with the same tenacity you'd want out of a starter.

DaCo on Nduka: The first day I saw Nduka, I muttered aloud that his build fit the fullback mold perfectly. One spring later, I had to figure out something else to mutter. Nduka is built powerfully and strong, pretty much ideal for a full-time battering ram. He's very much raw at the position, and hasn't quite grasped his new role (as a blocker) quite as quickly as hoped, though he still might be the best at it of this group.

FSDogs1 on Nduka: He's an intriguing prospect because of his build alone, but right now it's tough to tell how bad he wants to excel at the position.

Tim House: House finding a home at fullback
Fr, 6'3", 240
Oakdale (Oakdale HS)

Like Dylan Cruz, walk-on true freshman Tim House has tailback-type footwork and might be the fastest in the group. He's also the biggest. House's high school film shows he has running ability, which could evolve into a role for him down the road -- but not this season.

DaCo on House: The deeper you dig into this position, the more you realize the bodies and potential at fullback are there. House clearly brings a rare ability to run the ball effectively with power, but he has extremely limited experience sacrificing his body for the guy behind him. If House develops the confidence to steal this job down the road, he can offer great value to the offense.

FSDogs1 on House: Two years from now, the 'Dogs could be stocked at fullback with Tim House and Dylan Cruz. They are both under-the-radar prospects who could be strong suits later on.
Position Ratings:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Position Breakdown 2010: Running Backs

Returning: Robbie Rouse, Michael Harris, A.J. Ellis

Newcomers: Tracy Slocum (transfer), E.J. Schexnayder, Milton Knox (transfer), Jerry Kelly (walk-on)
Lost: Ryan Mathews (Chargers), Lonyae Miller (Cowboys), Anthony Harding, Jamal Rashad

Robbie Rouse: Here he comes to save the day
So, 5'7", 185
San Diego (Madison HS)

Robbie Rouse might have the least enviable task of any player -- replacing Ryan Mathews, the nation's top rusher from last season. But while Mathews was wowing the nation with 1,808 yards and 19 touchdowns, Rouse was having one of the most impressive true freshman campaigns in recent Fresno State history. Rouse was second on the team, ahead of Cowboys undrafted free agent Lonyae Miller, with 479 yards and 4 touchdowns. The most telling statistic, though, is his 5.8 yards per carry, among the WAC's best. The biggest criticism Rouse faces is his size (in actuality only a lack of height). That's basically a non-factor for the stocky back who has improved speed and strength from a year ago and has shown early signs of a team leader in the making with his will to win.

DaCo on Rouse: How do you not love Robbie Rouse? He loves being a Bulldog. He plays with something to prove every play, practice or game. He has great talent for the position. The list goes on. The hang-up people have is the height, because it's just so out of the norm for someone his size to do what he does. But the kid is a tough son of a gun and he hasn't given anyone a reason to think he won't perform in any role he's given.

FSDogs1 on Rouse: The biggest criticism Rouse faces is his size, but a lot of fans/media fail to differentiate a lack of height from a lack of weight. Rouse has a sturdy, thick frame, and is every bit big enough to be an every-down college back.

Tracy Slocum: Cal schmal, he's always been Bulldog Born
Sr, 5'11", 210
Clovis (Clovis East HS/Cal)

The Bulldog Bounce first broke news early this year that Tracy Slocum was planning to walk-on at Fresno State for his final season of college football. He got the work done in the classroom, the plan came to fruition and now Slocum has skyrocketed up the depth chart to earn first-team carries throughout fall camp. He's the biggest (muscle wise), most experienced back on the team, but also hasn't played for two years. That said, Bulldogs defenders haven't been taking it easy on him during practice reps, where Slocum has been used as a between-the-tackles, physical runner -- a perfect complement to Robbie Rouse's elusive style. The comedic highlight of fall camp came in 11-on-11 drills during an evening practice when Slocum fumbled after a hard hit by S Lorne Bell and DT Cornell Banks and Cornell Banks joked, "Send his a*$ back to Cal!" Slocum has demonstrated he can play a significant role for the Bulldogs this season, though he's yet to show big-play, breakaway ability in fall camp.

DaCo on Slocum: Slocum passes your college running back eyeball test. Additionally, he clearly loves football and is intent on making the most of his last shot. At Cal, Slocum had several runs that were explosive enough to make him an intriguing possibility for this team. The interesting thing with him is that even though he's a senior, he still has a diamond in the rough vibe to him, which means he has the potential to either breakout, fall through the cracks, or an average joe. The talent is there, but he's a wild card.

FSDogs1 on Slocum: Pat Hill was nice enough to offer Slocum a home at Fresno State for his senior year after the former Clovis East star chose Cal out of high school, and Slocum is repaying Hill's favor by working hard. Passing as many units as he did in a short amount of time shows he really wants to be here, and that is the most important thing for a true Bulldog in my book.

Michael Harris: Riddle me this; what role will Harris play?
So, 5'11", 200
Chino Hills (Chino Hills HS)

Possibly the biggest unknown of the Fresno State backfield is Michael Harris, an up and comer who looked like he would be heavily relied upon this season before the emergence of Slocum. Harris has been a standout in scrimmages his first two years in the program and showed up for spring ball noticeably bigger (in a good way). Slocum's presence no doubt impacts the number of touches Harris will get this season, but he still may play a large role in the offense. The key word is "may," because it's tough to gauge just how large a role that will be. Harris didn't outshine the other backs in fall camp, but did look reliable. The amount of playing time he gets could hinge on what he does with his first significant game action of his Bulldogs career.

DaCo on Harris: Here's another guy with great tools for the running back position. He's a well-rounded back, capable of being shifty, speedy or powerful. Problem is, he is too often capable instead of relied upon. If Harris can visually show to coaches that he is hungry to make an impact with the ball in his hands, then he can potentially (a frustrating word in college football) be a monster at running back. He's creeping close to that line in the sand, however, to get to that point.

FSDogs1 on Harris: I would have liked to see more obvious improvement from Harris from last season to this fall camp, but his propensity for making plays in scrimmage situations makes me think he's a "gamer."

A.J. Ellis: We like him even though he's from swampy San Jose
So, 5'11", 180
San Jose (Andrew Hill HS)

The forgotten man of sorts has been A.J. Ellis, but watch for him to be a hidden piece of the Bulldogs' arsenal this season. He's not the every-down back Robbie Rouse will be, but Ellis showed big potential in the first fall scrimmage catching the ball out of the backfield. That's likely to be his niche this season. Any time he's lined up in the backfield in shotgun formation, opposing defenses had better pay a lot of attention to where he's at because he's deadly in the flats and on screen passes. He's the type of athlete the Bulldogs have been compiling all over the field on offense, and it should start to show this year.

DaCo on Ellis: It became a lot more clear as to what the strengths of A.J. Ellis' game are this fall. I developed a craving for him to get the ball in the open field, because when he did, yards would be eaten up. He is a slasher-type back who likes to get to the outside, but his ability as a receiver definitely showed he was tops in the group in that facet. That being said, being so one-dimensional probably won't allow him to flourish as often as he's capable of.

FSDogs1 on Ellis: If Ellis continues to work hard, he'll have a role in this program for the next three years. He offers shiftiness and a receiver-like body at the position that can come in quite handy. But he'll need to improve his pass protection to keep defenses honest when he's in the game.

E.J. Schexnayder: You know he's good 'cause his name is cool
Fr, 5'11", 210
Riverside (North HS)

With Leslie Rogers no-showing for fall camp after not qualifying, E.J. Schexnayder is the only true freshman at the position. And he was projected as a possible immediate impact guy heading into camp. But after seeing Schexnayder take live reps, it's fairly certain he'll need a redshirt year to develop. His first few days of camp were rough, as it was obvious he wasn't used to the fast-paced, physical nature of Fresno State football. But he deserves much respect after his first fall scrimmage performance where he seemed to trust his size more and use it to his advantage, lowering his shoulder and the boom on one run in particular. That's the mentality Pat Hill surely wants to see from the guy projected as a future physical back in a historically physical running game.

DaCo on Schexnayder: Early on in camp, it was obvious Schexnayder would have some maturing to do mentally to reach his potential. But when he's been right, Schexnayder has shown he loves to be the one delivering loud contact, with good balance to go with it. His style of running is testosterone inducing and fits Fresno State's style of play perfectly. He is someone fans should want to thrive in this program, given his strengths and ceiling of talent to fulfill.

