Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Position Breakdown 2011: Offensive Line

Returning Lettermen: Bryce Harris, Matt Hunt, Richard Helepiko, Leslie Cooper, Austin Wentworth, Trevor Richter, Max Devlin, Lars Bramer
Newcomers: Allen Brown, John Archuleta, Justin Northern, Bo Bonnheim
Lost: Andrew Jackson (Falcons), Kenny Wiggins (49ers), Joe Bernardi

Bryce Harris: Harris-ing Defenders
Sr, 6-6, 300
Tulare (Tulare Union HS)

Bryce Harris is the veteran leader of an offensive line undergoing a lot of change. Harris has started 26 straight games and enters his third year as the key cog at left tackle. And that cog is more key than ever this year, as Harris will now be protecting quarterback Derek Carr’s blind side. Last year’s quarterback, Ryan Colburn, was left-handed, so it’ll be an increase in responsibility for Harris, an All-WAC selection last season. That said, we at the Bounce thought Harris was a bit overrated last season, especially in pass protection, but he made strides during the offseason. In fall camp, Harris was a force, consistently dominating his matchups. He’s definitely turned up the dial, and the ‘Dogs need him to assume that leadership role.

Matt Hunt: Hunt for Starting Role is Complete
Jr, 6-2, 315
Carson (Carson HS)

Matt Hunt replaces big Devan Cunningham as the starting left guard. Hunt has had the ability to start since he arrived on campus, and can turn into a mauler-type guard if he keeps the motor revving at full speed. He’s potentially deadly pulling in the run game – much the style of former Bulldogs standout Cole Popovich. Hunt’s also one of the strongest players on the team, and started two games last season. He’s plenty seasoned enough to make for a smooth transition into a full-time starting job.

Richard Helepiko: Get Ready to See Hella Helepiko Snaps
Jr, 6-2, 300
Moreno Valley (Moreno Valley HS)

Richard Helepiko also started two games last season at center, in place of the injured Joey Bernardi. Helepiko was impressive, with few issues, and entered the offseason as the undoubted starter for 2011. Besides the two starts, he got plenty of game action rotating with Bernardi and was also able to learn from the veteran presence who is now a grad assistant at tennessee. Bernardi was like having a coach on the field and the hope is a lot of that rubbed off on his successor, Helepiko.

Leslie Cooper: Hangin' With Coop
Sr, 6-4, 320
Compton (Dominguez HS)

Leslie Cooper has put on quite a bit of size since arriving on campus five years ago, when he had the speed to play defensive line if he needed to. Cooper still has solid speed for his size, but is somewhat lacking in the stamina department. He was thrust into a starting role early last season when NFL draftee Andrew Jackson (Falcons) went down with injury. Cooper started six games at right guard and the team didn’t miss Jackson much. As a pulling guard, Cooper has a big impact in the running game. His happy-go-lucky nature (one of the team jokesters who wore turquoise socks with white stripes throughout fall camp) is the opposite of his gameday personality of delivering blocks with an attitude. The ‘Dogs need their linemen to quickly adopt that swagger and impose their will on opponents.

Austin Wentworth: Wentworth Well Worth His Scholarship
So, 6-5, 305
Rocklin (Whitney HS)

The most versatile of the starting linemen, Austin Wentworth started once last season at right guard but will play right tackle this year. He can be plugged in at either spot equally well, and is one of the unit’s biggest talents. The line’s improvement was immediately noticeable last season when he debuted – part of the reason he earned a start the following week. Though he’s the least experienced starter, fans should be as excited for Wentworth’s potential as anyone’s.

Cody Wichmann: Burning the Wich at Both Ends
R-Fr, 6-5, 310
Mariposa (Mariposa County HS)

It will be critical for the Bulldogs to keep the line healthy this season, but if anyone does go down, young Cody Wichmann is the sixth man, so to speak. The last guy Fresno State recruited from the Mariposa area turned out pretty good – Logan Mankins (a first-round pick of the Patriots and the highest paid guard in the NFL). Wichmann is just as much of a project as Mankins was, but already ballooned in size during his redshirt year. Listed at 310 pounds, Wichmann looks solid and muscular with broad shoulders and big arms (characteristics Pat Hill loves in his linemen). He made a special first impression in fall camp, but definitely still has room to develop. There were days he was beaten in drills by young defensive linemen. The encouraging thing is coaches immediately let Wichmann know about his mistakes and he corrected them on the spot. If he is forced into action, Wentworth will likely slide over to a guard spot.

