For Fresno State, any bright spots a year ago were tied to potential more than production, which often is the way it works for a young football team struggling to a 1-11 finish.
KeeSean Johnson flashed both, leading the Bulldogs with 66 receptions, 773 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns. But during the offseason he reworked his body to where this spring that potential seems more of a promise, with the junior wide out coming in at 204 pounds, up from 190 a year ago without compromising any quickness.
It is not cheeseburger with a large side of fries weight – he is a more physical presence, stronger, which can only help in getting off the line of scrimmage, into and out of breaks and at the ball when battling with opposing cornerbacks.
Fresno State wide out KeeSean Johnson had 24 of his team-high 66 receptions last season on third-down and averaged 16.5 yards on those plays.
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“He is going to be a big part of our offense. He’s going to be a big weapon that we need,” said quarterback Chason Virgil, who last season hit Johnson with six explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards, the longest a 53-yard strike against San Jose State. “Just by adding weight, he can be more physical and do some of the things that he wanted to last year that he probably felt like he couldn’t do because he wasn’t as big. I think he’s going to be a great threat for us.
“People should be on the watch out for No. 3, that’s all I’m saying.”
Johnson saw that physical development as a necessary step in improving his game and the ceiling already was up there. Of the wide outs in the Bulldogs’ Top 10 in career receptions, only all-time leader Davante Adams had more receptions in his freshman and sophomore seasons – Adams had 223 and Johnson had 103, while Charles Smith (eighth place) had 94, Rodney Wright (third) had 74, Charlie Jones (seventh) had 62, Josh Harper (second) and Isaiah Burse (fourth) had 56 and 53.
“That was the main thing that I felt like I really wanted to focus on in the offseason that we had,” Johnson said.
“I really put my mind to it and worked hard doing it, so I would hope that it would show a little bit.”
People should be on the watch out for No. 3, that’s all I’m saying.
Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil on wide out KeeSean Johnson
It definitely does, which plays into an intriguing mix in the Bulldogs’ receiving corps with senior Da’Mari Scott returning after taking a redshirt season along with the speedy Jamire Jordan and Delvon Hardaway. The Bulldogs on Monday in the first of their 15 spring practices had Scott and Jordan working inside, Johnson and Hardaway on the outside.
“I think it’s a real testament to Kee with the work ethic he has had. He has worked hard in the weight room and out here with the (player-run practices) and working with the DBs,” said Kirby Moore, the Bulldogs’ new receivers coach.
“It’s something that he has made a commitment to – being a more physical receiver in his routes and in blocking. I think that will be a huge advantage for him. He’s trying to take that next step and be a more complete receiver, be more consistent, and part of that is being more physical in the run game and in routes.”
3 The Bulldogs’ KeeSean Johnson ranked third in the Mountain West Conference last season in receptions per game with 5.5.
With one practice down and 14 to go, Johnson will push to see how large a step that can be when working against the Bulldogs’ defensive backs in 7 on 7 and in team periods. But that weight will not be slowing him down.
“When I went back home over the break, I just worked out a lot with my brother (former San Jose State safety Vince Miles),” Johnson said. “My brother is still training, trying to play football at the next level, so I was working out with him, working out with a couple of people who were trying to get bigger and faster, and I felt like that was something I needed to do.
“Being stronger, I feel like I can make the game easier. You don’t have to really worry about someone being stronger than you and jamming you at the line or just the physical part of the game. You don’t have to think as much. I felt like it needed to happen now in order for me to be more successful in my college football career.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada