There comes a time where you need to get straight to the point. We've waited long enough for football season, so for today at least, I'm going to put aside my usual style of writing entertainment (reading for you) to give you all the nuts and bolts a hardcore fan desires from his/her team.
While Thursday's opening practice provided more of a methodical introduction to camp, each of Friday's, Saturday's and Sunday's efforts have been increasingly confidence-inducing for fans.
Practice continues to be split into essentially two sessions, bridged in the middle with a collaborative effort between vets and newcomers with special teams work. Continue reading below to learn about practice nuggets and some cumulative thoughts after observing the first 4 fall camp practices.
8/7: 'Dogs beginning to Turn up the Dial
Most of the players are beginning to settle in and become more comfortable with the high-tempo, intense practices that are Fresno State football practices.
Here are some nuggets from Saturday's events:
- Isaiah Burse, Jalen Saunders, Alex Jefferies, Victor Dean and Josh Harper were all head-turners. Each has been a sponge for WR coach Keith Williams, which can only bring good things.
- In both newcomer and vet sessions, the team got extensive work in the wildcat formation. Burse, Milton Knox, Michael Harris, Robbie Rouse, Rashad Evans and more all received reps in their respective sessions.
- At this point, Burse (a high school QB) would appear to present Bulldogs coaches with a tough decision on whether or not to dress for games this year. He runs solid routes, has showed good hands and has made several quality throws to his fellow receivers out of the wildcat formation, the latter of which may be his most valuable asset at this point. He has also taken frequent reps as a return man during special teams work.
- Zak Hill made several standout plays in 11-on-11s. Hill made a diving, arms fully-outstretched interception of a pressured Ryan Colburn, followed up by a nice read and tackle on an outside handoff.That being said, Hill continues to get beat deeper in the secondary, especially in 1-on-1 situations. Many times, the culprit on the offensive side has been WR Matt Lindsey.
- Kyle Knox made his presence felt as well, squaring up a few guys in "tag off" situations and simply out-muscling a couple of the offensive skill players while stripping the ball on a couple of plays.
For the second consecutive day, the vets ended practice minutes earlier than the planned agenda called for. It should please you to know that is has been due to an in-shape team practicing with a good tempo and great efficiency.
In fact, Sunday's practice ended with an impressive amount of effort, inspired by a quick team huddle with a few words on behalf of Pat Hill before the final 10 plays. Hill urged his team to finish strong and push themselves to new limits when they felt they were tiring.
Here are some nuggets from today's events:
- It was heartbreaking to see and hear Zak Hill clutch his knee in pain during an 11-on-11 play today. Hill's left knee was motionless as he grabbed it and yelled audibly from across the field. Hill was eventually helped up and used crutches to make his way to a cart, where he was lifted on with assistance and without ever putting any pressure on the leg. Hill had been the first-team SS in each of the teams' first four practices.
- TE Michael Butler performed well in half-line running game work. One of Butler's most impressive plays was a block on the edge of the line that included a loud collision, followed by coaches praise.
- FBs Dylan Cruz and Austin Raphael also earned quite a bit of praise today for both high-impact blocks and blitz pick-ups.
- Jermaine Thomas made a jump-out-of-your-seat interception on a Ryan Colburn pass that was intended for Jamel Hamler in the back of the endzone. Thomas was initially beaten on a beautiful fake corner post route by Melly before showing tremendous recovery speed to cut in front of Hamler, make a leaping deflection of the ball, return to his feet, make a 180 degree turn and secure the interception.
- In the newcomers session, Victor Dean made a leaping, hands-over-head reception over a CB while getting tackled to the ground. Dean earned cheers from his veteran teammates stretching on top of the berm above the field.
- Jalen Saunders had the highlight of the day, however, when he ended the newcomers session with a touchdown catch in the very same corner as Dean. Saunders ran a corner route of his own, turned, and skied for a ball well above him. As he grasped the ball, Saunders was well up in the air and almost parallel to the ground, hands stretched out above his head, before gravity took over and his heels dragged behind on the grass below for a touchdown. His veteran teammates once again erupted in approval before taking the field.
- Tracy Slocum, much as I expected, is a pretty complete back. Slocum always takes quality reps in every drill and has initiated loud collisions on some runs and shown impressive elusiveness on others. He will add definite value to the depth of running backs.
- Defensive end Donnie Pritchett busted through for a sack on QB Derek Carr today. Pritchett has been steady throughout camp, but has yet to really standout until today.
- True frosh DT Tyeler Davison has looked slow and sloppy in defensive line agility drills. However, in half-line work today, Davison showed great strength and controlled the line of scrimmage on several occasions.
- True frosh RB E.J. Schexnayder injured his ankle early in practice Saturday, but played through it. Schexnayder spent Sunday rehabbing the ankle, though, and appeared to struggle through it. It took quite a bit of trainer motivation to end his claims that he couldn't make it through the session. It would be nice if Schexnayder can work through this like a Bulldog, because he has very nice size to be an effective RB, if only in short yardage situations.
When you've watched fall practice on a daily basis for year after year after year, you tend to notice certain trends, routines, styles and vibes. This applies to trainers, videotape collectors, coaches, players and well, you get the picture.
There is a reason for prefacing with that last graph. For whatever reason, it has become smack-in-the-face obvious that the initial practice personality of this team (through 4 days) is different than any other to date. As mentioned earlier, the team has completed each of its first two half pad practice sessions with great tempo and efficiency, resulting in practice ending minutes earlier than scheduled. There has been far less joking between players, much fewer wasted reps and an overall focus and intensity that really has been absent in many Fresno State teams within the past decade.
And now for more nuggets and thoughts from the first 4 days of practice:
- Linebacker Mario Moore has been impossible not to notice in pass coverage during newcomer sessions. He routinely jumps routes, bats down passes and has at least two interceptions in live situations.
- Many players are donning the relatively new Revolution Speed helmets, made by Riddell. Players such as Ben Jacobs, Travis Brown, Phillip Thomas and more have upgraded to latest model of football helmet technology.
- True freshman Andrew Gustafson, an offensive lineman from Arizona, has the prototypical body type for his left tackle position. Gustafson has also shown an unexpected mean streak in practice and is grasping his new role very quickly.
- JC transfer QB Kelly O'Brien is very tall (6'6") and very skinny. He possesses a very thin, wiry frame in addition to an awkward throwing motion. O'Brien appears to almost shot put the ball out of his ear. On out throws and throws at about 12 yards or less, O'Brien has the tendency to throw the ball very low with a downward trajectory. That being said, he has showed improvement early in his Bulldogs career, and throws a decent ball downfield. He is definitely still adjusting to the skill and speed of the Division I level, however.
- On day 2 of camp, Matt Lindsey showed up to the field in a new jersey number -- 2. But that has been the least of the headlines he has made. The young receiver out of Clovis High School has showed immense progress from the last time we saw him, enough so that he might push for some time on the field this year. Lindsey already had been a very good route runner and possesses great hands, but his acceleration and explosiveness after the catch has come as an eye-opener, considering the extent to which he has improved.
- Tracy Slocum never takes a rep off, and he appears to be earning the respect of his new teammates rather quickly because of it. Slocum initiates loud contact on tough inside runs while maintaining great balance, but also shows great quickness on slashes through the line and elusiveness in 1-on-1 situations. Slocum has also made several solid blitz pick-ups and received praise from both teammates and coaches in that area.
- An under-the-radar presence in this camp has been Justin Webber. Yes he is shorter that your typical safety, but he is a tough, smart player that will not hurt the team. Webber is more athletic than he has been given credit for and is constantly locked in on his assignment. Webber is currently working with the vets as the 2nd string free safety behind Lorne Bell. It will be interesting to see how his role is affected by the recent injury to Zak Hill.
- Last season, Jermaine Thomas made arguably the most impressive interception by a Fresno State defensive back during his late-game action at home against san jose state. Seeing him apply his abilities in a game situation only reaffirmed my view of him as the best cornerback in the Fresno State defensive backfield. He is outstanding in man press situations, has great closing speed and has a great instinct for making a play on the ball. Offensive skill players have told me "you're done" when he gets his hands on you.
- Offensive lineman Trevor Richter has moved to the guard spot this season. In previous seasons, Richter had worked out mostly at the tackle spot, but has since been getting work at both the left and right guard positions. His move may be partly due to theemergence of Marcel Jensen as a tackle.
- Speaking of Marcel Jensen, the former defensive lineman turned offensive tackle appears to be getting comfortable in his new spot. Jensen, who also had a lower leg injury to recover from, seems fully healthy and has shown a newfound strength and athletic ability to go with a fantastic frame (6'6" 260-270ish) for his position.
- It would be nearly impossible to pinpoint any one individual at wide receiver in the newcomer group. Jalen Saunders has shown dynamic, game-breaking speed and fits the mold of Devon Wylie. Victor Dean has been the slowest to acclimate to Coach Dub's outstanding route running teaching, but only because the rest are picking it up so quickly. That being said, Dean is a tall (6'6") receiver with pretty sticky hands and can definitely go up and get the ball. Josh Harper has looked impressive from the get-go, but has yet to make the spectacular play. Isaiah Burse is yet another true with well-rounded receiving abilities and is a big-play threat every down. Alex Jefferies is developing extremely quickly and has been arguably the most impressive in drill situations.
- In the TMI realm comes the debut of some new performance shorts the guys are sporting. The new Nike Pro Combat football short has made its way into the locker room, and appears to be widely accepted, after over-hearing Pat Hill's confirmation with team veterans.
- Nikko Motta doesn't appear to have the size you would expect from a defensive tackle (yet), but he has shown an ability to get into the backfield and generally be disruptive from his position. He has played with a great motor and is easily a defensive lineman to keep tabs on.
- Lorne Bell has displayed a noticeable improvement in his ability to change direction in coverage. Bell has often been a blanket in 1-on-1 coverage situations and has broken up several passes in addition to an interception.
- Derron Smith is becoming noticeably more comfortable and confident at his safety position while working with the newcomers. He is among the most active in the secondary and pushed the limits of half-pad physicality by laying several hits to players on the offensive side of the ball. If his rapid improvement continues, it will be interesting to see where he lands on the depth chart, given Zak Hill's injury is as serious as expected.
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