Andrew Gustafson: And You Thought Arizona Made Good Iced Tea
R-Fr, 6-6, 285
Scottsdale, AZ (Chaparral HS)

Andrew Gustafson was part of the same recruiting class as Wichmann, and has also shown great potential. With Bryce Harris graduating after this year, Gustafson and Wichmann are the likely replacement candidates. Based on size, Wichmann ranks as the favorite right now, but Gustafson is right there with him in technique. He’s listed as the backup left tackle, and it would be wise of Pat Hill to find some playing time for the redshirt freshman as soon as possible to start seasoning him for when his number is called.

Trevor Richter: Registering on the Richter Scale
Jr, 6-4, 280
El Segundo (El Segundo HS)

Coaches weren’t happy with Trevor Richter’s level of progress coming into the year, and paid him special attention during fall camp. He was expected to be capable of starting by this point in his career, and while he’s not there yet, he did make strides in the offseason. Richter is listed as the second-string right guard and will have a big opportunity to step into a starting role next year when Leslie Cooper graduates. That said, he’ll need to be prepared right away in case the need comes this year.

Max Devlin: Max Effort Could Put Devlin In Position for Future
Jr, 6-3, 275
Windsor (Windsor HS)

As part of the same recruiting class as Trevor Richter, Max Devlin is slightly more game-ready, but still a bit of a mystery. The most fame Devlin has experienced to this point was having his jersey No. 68 used as the photo opp example the day of the team’s fashion show for its new Nike Pro Combat Elite uniforms. Devlin is another guy the Bulldogs need to get on the field for limited reps right away to have him seasoned in case he’s needed this year, or even for next season.

Lars Bramer: Lifelong 'Dog Fan Second on Depth Chart
So, 6-5, 280
Clovis (Buchanan HS)

Local product Lars Bramer is the backup center. He continues to add size little by little each year he’s been in the program, but the team still has way too many botched snaps in practice when Bramer is at center. He hasn’t gotten much opportunity to take reps with starting QB Derek Carr, being that Leslie Cooper and Matt Hunt can also slide to center if need be. Bramer’s growth throughout this season and in the offseason will be critical in deciding how big a role he’ll have the rest of his career.

Kameron Henderson: It's Kameron with a 'K'
R-So, 6-2, 285
Moreno Valley (Moreno Valley HS)

Walk-on Kameron Henderson put up a good fight for a backup guard spot, but didn’t quite win out. He’s a big body who can pave some ground, but will have to really steal the show with his reps in practice to ever jump to the top of the depth chart. He’s come a long way since last season, though, and will be a guy worth keeping tabs on.

John Archuleta: Looking to Next Year
Fr, 6-4, 270
Chandler, AZ (Hamilton HS)
Recognizing the lack of depth among the offensive line, Fresno State recruited a few prospects this season, but none who are ready to make an immediate impact. John Archuleta had the best chance to do so, but didn’t make the two-deep. Size-wise, he’s the most prepared for this level of play, and looked the best in fall camp.

Allen Brown: What Can Allen Do for You?
Fr, 6-4, 265
San Dimas (San Dimas HS)

Allen Brown didn’t look far behind John Archuleta. Though he’ll have to really
work on adding size in the offseason, he showed a frame that looks like it can handle putting on a lot of weight. Brown was impressive at times early in fall camp, but can’t be considered an up and comer until he gets bigger.

Justin Northern: Northern Settles in Central Valley
Fr, 6-4, 270
Lakewood (Mayfair HS)

The same holds true for Justin Norther, who was also recruited by oregon. Northern looked significantly smaller than the guys he’s competing with on the line and will need to put on weight and muscle for next year. He is definitely skilled and should be considered a prospect a year or two down the road.

Bo Bonnheim: Bo Knows Walking On
Fr, 6-2, 260
Paso Robles (Paso Robles HS)

Walk-on Bo Bonnheim is in the same boat, needing to add size. He had some ball security issues in his limited reps during camp, but the Bulldogs won’t rush his development. If he turns into a contributor two or three years from now, his career will be a success.

Position Rating:

Monday, August 29, 2011

Position Breakdown 2011: Receivers

Returning Lettermen: Devon Wylie, Rashad Evans, Jalen Saunders, Isaiah Burse, A.J. Johnson, J.J. Stallworth, Mathew De Los Santos, Taylor Stewart
Newcomers: Davante Adams, Gerome Surrell, Gerald Nutt
Lost: Jamel Hamler, Matt Lindsey

Devon Wylie: Wylie Wiggles Away from Injury
Sr, 5-9, 185
Roseville (Granite Bay HS)

The Fresno State receiving corps is super deep and talented. And Devon Wylie might be the most talented of them all. Last year was supposed to be Wylie’s final at Fresno State, but he was lost for the season after an injury in the opening win over cincinnati and later was granted an extra season of eligibility by the NCAA. Wylie has never made it through a full season injury-free, but so far so good in fall camp. His situation is a bit reminiscent of former Bulldogs star running back Clifton Smith (Pro Bowl as rookie with the Bucs). Smith battled injuries throughout his career until finally staying healthy as a senior and blossoming into the team’s MVP. Wylie had 2 catches for 39 yards and a touchdown in the opener last season before getting hurt. In 2009, Wylie had 259 yards in 10 games, but played sparingly in several of those because of nagging injuries. Health aside, Wylie is the fastest receiver in Fresno State history – clocked at a 4.27 40-yard dash. With superb route running, great leaping ability and dependable hands, Wylie has to be part of the opposing defense’s game plan. Problem is, most teams don’t have a corner who can cover him one-on-one, especially if the quarterback has time to let the route develop. If Wylie stays on the field for the full year, there’s a good chance he’ll lead the team in receiving yards and be on his way to the NFL. He often gets the Wes Welker comparisons, but Wylie is a bigger deep threat with more speed. Durability is literally his only question mark.

Rashad Evans: Putting up the Ultimate Fight
Jr, 5-9, 180
San Jose (James Logan HS)

Rashad Evans is the Bulldogs’ leading returning receptions leader after Jamel Hamler left early for the NFL (Broncos). Evans had 39 catches for 424 yards and 4 touchdowns despite missing two games with injury. He’s about the same size as Wylie after putting on quite a bit of size over the past couple years. Evans’ hands are perhaps the best on the team, and he’s capable of doing it all – possession receiver, deep threat, slot. It’s not too important who wins starting jobs within this unit because at least eight guys will see significant playing time. The thing to watch for with Evans this season is whether he steps up in Hamler’s absence and assumes more of a go-to role as the team’s top receiver. But there are multiple others with that same potential. Evans, a former high school quarterback, also offers the added benefit of running the team’s hound formation.

Jalen Saunders: It's Saunders with a 'U' Coach Hill
So, 5-9, 160
Elk Grove (Pleasant Grove HS)

Quite possibly the most dangerous wideout on the team is Jalen Saunders. Though he was not as highly rated as a couple of the other true freshmen receivers from last season’s jackpot recruiting class, Saunders quickly showed in his first fall camp that he was an up and comer. Lo and behold, Saunders played as a true and is Fresno State’s leading returner in receiving yards. His freshman campaign was good for 30 catches for 462 yards and 3 toucdowns, including a 78-yard reception. Saunders also rushed for 166 yards on 19 carries, proving to be an all-purpose threat. He averaged 23.2 yards per kick return. While Saunders isn’t quite as fast as Wylie, he’s right behind him, also running a sub-4.4 40-yard dash. Fresno State didn’t have the luxury last year of having both Saunders and Wylie on the field – a combination that no one in the nation should be able to cover man-to-man.

Isaiah Burse: Burse-ing Onto the Scene
So, 5-11, 180
Modesto (Modesto Christian HS)

Another true freshman who played right away last season was Isaiah Burse, who finished the year with 13 catches for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns. As the team’s top hound quarterback, Burse, who won a state title as a high school QB, completed 1 of 2 passes for 43 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 71 yards and a score. The most impressive aspect of Burse’s game is his hands. Burse is the team’s most reliable possession receiver, fearless across the middle. He came in with a college-ready body, and has the speed and agility to be a big-play threat. His production should only go up in the coming years.

A.J. Johnson: We Love Us Some Bakersfield
So, 6-0, 180
Bakersfield (Highland HS)

The same holds true for A.J. Johnson. As a redshirt freshman last season, Johnson had 20 catches for 241 yards and a touchdown, and is only getting more comfortable. Johnson has the height the team’s top three receivers (Wylie, Evans and Saunders) do not. He was a favorite target near the sideline and on fade routes. With all the competition in camp, these wideouts will be hard pressed to earn playing time, but all the competition should breed improvement and a very high level of play.

J.J. Stallworth: No Stalling Here, J.J. Impresses in Camp
Sr, 5-11, 185
Sacramento (Grant HS)

J.J. Stallworth has accepted his role as a possession receiver and hasn’t seen the ball yet his first three years on the field. But the younger brother of NFL wideout Donte Stallworth emerged early in fall camp with several straight days of standout performances. It was refreshing to see Stallworth’s attitude and the excitement he got each day after a good practice. He seemed to play better and better as he built his confidence. Unfortunately, he had a so-so first scrimmage and didn’t maintain that high level of play toward the end of open camp. But he’s got enough experience and knowledge to keep his coaches’ confidence. That said, he caught just 2 passes for 23 yards last season. That number will go up this year unless some younger receivers outplay him and surpass him on the depth chart.

Josh Harper: Hyped for Harper
R-Fr, 6-1, 185
Stockton (St. Mary’s HS)

Josh Harper is the biggest threat to the veterans’ playing time. Harper was the team’s highest rated recruit at the position last season but redshirted. Now, with Hamler leaving, Harper is expected to fill his shoes as a wideout with size. And he’ll do a nice job. Harper gets after it, as his two spectacular catches against tough coverage in the first fall scrimmage showed. He’s not as well built as Hamler yet, but he’s got similar talent with more speed. His hands are developed beyond his years, and the crispness of his routes have improved since a season ago. Don’t be surprised if Harper breaks into a starting role before all is said and done. Much of the fan excitement this offseason has been about Victor Dean, but Harper is much more game ready right now.

Victor Dean: He's Taller Than You
R-Fr, 6-5, 200
San Diego (Lincoln HS)

Victor Dean is definitely an exciting prospect. While his route running is a bit behind the other youngsters, the uniqueness of his game could prove to be a real weapon for Fresno State. Believed to be the tallest receiver in school history, Dean can flat out-jump defenders for the football. He dominated the Spring Game with three fade route touchdowns. If the ball is thrown on the money, he’s a huge mismatch for most defensive backs. There’s not a lot a guy can do matched with Dean’s size and leaping ability. Dean was hampered missing all of fall camp with injury, but is expected back by October. When he returns to action, he’ll be more of a role player than an all-around receiving until he develops more fluidity in his routes and learns how to get open faster.

Davante Adams: Can't Wait to Hear the Band Play "Addams Family"
Fr, 6-2, 200
Palo Alto (Palo Alto HS)

Talk about an exciting prospect. The one new receiver of this year’s class is Davante Adams, who flatout has an imposing build. He’s one of the team’s tallest and biggest receivers – and he’s just out of high school. Adams had to sit the start of fall camp with NCAA clearinghouse issues, but that’s all been squared away and he was impressive the moment he hit the field. A big, strong receiver with body control and a knack for finding the football. The unit is probably too loaded to justify burning a year of Adams’ eligibility now, but he is definitely good enough to play right away. But it’s more likely he’ll be redshirted and have a bigger impact next season when Wylie and Stallworth are gone.

Mathew De Los Santos: A Bulldog Insider
Jr, 5-11, 180
Ventura (St. Bonaventure HS)

Mathew De Los Santos is the top walk-on within an absolutely loaded unit. On one side, that’s an accomplishment to be proud of. On the other, he knows he won’t get much playing time for the foreseeable future. But he gets to wear the Bulldog Red uniform proudly and does indeed have limited game experience – which he may get again this season. De Los Santos is a dependable receiver, who the ‘Dogs know they can count on in a pinch. While he isn’t blessed with the same talent as many of the unit’s stars, he practices hard and works on improving his game.

Taylor Stewart: Sweating Less Than His Dad at Practice
So, 6-0, 175
Fresno (Buchanan HS)

Taylor Stewart is in a very similar situation as a walk-on. The son of defensive coordinator Randy Stewart, Taylor Stewart has had limited game experience and has shown he’s a capable reserve in a pinch. Like De Los Santos, he frequently gets quality reps in practice and makes plays – just not at the same level as the team’s top wideouts.

Gerome Surrell: Springing Into the Competition
Jr, 5-11, 200
Stockton (St. Mary’s HS)

Gerome Surrell walked on and joined the team in spring camp. That’s got him a bit of practice experience under his belt, but he’s still got a long way to go to see game time. It almost assuredly won’t happen this season with all the depth the team has, plus he’s behind De Los Santos and Stewart in the receiving ranks.

Gerald Nutt: Busting Into the Mix
Fr, 6-0, 166
Fresno (Clovis West HS)

Gerald Nutt is the newest walk-on of the group, a local product who could also play cornerback, and still might switch down the road. Nutt showed flashes of ability during fall camp, even catching a mid-range touchdown pass in the first fall scrimmage. He’s almost a lock to redshirt this season, so it’ll be a while before we find out his true potential.

Position Rating:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Position Breakdown 2011: Tight Ends

Returning Lettermen: Ryan Skidmore, Tapa Taumopeau, Marcel Jensen, Ryan Boschma, Michael Butler
Newcomers: None
Lost: Vince Pascoe

Ryan Skidmore: Better Late Than Never
Sr, 6-5, 250
Bakersfield (East HS)

He’s had to wait his turn a long time, but as a senior Ryan Skidmore looks like he’ll finally get significant playing time. Since the day he signed with Fresno State, Skidmore was considered a big threat in the passing game, with the speed and deep threat ability more closely resembling a wideout. But his blocking was lacking, and in a system like Fresno State’s where blocking is the most critical piece of a tight end’s arsenal, that left Skidmore buried on the depth chart. His only two career catches both came against wisconsin as a redshirt freshman. Skidmore showed up to fall camp with added bulk, and while the extra pounds might slow him a bit, it should help him become the blocker the Bulldogs need and stay on the field longer. The other clue that Skidmore might have a vastly increased role is the fondness new quarterback Derek Carr has for him. Carr likes having a tight end he can rely on in the passing game, and the two have seemed to connect in camp each of the past three years.

Marcel Jensen: Third Position's the Charm
So, 6-6, 255
Fairfield (Rodriguez HS)

Marcel Jensen is easily the most intriguing prospect at the tight end position. Jensen was recruited as a development project simply because Pat Hill was enamored with his size, long arms and big hands. He was brought in as a defensive end before a devastating injury curtailed him for the better part of two years. Jensen moved to the offensive line as he lost speed and mobility from the injury, but finally looks like he recovered and has been working as a tight end the past year. He’s got a massive body for a tight end, and presents a major challenge for linebackers or defensive backs in coverage. What he lacks in speed, he makes up for in height and reach. And though he’s still learning the position, he flashed evidence of good hands with some nice catches in camp. The comforting thing about Jensen is he’s had work on the offensive line, and in a year the Bulldogs’ line is an unknown, Jensen can come in for packages and act essentially as a sixth lineman. Blocking isn’t a concern with him.

Ryan Boschma: Da Boschma
So, 6-4, 240
Bakersfield (Bakersfield Christian HS)

How impressive was Ryan Boschma’s progress last season? The guy comes into camp as a virtually unknown walk-on wearing No. 85, which was previously worn by one of the school’s best tight ends of all-time Bear Pascoe (Giants). Not only does Boschma play as a freshman, he even earned a start in midseason. Though he’s listed at 240 pounds, about 20 pounds less than Pascoe, Boschma looks quite similar to him in stature on the field. But he’s far from proving he can be a receiving threat. With no catches last season, Boschma’s blocking is his strength and should again earn him playing time. He sat out much of fall camp with an injury after a scuffle with a teammate and definitely lost valuable reps. But he’s showed he can be a quick learner.

Michael Butler: Working to Emerge from the Crowd
Jr, 6-2, 250
Fresno (Sunnyside HS)

Local product Michael Butler is right in the mix, battling with all the rest of ‘em for playing time. The tight end position, more than other other, has parity. And until someone steps up and separates himself from the rest of the pack, the depth chart will vary. Butler is more proven as a blocker right now, but made one of the most memorable plays of fall camp during the first scrimmage when he caught a pass from Derek Carr, turned around without knowing a defender was fast approaching and leveled him, strictly off momentum. Butler has the versatility to line up at the H-back position as well. And there’s no denying he’s the ultimate team player with his pro-Fresno State attitude and ability to get others around him excited about Bulldog Football.

Tapa Taumopeau: Wishing a Speedy Recovery
Jr, 6-3, 235
Euless, TX (Trinity HS)

By far the Bulldogs’ most experienced tight end, Tapa Taumopeau was lost for the season to injury early in fall camp. Taumopeau had 7 catches for 38 yards and 2 touchdowns last season, lining up as both an H-back and on the line of scrimmage. His presence would have given the ‘Dogs at least one tight end with significant experience, but now they’ll have to quickly find a replacement.

Position Rating:

Friday, August 26, 2011

Position Breakdown 2011: Fullbacks / H-backs

Returning Lettermen: Austin Raphael
Newcomers: Malique Micenheimer
Lost: None

Austin Raphael: Ready to Go Out with a Bang
Sr, 6-2, 225
Jamestown (Sonora HS)

After years of trying to find the right position fit, Austin Raphael has settled in nicely at the fullback/H-back spot. Raphael absorbed the responsibilities and welcomed the role, becoming quite the team player. He caught 6 passes for 79 yards last season, including a touchdown at ole miss. The Bulldogs won’t need him much in the passing game, but if he can get open in a couple of crucial situations each game it will suit the offense perfectly. As is the case with most Fresno State fullbacks and tight ends, the main task is blocking and opening holes for the skill position guys.

Riley Barnes: A Barnes Burner
R-Fr, 6-3, 220
Tulare (Tulare Union HS)

Valley walk-on Riley Barnes has quickly ascended the depth chart and put in a serious battle for playing time. An impressive spring camp left coaches and fans thinking he could play an impact this season – and he may – but Barnes’ first couple of weeks were so-so. Not the type of performance he’d need to beat out veterans like Raphael for reps. That said, Barnes is more of a ‘tweener at the position and could also see time as a true tight end lining up on the line of scrimmage. The biggest concern with Barnes right now is his hands. He was inconsistent catching the ball from tight end and H-back in fall camp, but it’s obvious coaches expect a lot out of him with the attention and detail given to his assignments at practice.

Malique Micenhemier: More than Merely a Freshman
Fr, 6-1, 225
Stockton (McNair HS)

In one of the biggest moves of fall camp, true freshman Malique Micenheimer was moved from linebacker to fullback after Tapa Taumopeau’s season-ending injury. Micenhemier is a promising young linebacker, and one of the Bulldogs’ best looking recruits. He looked to have the potential to play linebacker as a true, but the move to fullback helps the Bulldogs at a position with far less depth. Micenheimer quickly got the comparisons to former ‘Dog great Lorenzo Neal because he’s also wearing No. 22, but it’s far too early for that. Neal was a premier ball carrier in college – something no fullback has been under Pat Hill. But Micenheimer did get a few carries in camp, and showed he can catch the ball out of the backfield and deliver blows. He’s a big, strong kid with a lot of promise at either position. And get this – he even took some first-team reps. It’s very likely he could play right away and also make an impact on special teams. Keep an eye on No. 22.

Position Rating:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Position Breakdown 2011: Running Backs

Returning Lettermen: Robbie Rouse, A.J. Ellis, Michael Harris
Newcomers: Darryl Cash, Dillon Root
Lost: Tracy Slocum

Robbie Rouse: Back He Comes to Save the Day!
Jr, 5-7, 185
San Diego (Madison HS)

Those who doubted Robbie Rouse last season, saying he was too small to be the featured back and absorb a full season of hitting, were authoritatively silenced. Rouse led Fresno State with 1,129 yards and 8 touchdowns (5.5 yards per carry) and proved to be one of the top backs in the WAC if not the nation. Though he’s short in stature, Rouse can be a physical, heads-up runner with his stocky, powerful frame (part of the reason the band plays the “Mighty Mouse” theme every time he makes a big play). But even more key to Rouse’s ability is his elusiveness. Rouse has immense experience for a player just going into his junior season, and has entrenched himself as the starter, while continually developing into a team leader. The well-spoken, determined junior exemplifies Bulldog Football and has shown more progress in his receiving abilities during fall camp. Rouse was already an above average pass blocking back, meaning he can be on the field in a variety of game situations. That said, he might get fewer carries than last season based on the addition of a brand new weapon in the backfield.

Milton Knox: Two Knoxes are Better than One
Jr, 5-9, 210
Van Nuys (Birmingham Senior HS/UCLA)

If teammate Robbie Rouse is the WAC’s best running back, newcomer Milton Knox might be its second best. Knox’s high school credentials outweigh any of his other teammates. Parade All-American. USA Today All-American. Four-star recruit. LA Times back of the year. The list goes on for the much ballyhooed prospect who originally signed with ucla before transferring to Fresno State and sitting out last season. But it was clear even last year in practice Knox is a special talent. He’s a couple inches taller than Rouse, but is also stocky and physical with speed. In Fresno State’s fall camp last season, no one had more impressive runs, and that was the case this year as Knox seemingly broke at least one big run (or more) per practice. Whether Rouse or Knox is the team’s leading rusher simply depends on who gets more carries. Rouse is more proven – Knox had just 134 yards as a redshirt freshman at ucla – but all Knox needs is the opportunity. There’s no doubt he’s capable of being a 1,000-yard rusher at this level, and having a guy who hits the hole hard and can put game-breaking moves on defenders will be a great benefit for the Bulldogs. Knox saw some time in wildcat formations at ucla and has spent a lot of time practicing the same in Fresno State’s hound packages.

A.J. Ellis: Weightlifting Does a Body Good
Jr, 5-11, 195
San Jose (Andrew Hill HS)

A.J. Ellis, the team’s slashing back and best receiver out of the backfield, made himself known early last season with a 165-yard outburst at utah state. But an injury derailed his momentum as he finished with 281 yards and 3 touchdowns on the year. Ellis noticeably hit the weights hard in the offseason, working to better condition his body for the grind an upper echelon running back takes at the highest level of college football. His upper body now looks more like former Fresno State star Ryan Mathews than the Ellis of old. Mathews put in the same offseason weight room work leading up to his junior season to protect against injury and ended up as the nation’s leading rusher. The same might not hold true for Ellis, who will battle for carries with two other very good backs, but he’ll definitely play a large role on the team. Ellis is the best option in many shotgun formations, especially on passing downs. He had 13 catches for 88 yards and 2 TDs last season, and he also should be harder to take down with his improved strength.

Michael Harris: Harris Ready to Get Interactive
Jr, 5-11, 200
Chino Hills (Chino Hills HS)

The talented Michael Harris already seemed frustrated at times last year with his lack of playing time, and has just as much competition this time around. His level of mental toughness and determination to keep fighting to get on the field will determine how many carries he gets. Harris showed up to fall camp looking a bit more explosive and faster than in 2011, when many thought he could emerge as a featured back. He’s still got the talent to go off for 100 yards on a given night, which is a good problem to have if you’re the Fresno State coaching staff. Harris finished with 101 yards and 2 TDs on 27 carries last year and had a big impact on special teams.

Daryl Cash: ‘Dogs Newest Play Call is Straight Cash Homie
Fr, 5-10, 190
Pomona (Diamond Ranch HS)

Perhaps the biggest surprise during spring game, at least offensively, was walk-on back Darryl Cash. Where’d this guy come from? A bowling ball of a rusher, Cash had a 20-yard touchdown run in the Spring Game. How unknown was he at the time? He was referred to as “Darren” on the news release after the scrimmage. Cash didn’t stand out as much in fall, but that wasn’t expected with A.J. Ellis and Michael Harris returning from injuries that kept them out all of spring camp. Still, he’s a guy who could make an impact in the next year or two – a walk-on to keep an eye on.

Jerry Kelly: This Walk-on Doesn't Do Much Walking
So, 5-7, 170
Lancaster (Paraclete HS)

Speaking of walk-ons to watch for, Jerry Kelly had quite a Spring Game of his own with a 51-yard touchdown scamper, the longest of the scrimmage. Kelly is the team’s smallest back, but has showed the spirit and effort to fight for a spot on the team. He’s also shown flashes of big-play ability in scrimmage situations, but hasn’t faced first-string defense.

Dillon Root: Digging in for the Future
Fr, 6-0, 180
Visalia (Redwood HS)

It’s just as clear now as it was the first day of fall camp – Dillon Root has a long way to go to adjust to big-time college football. Pat Hill gave him some personal one-on-one instruction during drills on the opening day of fall camp, and Root was responsive. But his footwork and fluidity are far behind the more developed backs who have been in the program longer. Though Hill says Root is the fastest back on the team, his game speed is nowhere near Rouse, Knox, Ellis or Harris. And his sleight build will need a lot of work to become the sturdy back the Bulldogs think he can be – he even drew a few Mathews comparisons around signing day.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Position Breakdown 2011: Quarterbacks

Returners: Derek Carr, Greg Watson, Kelly O’Brien
Newcomers: Marcus McDade
Lost: Ryan Colburn

Derek Carr: New Carr Key to ‘Dogs Offense
R-So, 6-3, 205
Bakersfield (Bakersfield Christian HS)

Fresno State fans have been waiting for 2011 for a long time – for two years since another quarterback with the iconic Carr name landed on campus and hit the Bulldogs’ practice field. Even as a true freshman, it was clear Derek Carr was outperforming others at his position in practice (even if Pat Hill denied it back then). And he’s much more fine-tuned now than he was then. But there’s always something to say for actual game experience, which Carr doesn't have much of, completing 10 of 14 passes for 112 yards in limited action as a true freshman. He might surpass that total in the first half of his first start against cal on Sept. 3. It’s easy to see what makes Carr a special talent. Line him up next to a group of other QBs and watch the night-and-day difference in ball speed as he turns the entire field, sideline to sideline, into his personal playground. A quick sideline pass looks much easier than it actually is. It’s a dangerous pass that can be devastating if a defender jumps the route for a pick-six, which is why not every QB can throw those routes. But Carr excels at it with his velocity, and the decision-making should come with experience. Carr is the type of QB who can develop into a guy who carries teams on his back. And that’s what is needed at QB to win at the highest level. He’s got the maturity, game knowledge, leadership , respect of teammates and is the fastest starting QB in school history (4.6 40-yard dash). And believe this – if players are impressed and excited with a teammate’s ability, there’s a good reason why.

Greg Watson: Watson it for me?
R-Fr, 5-11, 200
Rancho Cucamonga (Rancho Cucamonga HS)

While the Bulldogs are stoked about the starting QB, developing a viable backup is a concern. Coaches recognized something in Greg Watson right away when the undersized newcomer arrived on campus last fall and decisively beat out junior college transfer Kelly O'Brien for the backup job as Carr was redshirting. But Watson still has a long ways to go. The good news is he showed progress toward the end of fall camp, completing some nice deep balls with touch in the first scrimmage. But he struggled to accurately hit open receivers in the early stages of camp, and also had too many passes batted down by taller defensive linemen. Watson has solid speed, and can scramble to make plays, but if he’s ever to be a starter for the Bulldogs he has to develop his passing game a great deal. And judging by his Twitter posts, the maturity level needs to rise as well. Read on to learn about the fierce competition he’ll have for the backup job come spring 2012.

Kelly O’Brien: Trying to Reach New Heights
R-So, 6-7, 200
Manhattan Beach (Foothill JC)

Kelly O’Brien faces a similar issue to Watson – he throws many more inaccurate passes than pretty completions. And O’Brien, with far less mobility and speed than Watson, will be third in line unless that changes. O’Brien has the arm to go deep, but gets into trouble with the short and mid-range passing game, often throwing with low velocity and little crispness. But his physical size, lineage (his dad Ken O'Brien is a former NFL starting QB) and flashes of ability make him a player worth developing. Unfortunately though, neither Watson nor O’Brien are ready to start now if need be. That means the 'Dogs desperately need Carr to stay healthy behind an inexperienced offensive line.

Marcus McDade: The Quarterback of the McFuture
Fr, 6-3, 190
Stockton (St. Mary’s HS)

From the first day of fall camp, it was painstakingly obvious who the second most talented QB on the roster is – and for now he’s taking fourth-string reps. But that won’t last long. Marcus McDade is poised with confidence in his cannon arm and is physically built as well as any freshman QB since Pat Hill has been head coach. Coming out of high school in 2010, McDade played a major role in "The Ride," an online reality show about high school QBs. He was ranked fifth nationally in arm strength, and signed with Fresno State. But he didn’t meet all the university requirements and had to go to prep school for a year. After interest from miami and virginia, McDade stuck to his original commitment and stayed in the Valley. And from everything we saw in fall camp, he’s got the tools to be the next Bulldogs starter in 2013 or 2014 after likely redshirting this year. McDade does still have a ways to go adjusting to the decision-making piece of the game, making a few questionable throws that resulted in interceptions in camp, but his tool set is similar to Carr’s as far as arm strength, velocity, speed and physique. Expect McDade to push for the No. 2 job next season.

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