FSDogs1 on Schexnayder: Schexnayder has a lot of work to do in protecting the football. Like Tracy Slocum, he showed some fumbling issues in camp, but Schexnayder's looked like they had more to do with how he holds the ball (what should be an easily correctable problem). P.S. is it me or does he resemble Anthony Harding a little bit?

Jerry Kelly: Further helping the Bulldog backfield to resemble Munchkinland
Fr, 5'7", 160
Lancaster (Paraclete HS)

Who's that little guy out there at running back? That was the question being murmered aloud in spring camp when Jerry Kelly arrived as a walk-on. Actually, at that point, there were two guys about the same size. Kelly is the one who stuck. He's not likely to see playing time this year, but he's got solid speed and quickness and will be one to watch as he progresses in the coming years.

DaCo on Kelly: Fresno State has clearly carved a niche for running backs with Clifton Smith, Robbie Rouse, etc. type builds and running styles. Kelly's value comes more in giving the depth of the team quality reps, because he works hard and is reliable to do his job. Still, he does possess a fair amount of talent and is deserving of where he's at.

FSDogs1 on Kelly: Think Robbie Rouse but slimmer and with more finesse. Of course, Kelly isn't gifted with the same talent as Rouse, but with hard work is definitely capable of competing at this level.

Milton Knox: Who wouldn't transfer after seeing what the 'Dogs did to UCLA at the Rose Bowl?

So, 5'8", 210

Van Nuys (Birmingham Senior HS/UCLA)

In a special "just wait 'til next year" synopsis, let's talk Milton Knox, the UCLA transfer and former Parade All-American who has to sit out this season as per NCAA transfer rules. Knox has been nothing short of brilliant in fall camp. He's just a hair taller than Rouse, and has the thick, stocky midsection build of fomer Bulldog Clifton Smith (Buccaneers). He doesn't run in the constant-juke style of Smith, but he's a quick decision maker who likes to get downfield fast, and Knox has been by far the biggest big-play threat at the position all camp. He consistently rumbles for big gains and gets into the secondary if not beyond. At this rate, he'll compete with Robbie Rouse for the starting job in 2011 (hopefully Fresno State's first year in the Mountain West Conference).

DaCo on Knox: There has been only about a two-week sample size to evaluate Milton Knox in person, but that sample was good enough to buy a year's supply and freeze it for next year. Knox clearly has a superior level of vision at the position, and showed additional value in the wildcat and as a pass protector. Although he reached the secondary time after time, Knox didn't appear to have true breakaway speed, although there's no reason to think he doesn't have enough to finish runs with TDs. Really, the only flaw I saw was his tendency to cruise at times during practice, rather than push the practice tempo. Personally, I left camp with the opinion that Milton Knox was the best running back on the roster, which is a testament to his ability rather than a knock on any of the other backs.

FSDogs1 on Knox: It's a head-scratcher right now how Pat Hill will decide to use Knox next season, but it'll be a great problem to have. Rouse and Knox can be used almost interchangeably as the same back but with constant fresh legs. He's without a doubt one of the top two backs on the team right now.

Position Rating:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Position Breakdown 2010: Quarterbacks

The 2010 position preview series begins with the guys who are so comfortable with their masculinity, they go back-of-the-hand to nuts on every play to get their hands on the football. We'll call them quarterbacks.

These force-your-voice-to-be-deep-and-raspy signal callers have a proud and productive history under Fresno State coach Pat Hill, a trend that didn't take a year off in 2009. Yes, the spotlight was 7 yards behind the quarterbacks all season (followed quickly by it being 65 yards in front of them), but even with front row seats to the Ryan Mathews show, Ryan Colburn and Derek Carr flashed exciting glimpses as to what the 2010 air assault could bring.

In addition to those glimpses, the Bulldogs have been working hard behind the scenes to add yet another dimension to the offense. This addition, known largely as the wildcat, isn't just for show. Multiple players can fill this role capably for Fresno State, while a couple can do so spectacularly.

Throughout our position-by-position previews, we'll break down each player, provide our individual thoughts on each player and provide a general outlook for what to expect from each facet of your 2010 Bulldogs. -- DaCo

Returners: Ryan Colburn, Derek Carr, Tyler Stirewalt
Newcomers: Kelly O'Brien, Greg Watson
Lost: Ebahn Feathers

Ryan Colburn: Improved Colburn ready to surprise
Sr, LH, 6'3", 220
Visalia (Central Valley Christian HS)

This is not last year's Ryan Colburn. Entering the 2009 season, Colburn had attempted just five career passes and was neck-and-neck in a fall camp battle with Derek Carr for the starting job. Exiting 2009, Colburn haNumbered Listd completed 181 of 298 passes (61%) for 2,459 yards, 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Entering 2010, Colburn has a python's grip on the starting role and has increased vocal leadership, respect and the confidence of his teammates. Throughout fall camp, Colburn has been encouraging teammates with "good jobs" while composing himself with the on-field poise of a team leader. And he's complemented those intangibles with his play, making what coach Pat Hill called "NFL throws" in the camp's first scrimmage. He also showed he still has that "Bulldog Football" mentality, making a crackback block on a screen pass despite the fact he was wearing a yellow, don't-hit-me practice jersey.

DaCo on Colburn: Subtract Derek Carr from the mix and Ryan Colburn is viewed as a potential breakout star for this team. This is a guy who has earned and deserves massive respect for not only his work ethic and leadership, but his actual on-field ability. Colburn is nothing short of a great person and is easy to root for. Beyond that,he has shown seriously impressive offseason growth. His improvements leave no doubt he's capable of leading this team to a first-place WAC finish.

FSDogs1 on Colburn: Personality wise, Colburn is practically the perfect Bulldog. His love for the community, pride for what being a Bulldog stands for and his chip-on-the-shoulder mentality are ideal qualities for a likeable, winning QB. Expect him to throw for more yards, more touchdowns and at least 25% less interceptions as a senior.

Derek Carr: Everyone's favorite Carr still waiting to be unveiled
So, 6'3", 205
Bakersfield (Bakersfield Christian HS)

The star QB waiting in the wings looks like he will stay in the wings for at least one more year, barring any injuries. It remains obvious to practice regulars that Carr has the strongest arm and best accuracy on the team. But Colburn has proven to be a viable option as a starter, so there's no reason to sit him on the bench for a year when Carr is eligible to redshirt. But that'll be the key to the quarterback situation this year -- finding a capable backup not named Carr so that Carr can redshirt and preserve three years of eligibility for the post-Colburn era. In limited action as a true freshman, Carr completed 10 of 14 passes for 112 yards. Fans should be chomping at the bit for the near future with a guy who can make throws most college QBs can't and has had the privilege of growing up under the tutelage of an older brother who was the NFL's No. 1 overall draft pick in 2002.

DaCo on Carr: It should come as no surprise after watching Derek Carr play that his favorite player is Brett Favre. He's energetic, he's youthful, just cocky enough and has a cannon for an arm. Carr has also mastered a complicated pro-style offense before this 2010 season, and physically, is the baseball equivalent to a 5-tool player. He is the best quarterback on this team still, which is saying something. His pre-snap reads, throwing versatility and natural instincts for the game are mind-boggling. And he still has a redshirt year to make even more growth.

FSDogs1 on Carr: As exciting as Carr's potential is, and as confident as he is, he needs to continue working as hard as he has been and focus on being the Bulldogs go-to QB when he's called upon. With a guy with his ability, it's important to not let the future-pro thoughts turn into a hinderance the way it did with some Bulldogs in the disgusting 2006 season.

Tyler Stirewalt: Our Tyler Stirewalt is better than yours
R-Fr, 6'2", 200
San Bernardino (Aquinas HS)
It's still a bit early to tell what direction the coaching staff is leaning with Tyler Stirewalt, a walk-on who redshirted last season. Pat Hill has made a habit of develping walk-ons at Fresno State, but that hasn't included the QB position. Stirewalt is in uncharted territory there, but performed well in camp relative to the newcomers. He showed more comfort not only in his mechanics, but also in his command of the offense, and showed nice zip on the ball. But he never got to show his stuff against the first-team defense.

DaCo on Stirewalt: Stirewalt received one of the first double-takes of the year this camp after ridding himself of the 2009 Stirewalt. I've got to give him some credit for working so hard to improve, despite the fact he will knowingly be pushed to the side his entire career. Having a quarterback who can provide quality reps for the young and talented receivers gives him some value.

