Fresno State is looking for playmaking from its safeties, both free and strong, though there already is some tucked away in the group.
Dalen Jones, a senior , has made plays, and he has a big interception and two big hits on his Bulldogs résumé, one a signature moment from the 2013 championship season.
In the Mountain West Conference title game, Jones demolished Utah State quarterback Darell Garretson, knocking him from the game in the fourth quarter when the Aggies were inside the Bulldogs’ 20.
Lined up on the hash mark to Garretson’s right, seven yards off the ball and over a slot receiver, Jones did a nice job disguising blitz and never did get much of a look from the Utah State quarterback. Jones raced through untouched, and as Garretson ducked away from pressure coming from his left, Jones at full speed dropped his shoulder and crushed him. It was a while before a wobbly Garretson got back to his feet, with some assistance.
Video of that play is readily available. Asked if he ever watches it, Jones laughed.
“Heck, yeah, I do,” he said.
Heck, yeah, I do.
Fresno State safety Dalen Jones on whether he watches video of his crushing sack in the 2014 Mountain West Conference title game
That was Jones’ first career start, and it was thought to be the start of big things. Since then, though, Jones has been in and out of the starting lineup, his game reps cut, coach Tim DeRuyter said, by inconsistency. In fall camp, the Bulldogs are trying to find what is separating Jones from again separating quarterbacks and receivers from their senses, because the pieces are there.
“He has athletic ability,” DeRuyter said. “He’s an explosive player. He’s one of the guys that you’re hoping has a great senior camp – this is his fifth camp – and if he can play at the speed consistently that he is capable of, then he can make some plays for us.
“He made some plays in that (Mountain West championship game) , but for whatever reason we haven’t been able to get him to a consistent point yet, and hopefully this camp it will all come together and he’ll have his best year yet.”
Whatever the root of the inconsistency, Jones intends to play through it this season.
On Monday, when the Bulldogs put on full pads for the first time, he said he’ll just let it fly. Try not to overanalyze, try not to overthink and just play football. He has worked on it all summer.
“Really, it’s just being consistent,” he said. “It’s correcting myself, sitting down and watching film, correcting anything I feel myself doing wrong and trying to be better at it at the same time.
“That’s really what I’m doing right now. From summer workouts, going from there and into camp, I feel a whole lot better than I did last year.”
“Dalen knows that he has to be more consistent in what he’s doing, what we’re calling defensively, and of course he has to tackle better – we all have to tackle better,” said defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, who coaches the Bulldogs’ cornerbacks and safeties.
Dalen knows that he has to be more consistent in what he’s doing, what we’re calling defensively, and of course he has to tackle better – we all have to tackle better.
Fresno State defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward
Fit that puzzle together, and the group gets deeper, and better.
Sophomore DeShawn Potts is getting the reps at strong safety with the No. 1 defense with senior Stratton Brown at free safety. Jones and Alan Wright are with the twos, and there is some emerging depth with freshman Jaron Bryant making an early impression in fall camp, along with community college transfer Jackson Finch and redshirt freshman Jalen Smith.
But the Bulldogs’ depth will be crucial. Phillip Thomas played strong safety in the 3-4 defense installed in 2012 by DeRuyter. As a senior, Thomas led the nation and set a Mountain West record with eight interceptions, becoming the first Bulldog unanimously chosen as an All-American. Free safety Derron Smith was a three-time first-team all-conference selection and picked off 15 passes in his career.
Last season, Fresno State safeties accounted for one interception, by Shannon Edwards.
The Bulldogs’ fifth-year seniors who signed national letters of intent in 2012 – DeRuyter’s first recruiting class – have had strong camps through four days. Outside linebacker Brandon Hughes and cornerback Jamal Ellis are on the first team. Wideout Aaron Peck, healthy again after missing last season with a foot injury, has made plays.
Jones intends to join in on the fun in his last go-round.
“We have to get back to that championship,” Jones said. “We’re just making sure that everybody is on the same page, and that’s what everybody is focusing on. Everybody wants that ring. Everybody wants to win games. They don’t want that (3-9 season) to happen again, and that’s the best thing about it. You have somebody next to you wanting to fight the same way you want to fight, and that’s a great feeling.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada