Dillon Root still has to work on his coverage skills and gain a stranglehold on his assignments in the Fresno State Bulldogs' base defense, all of which is a work in progress.
But the redshirt sophomore, who moved to cornerback from a slot receiver just three weeks ago, was given an opportunity by the Idaho Vandals to pass an important test in the Bulldogs' 61-14 victory, and defensive coordinator Nick Toth said that he passed on the first try and again on a second.
With the fourth quarter winding down and the game well out of reach, the Vandals kept trying to throw the football, so Toth dialed up a blitz and Root came off the corner to sack quarterback Chad Chalich. Idaho called a timeout after that play, so Toth did it again. So did Root, closing with back-to-back sacks.
"I wanted to get him running," Toth said of Root, who takes his practice reps with the No. 2 defense. "I wanted to get him running and see how he'd do, see how physical he'd be attacking the ball. When we've done it in practice he's looked really good. I saw it as a situation where we were going to see how he would react under live fire.
"He did pretty good. Both those reps were good -- he was physical. I think he was surprised about how open he came. And, shoot, those guys were calling time out to throw the ball and they're down by 47 points. They deserve to get blitzed and get their quarterback hit. That's what happens."
Root delivered a pretty solid blow, and no doubt he has the speed to get into the backfield or run in coverage with opposing receivers, no matter how fast. He ran a 10.8-second 100 meters at Redwood High in Visalia. But Root still has a lot of ground to cover to absorb the Bulldogs' defense and its blitz packages to make a big run at the depth chart.
Senior L.J. Jones and junior Curtis Riley have started all five games at the corner spots.
"He's coming along," Toth said of Root. "I think he's comfortable playing in our base defense. We're going to put him in some situations where he has to play base defense. He does not understand all of the blitz stuff yet, so we have to be smart how we're using him there. But I feel comfortable with him as an athlete playing. I think he's going to be productive there. He's not ready to be an every-down guy yet from a knowledge point of view, and it's not fair to ask him to do that. He's got about one-tenth of the reps he needs to get to be that guy.
"But we're going to use him here in the next few weeks, it's just going to be in situational things."