Fresno State went into its 15 spring practices with a lot of questions at quarterback and came out well short of a good comfort level, with junior Brian Burrell, redshirt sophomore Myles Carr and redshirt freshman Zack Greenlee struggling to differing degrees.
But coach Tim DeRuyter and offensive coordinator Dave Schramm found some clarity with the addition of Brandon Connette, a Duke transfer who as a graduate is immediately eligible.
Connette has been working out with returning players for the past week and Monday they all will ramp it up a bit when joined by the majority of the 2014 recruiting class as summer classes begin.
Under new NCAA rules, there are eight hours per week of required time available, and Fresno State will invest about seven in its strength and conditioning program. With the other hour, players can be in the classroom with coaches, studying film, learning the offense and defense, the concepts and the terminology -- a boon for Connette and the incoming recruits.
"That will be a great advantage for our guys so that when they do report in August they will hit the ground running," DeRuyter said.
Burrell and Connette will compete for the starting job in the fall. Carr has been moved to the H-receiver, leaving Greenlee and incoming freshman Kilton Anderson (Skyline-Sammamish, Wash.) as the other scholarship quarterbacks. Connette has the experience that Burrell lacks, having started games in a BCS conference, and expectations coming in are high.
"The one thing, in talking with everybody I spoke to at Duke and meeting with him and his family, I think we're getting an extremely high character guy that is really a great competitor," DeRuyter said. "You watch him play, you watch him make plays, the guy loves to compete.
"To have a guy like that, who has been in a program that was down and helped them rise to where they won their division in the ACC, to have scored as many touchdowns as he has, having that kind of a presence on your team I think obviously helps.
"It's always a sticky situation when you bring in a transfer, especially at the quarterback position, to come in and compete, but when I got a chance to meet with him, he's a former high school teammate of (Bulldogs' linebacker Ejiro Ederaine), you have a connection there," DeRuyter said, "just getting his demeanor and talking to the Duke coaches about how well he fit with that team, I thought he'd do a great job coming in here understanding the situation and be able to mesh with the team and quickly pick up what we're doing."
There still is a lot of work ahead, though, and Connette provided an outline in an interview with The Bee.
Question: Let's start with the priorities this summer. What do you feel are the things you need to get done this summer, and in what order?
Answer: The first thing is probably just getting to know the teammates, getting comfortable with people. That's probably one of the hardest things, coming in with all the true freshmen and stuff that are coming in, trying to learn names and stuff. A bunch of people who have been here, the seniors, the redshirt seniors, juniors, they only need to learn 20 names. I have to learn about 100.
So, getting to know people, making them feel comfortable with me, trusting me, see that I work hard and see how they work as well. It's just trying to find my niche on the team and then the other thing is learning the playbook and feeling comfortable with that and trying to get myself caught up with everyone else in that regard.
Go about your business then ...
It's just something that you do. You can't try to force it or try to show off out there or anything like that. It's just someone who finished through the line, whenever you're doing sprints, someone you can see isn't just jogging it out. Or, whenever you're doing lifts and stuff, seeing that he doesn't cut any reps. You can tell when people are actually pushing themselves to try to hit bigger numbers and bigger weights and people who are just trying to get through the lifts.
It's just trying to kind of be myself. I know the kind of person that my parents have raised me to be and as long as I stick to that I don't think there's any reason not to trust me in that regard.
The playbook part of it, have you had much chance to get into it?
I've had a chance. I've gone into the film room with a couple of guys -- I've gone into the film room with Josh (Harper) and Brian (Burrell) and I've also gone into the film room with Cody (Wichmann). They're just slowly teaching me everything, just starting off with the basics and trying to build of it from there.
It's a very similar offense to what we ran at Duke. The vocabulary is completely different and that's probably going to be the biggest thing for me, just learning what different things are called and being able to recall it from memory right away whenever there's a play clock running. But there are only so many things you can do in a spread offense. A lot of the plays are similar, the protections are similar, running, the run blocks are similar. It's just a matter of learning what they're called.
Have you been able to take some of that to the field when you've been out after workouts throwing?
We've gone out throwing the past couple of days and whenever we're out there someone will say one of the names, someone will tell someone to run a certain route, and instead of just taking it for that route, I'll try to picture it as if it's part of one of the plays and I'll just ask Brian, 'Hey, Brian, that's the backside of this play, right?' He'll say, 'Yeah, that's the backside of this play or it could also be the front side to this play.' Even when you're running one route at a time, you're trying to picture it as a whole play going on.
One of the things that was an issue at Fresno State last year was third-and-short -- they were 10th in the Mountain West Conference converting those plays and extending drives and even threw the ball on third-and-1-to-3 yards quite a bit. I was told that if it's third-and-1, you will get that one. What does that do for this offense?
I think one of the things that it does to a defense whenever you have a quarterback that's able to run, and I'm not someone that is going to break one for 70 or 80 yards, so you don't have to worry about me speed-wise, but I'm a north-south runner and get downhill and get what I can get.
That kind of pressure on a defense really opens up the holes for the running back and off of play-action they have to worry about the quarterback throwing it and running it, so there are a lot of different aspects to it. But on third-down it'll definitely make it a lot easier, I think, to convert on those because whenever the running back is running in front of the quarterback and the ball is out, defenses don't know who exactly is going to get the ball on any play.
With a mindset, does it have to be different to succeed in those situations? Not just for the quarterback and running backs, but the line, the receivers, to execute at that level. Is it possible to ratchet it up a bit in a course of a game?
Everyone is always aware what the down and distance is. I think there has to be a different mentality. I haven't been on the field to see that mentality yet at Fresno, but I know at Duke, especially the offensive linemen, they were jacked for third-and-short, fourth-and-short, because it was an opportunity for them to assert their will on the defensive line and really dominate them for just 1 yard. That was one thing they took a lot of pride in and we took a lot of pride in as an offense.
Between your sophomore and junior year, statistically anyway, your passing efficiency went way up. Was that the difference in the role? What was behind that? Was it just the natural maturation in the offense or did you spend more time on one specific thing?
I think it was because my freshman and sophomore years I was mainly just a running quarterback, so it was a lot of runs and then we'd throw a couple of play-actions and sometimes if they were covered I had to just throw it away.
I wasn't really ever in a drop-back passing scheme until my junior year when Anthony (Boone) got hurt and I got put into the starting role and that's when I really started running the offense and being able to throw it 20 to 30 times a game. When I started doing that, that's why you saw a spike in the numbers. It wasn't that I didn't know how to do it before that in the previous years, it was more a role change.
It's going to change for you here this season. I don't think you'll be putting it up 50 times a game like they did here last year, but 25, 30. ... You had three games like that last year, which mentally could become a bit taxing. How prepared are you to go from 20 to 40 or something like that?
I'm excited for it. It's going to be a lot of fun. Even before I ever thought about coming here last season I would keep track of (high school teammate Ejiro Ederaine) so I'd watch Fresno games whenever I could and, I mean, I liked watching the offense work. It's an exciting offense to watch and what quarterback doesn't like to throw the ball 40 times a game and put up those kinds of numbers?
I don't think it's anything mentally where I cringe about thinking about having to throw the ball 40 times a game. It's something I look forward to.
Going from a Wildcat-type quarterback to becoming a starter and having to run more offense, how much of a base is there? How prepared do you feel for it?
I feel very prepared. My freshman and sophomore year I really didn't get that many reps at quarterback. During practice I just got kind of the short-yardage, my package types of reps, and then last year, the last summer, not even spring but just summer, was the first time that I was actually just focusing solely on being the quarterback, didn't worry about any of the other positions.
And then spending this past spring with Duke as well, completely quarterback, 100%, so it's been almost a full year now that I've been just 100% quarterback and so I'm feeling more and more confident every single day.
How much did that base of knowledge with the offense, against defenses, go up in that year?
My knowledge didn't really have to go up at all, because I knew everything that was going on. I knew the playbook inside and out. I knew what the offensive line was doing, the running backs, everybody. So as far as knowledge, not really, it was just more getting comfortable with it and just learning how to be a quarterback.
You did some work before coming up here as well.
I've been working the past month. Me and my little brother, who is just now graduating high school, we worked out, threw, every other day to every day. We lifted, ran, everything. He was my workout buddy the last month or so.
And you did some quarterback specific stuff with (quarterback coach) Steve Clarkson ...
I worked out with Steve Clarkson. I worked out with him all throughout high school and then haven't seen him the past four years because I've been so far away, but came back and worked out with him a couple of times and got some good work in.
What was the focus there?
He didn't coach me really on reading defenses, progressions, things like that. It's mainly fine-tuning your mechanics. One thing was the release point, making sure my base doesn't get too wide whenever I throw, just trying to become more consistent with my mechanics.
You mentioned Ejiro. Tell me a little about that process and his role in getting you to Fresno?
Ejiro, I had three really good friends in high school growing up, and then Simon, my little brother, who is at San Jose State, 'Dro was really his best friend. Every single day after practice and after school and stuff we'd have our group of guys come over and swim, hang out, play basketball, play video games, and so 'Dro, because he was a year younger, was kind of just like my little brother. We've always had that kind of relationship and I've kept up with him when I went to college and he went to Fresno.
We'd text every once in a while and I mean 'Dro is a big joking guy, so it was during the spring and I hadn't talked to him at all about me transferring, it was before I even decided to transfer, and he sent me a random text saying me and my brother should come over to Fresno and play football for a last hurrah or whatever and I took it all as a joke. Then, when I decided to start looking for a school to transfer to closer to home, 'Dro was somebody that I talked to about it and I asked him if there was a possibility it would be able to happen and he thought so, so here we are.
Did he give you much background on what to expect here?
Throughout the whole process, he was kind of the guy that I asked most of the questions. I asked him a lot about Coach (Tim) DeRuyter's coaching style, Coach (Dave) Schramm's coaching style, the atmosphere of the team, what the team's goals were ... and I knew that he wouldn't just give me the sugarcoated version of it or anything like that, because I've known him so long.
What stood out for you about Fresno State, going through that process? What was No. 1 that you wanted to find in the place that you wound up?
A program that strives to be great, a team that showed it wanted to be competitive no matter what. That's what I saw from talking with Coach DeRuyter and Coach Schramm. They're looking to win the Mountain West championship again. They weren't just satisfied with winning it last year and just moving forward, and they weren't satisfied with losing the bowl game, they wanted to win the championship and the bowl game. There's a certain desire that I saw here that really attracted me to the school.
At Duke you obviously played against some very good competition last year. Do you think that makes a difference here? You might not get a throw against that safety from Florida State, but here maybe you can, something like that?
The biggest way it helps is just going into an atmosphere like the Coliseum this year. It's not going to be something that's new to me. I played at Stanford, I played at Virginia Tech last year, I played at Miami, I played at Florida State.
I've played at a lot of big school where the crowds, you can't get them out of your head. Just my comfort level playing in those types of atmospheres I think will help me a lot.
The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @rkuwada on Twitter.