FSDogs1 Stirewalt: Stirewalt's offseason improvement was a pleasant surprise during fall camp, but I still get the feeling the coaching staff expects newcomer Kelly O'Brien to develop into the better of the two.

Kelly O'Brien: O'Brien to fill backup role, be introduced to weight room
So, 6'7", 200
Manhattan Beach (Foothill JC)

While finding a capable starter is far from an issue, finding a No. 2 who can step up and allow Derek Carr to redshirt is mission No. 1. Kelly O'Brien, son of former New York Jets star Ken O'Brien, was brought in from the JC ranks to be an immediate help. But he had a rough start to fall camp, throwing as many balls into the ground as into receivers' hands. That started to change as camp went on and O'Brien showed soft touch on the deep ball and an improved short and intermediate game. Unfortunately, he didn't take any first- and second-team reps early in camp -- which would have allowed for a more telling scouting report. And on a side note, O'Brien is skinny. Really really skinny.

DaCo on O'Brien: O'Brien, like all the other QBs not named Colburn or Carr, showed rapid improvement in camp. The deep ball is no doubt his best throw, yet all of his throws have improved to the level of good enough. Still, O'Brien does get lost at times when his targets are in traffic. His ability to fill out his role as the No. 2 QB is promising, but not guaranteed.

FSDogs1 on O'Brien: After three days of fall camp, the nerves sat in for the QB situation behind Colburn and Carr. But O'Brien showed strong in the first scrimmage and his improvement brightens the outlook he'll develop further.

Greg Watson: Greg Watson > Ebahn Feathers
Fr, 5'11", 200
Rancho Cucamonga (Rancho Cucamonga HS)

Greg Watson is easily the most intriguing QB prospect on the roster, especially with highly-regarded Marcus McDade not qualifying this fall. Watson is similar in size to the departed Ebahn Feathers, but less of a distraction and already a better passer. He still needs work on the passing fundamentals, as does O'Brien, but the ability to make big plays came out in the first scrimmage on his 65-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Saunders. It would be nice to see more of what Watson is capable of on the run.

DaCo on Watson: Anyone who attended practice this camp noticed the elephant in the room. No Mark Mangino wasn't observing practice from the berm, but Greg Watson does have a striking resemblance to Ebahn Feathers in appearance, if only the first time you see him. Watson showed some of the best growth on a day-to-day basis, and really is intriguing. He has solid arm strength and can run when needed, though he appears content to throw for now.

FSDogs1 on Watson: With all the different "wildcat" QB combos the 'Dogs have shown early, it's surprising not to see Watson take on more of that role. He has worked on certain option packages, but I'd like to get a better gauge on his running ability.

"WildCat": The WildCat, now with more 'it works'
Perhaps the most forgotten man on the entire Fresno State roster might be responsible for some of the biggest plays the 2010 season could offer. Rashad Evans, the true freshman phenom at receiver two years ago, will once again fill that role. But Evans also filled the role of scout team MVP as a QB a year ago, performing his impersonating duties as Diondre Borel and other scrambling QBs a little too well. While Evans is guaranteed a prominent role in this formation, the Bulldogs have several other thrilling prospects as well. Among them is Isaiah Burse, a true freshman wide receiver and high school state-champion quarterback with immediate impact potential. Running backs Robbie Rouse, A.J. Ellis and Michael Harris also possess the ability to make plays out of this formation, which has been a focus this camp. When used, expect a wide array of potential plays, rather than the fake handoff, off-tackle runs used in games to date.

DaCo on the WildCat: Historically, I haven't been the biggest fan of the wildcat formation. But, I am starting to really become intrigued by its possibilities on this team, if only situationally. Rashad Evans is simply lethal out of this thing, and Isaiah Burse adds a great passing element to the position. This formation has gone from useless in this program to one of the more advanced wildcats around, with the potential to make a house call on any given play.

FSDogs1 on the WildCat: Last season, the Bulldogs seemingly had the tools to put together a successful wildcat package, but it was too predictable because they never passed out of the formation. Plus, Ryan Mathews' 6 yards per carry were much more of a sure thing than whatever Ebahn Feathers was trying to do. This year there is no Mathews, meaning the formation could become more vital to the offense. Or not?

Position Rating: