Thursday, September 2, 2010

Position Breakdown 2010: Defensive Backs

Returning: Lorne Bell, Phillip Thomas, Desia Dunn, Jermaine Thomas, Isaiah Green, L.J. Jones, Justin Webber, Terrance Dennis, Erik Brown, J.B. Dock, Cris Wilson, Zak Hill (injured)
Newcomers: Derron Smith
, Ed Dillihunt, Sean Alston, Anthony Riggins
Lost: A.J. Jefferson (Cardinals), Moses Harris (Rams), Damion Owens, Marvin Haynes

Lorne Bell
FS, Sr, 5'10", 205
Simi Valley (Simi Valley HS)

Fresno State lost more "impact" players in the secondary than any other spot on defense -- but don't think it's a bad thing. This unit will be much improved, and leading by example with his pulverizing, run-stuffing hits is free safety Lorne Bell. Bell was second on the team with 65 tackles (5 for loss) and an interception last season coming back from an injury. Watching him practice when he first arrived on the team, he looked to be much more of an interception threat, but down the field pass coverage has proved to be his weakness. S
till, the coaching staff typically leaves him in the game on passing downs.

DaCo on Bell: Lorne Bell is known for providing more sour candy faces (faces you make after a big hit) than a WarHead candy (which wouldn't be a bad nickname for him, now that I think about it). Bell is also finally 100% healthy and is no longer wearing an ankle brace for an ankle injury that was once career-threatening. Bell is truly shy off the field, and is a quiet assassin on it. Yet another Bulldog worthy of a man crush.

FSDogs1 on Bell: Poll the entire team on who is the hardest hitter and it's a safe bet you'll get a unanimous response of "Lorne Bell." Wisconsin's 2009 team would probably say the same.

Phillip Thomas
SS, So, 6'1", 205
Bakersfield (Bakersfield HS)

"P.T." will get a whole lot more p.t. this season than last. And he had a solid 2009 campaign,
with 30 tackles and a team-best 2 interceptions (one returned for a TD). Thomas replaces Moses Harris in the starting lineup, immediately improving the pass coverage capability at the safety position. In spring camp, Thomas even saw time as the nickelback on passing downs, but that was before Zak Hill was lost for the season with injury.

DaCo on Thomas: The past is the past, but Phillip Thomas has been the best free safety on the team for at least two years now. He's a pure athlete with pass defending (and intercepting) instincts, traits that could be used in the secondary right about now.

FSDogs1 on Thomas: Make no mistake, Moses Harris was as good a student-athlete representative for the school as there has ever been. But he was a bit overrated as a player, and Phillip Thomas will be an upgrade at the position.

Desia Dunn
CB, Sr, 5'9", 190
Stockton (Edison Senior HS)

One of the better walk-on stories in recent years, Desia Dunn has turned in to the most seasoned corner on the squad. He was as consistent as anyone last season, and has shown exponential improvement over the past three seasons. If the d-line puts consistent pressure on the opposing QB, Dunn will stick to his man. It's when receivers have too much time to run around that Dunn gets into big-play trouble.

DaCo on Dunn: Dunn prefers man press coverage. He is quick in and strong in isolated spaces, but can be vulnerable to the deep ball against the burners. This offseason, Dunn increased his speed and should have his best season, especially when you consider his supporting cast is much more capable.

FSDogs1 on Dunn: At 5-9, Dunn gets into mismatches periodically against bigger receivers, but for the most part he should be applauded for holding his own.

Jermaine Thomas
CB, So, 5'11", 180
Duarte (Duarte HS)

Little-known to most of those who call themselves "experts," Jermaine Thomas is the team's best corner -- and probably it's best overall player in the secondary. He's a true lockdown guy, who has good size and top-notch strength. Fans got a very brief glimpse last season when he picked off a pass against San Jose State (in super highlight fashion), but there's a lot more coming for the highlight reel this year. For evidence of just how good Thomas is, look no further than the fall scrimmage when Fresno State's QBs avoided throwing to his side all night.

DaCo on Thomas: Thomas is the guy I've positioned myself to take a bullet for. He was the best corner on the team last year, and is very comfortable in his new "Richard Marshall" lockdown role. His commitment to the weight room is unmatched, and his athletic abilities are as good as it gets at the college level. Tight ends complain about his strength, and wide receivers are overmatched on balls up for grabs. In open camp, Thomas averaged nearly two interceptions per day. That's smile inducing. All this said (and despite being his biggest advocate), Thomas isn't even as good as he can be (yet), which is simply scary.

FSDogs1 on Thomas: Remember back in spring camp when The Bounce called Thomas and L.J. Jones the best two corners on the team -- here comes the proof. Bold prediction time -- Thomas will be a household name among Red Wavers by midseason.

Isaiah Green
CB, Jr, 5'10", 180
Long Beach (Polytechnic HS)

The big news from Isaiah Green this offseason was him setting a new 40-yard dash school record for defensive backs -- 4.29 seconds. Green is another big prospect at corner, and will be a major contributer this season after getting his feet wet with 12 tackles as a sophomore.

DaCo on Green: With Green as the 3rd, or possibly even 4th cornerback, Fresno State is in a much better position with its defensive backfield than it was a year ago. Green shows flashes of brilliance at times, but it's the frequency of those flashes that has him fighting for more time.

FSDogs1 on Green: No doubt about it, Green is good enough to be in the starting lineup. His speed will be an asset for the defense, and his experience this year could turn him into one of the WAC's best.

L.J. Jones
CB, R-Fr, 5'11", 170
Encino (Crespi Carmelite HS)

Coaches have known since early last season L.J. Jones is an up and comer, but decided to redshirt him after he greyshirted the year before. Even so, he was working out with the veterans already as a greyshirt freshman and this year was in the mix to win a starting job. As the dust settled, Jones came out third or fourth on the corner depth chart and will see plenty of time. He was picked on a little bit in the open fall scrimmage, but part of that was because he constantly covered the fastest receivers (Devon Wylie, Jalen Saunders).

DaCo on Jones: L.J. Jones is on the cusp. Consistency has been his biggest enemy, but he can absolutely put together sequences of brilliance. In the open fall scrimmage, Jones struggled at defending the ball, but was frequently in position to make the play. By this time next year, Jones should be part of the 1-2 punch Bulldogs fans have been clamoring for on the corners.

FSDogs1 on Jones: Jones is another big addition to this unit. Besides the inexperience factor, he's probably the second most talented corner (behind Jermaine Thomas). But he does still need to add girth. Don't forget he was dominant in coverage during the Spring Game.

Derron Smith
S, Fr, 5'11", 170
Banning (Banning HS)

When Zak Hill went down with a season-ending injury, it didn't take long for an already head-turning Derron Smith to emerge as a freshman with immediate playing potential. He's listed second on the depth chart at safety, and had a heck of a pick in the open fall scrimmage. Smith is a ball hawk who's capable of making the open-field tackle. But like L.J. Jones, the only thing working against him is a lack of size.

DaCo on Smith: The first time I saw Derron Smith play, I crossed all fingers and toes that the Bulldogs would sign him. Smith, although currently undersized as a true, is part of a crop of impressive athletes in this class. He is simply a playmaker with great instincts, and showed a great desire to hit as well. If Smith sees the field this year, it will definitely be high risk/high reward, but that risk will decrease drastically over time.

FSDogs1 on Smith: The second-to-last day of open fall camp was when Smith cemented his ability in my mind. Running back Milton Knox, who torched the defense all camp, entered the game and took a handoff up the middle, breaking free with only one man to beat -- Smith. Knox made his best move to try and shake the isolated true freshman, and was dropped to the ground, eliciting roars from the defense. Heck, the guy even had Desia Dunn tweeting about his potential during a scrimmage.

Justin Webber
S, So, 5'9", 180
Sanger (Sanger HS)

Walk-on safety Justin Webber, a former stud running back at Sanger High, gets his chance to take the field as a second-stringer now that Zak Hill is out with injury. Webber works as hard as anyone and will do everything he can to capitalize on the opportunity. He's not the fastest safety around, but has true lower body power, leverage and balance and knows how to deliver a strong hit.

DaCo on Webber: Webber has surprising speed (though not elite), but it's not surprising he's tough. He is a smart player with a true love for football, and has earned his current role. Webber is almost guaranteed action at some point this season, so that role could be an important one.

FSDogs1 on Webber: If Webber flourishes in his new role, the 'Dogs will be feeling good about safety depth. If not, it's by far their biggest concern, especially with the injuries Lorne Bell has endured over his career.

Erik Brown
CB, R-Fr, 5'11", 185
Scottsdale, AZ (Saguaro HS)

As was the case last season, Erik Brown had a bit of a rough camp. He was oft-exposed by faster receivers and seems to always be a step late in reacting and closing. The potential is there for him to be a solid player down the road, but right now he's limited. Still, based on amount of reps, coaches seem to favor him slightly over fellow redshirt freshman J.B. Dock.

DaCo on Brown: Erik Brown possesses the desired athletic ability for a corner, but over-thinks way too much on the field. When he lets himself go, you can see his potential. If he's gonna develop, he'll do it here, because the receivers he practices against are the best he'll see all year.

FSDogs1 on Brown: He'll have to really step up to hold off talented true freshman Sean Alston.

J.B. Dock
CB, R-Fr, 5'10", 170
Ventura (St. Bonaventure HS)

There's no doubt who the Bulldogs top four corners are right now, and J.B Dock and Erik Brown are a notch below. Dock has better coverage ability than Brown -- for now -- but lacks the size and needs work to face top-caliber physical receivers.

DaCo on Dock: Dock, once again, has the building blocks to be a successful corner. He'll need to hit the weight room even harder this offseason, and is a player who needs a good spring in 2011.

FSDogs1 on Dock: It'll be interesting to see which of these young corners steps up to fill in next year to replace Desia Dunn in the top four of the depth chart.

Terrance Dennis
S, So, 5'11", 180
Pomona (Diamond Ranch HS)

Terrance Dennis was hampered by injuries throughout spring camp and some of fall, and was passed up by Justin Webber and Derron Smith in the meantime. He's got much improved physique from when he first entered the program, but just hasn't gotten the reps to be game-pressure ready yet. If he accomplishes that, he'll really help out at an otherwise thin position.

DaCo on Dennis: Something about Terrance Dennis is intriguing. I'm thinking it's because he loves to hit and can run fast. Dennis has missed far too much time on the field over the last year, but I'm still hoping he can be Lorne Bell with more speed.

FSDogs1 on Dennis: It's not out of the question for Dennis to climb to second-string by midseason, depending on how the other reserves at safety play.

Sean Alston
CB, Fr, 5'10", 175
Alta Loma (Los Osos HS)

Arguably as impressive as Derron Smith during fall camp was true freshman Sean Alston. He looks -- and plays -- bigger than his listed height and weight and made several plays on the ball in the later part of open fall camp, culminating with an interception in the fall scrimmage and an eye-opening pass deflection on a fade route to Victor Dean in the end zone. Alston was recruited as an athlete but certainly is in the right spot at corner.

DaCo on Alston: It's amazing to watch a young player turn a corner right before your eyes. After going through the normal freshman struggles early on, Alston almost randomly had a day of breakthrough in camp. His acceleration out of the break is very good, he recovers well and he looks to defend the ball.

FSDogs1 on Alston: Alston is hands down the most unexpected of early contributers among freshmen newcomers. But he legitimately is game-ready. That said, he'll likely redshirt with the depth the 'Dogs have at corner.

Cris Wilson
S, So, 5'10", 180
Stockton (St. Mary's HS)

With the lack of depth and Zak Hill injury at safety, Cris Wilson is likely to play there as opposed to corner. The walk-on is young, but much improved. Still, the Bulldogs won't turn to him in game situations unless it's special teams work.

Anthony Riggins
CB, Fr, 5'11", 185
Fairfield (Rodriguez HS)

Anthony Riggins is another speedy young corner. We're talking track speed. But he's not as advanced in coverage skills as Sean Alston. Riggins was inconsistent in his first fall camp, getting beat by 7 to 10 yards on occasion, but also making big deflections and stops on others. A redshirt season will go a long way in his development.

Ed Dillihunt
S, Fr, 6'0", 190
Tulare (Tulare Union HS)

As exciting as Derron Smith was at safety, Ed Dillihunt could eventually be even more exciting. Dillihunt is built to knock people out (hence exciting) on the football field, but just doesn't have the experience playing safety necessary to be an immediate impact guy. If he can familiarize himself and buy in to becoming a great safety, he'll be just that -- great.

Zak Hill
S, Jr, 6'2", 200
Fresno (Clovis West HS)

Zak Hill, youngest son of Pat Hill, was injured early in fall camp and will miss his entire junior season. He was taking first-team reps over Phillip Thomas early on (which is as confusing a coaching decision as there is) but definitely would have at least been the top reserve at the position.


  1. Good stuff. thanks for the updates.

  2. Thanks for all the breakdowns. Great job!


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