Fresno State ended the first part of spring football practices Friday with a 70-plus-play live scrimmage. As was the case through the first part of the week, the most promising developments were actual signs of life.
There were highlights on offense and defnse: cornerback Ka’Lonn Milton made a nice play on the ball in intercepting a Christian Rossi pass and returned it for a touchdown; running back Saevion Johnson made some nice runs of 25 and 26 yards, and on another avoided a loss with a deft cut inside defensive tackle Nate Madsen before bolting through the line for an 8-yard gain.
Quarterback Chason Virgil led the No. 1 offense on a 75-yard touchdown drive against the No. 1 defense and later threw a touchdown to KeeSean Johnson. Jorge Reyna, the JC transfer, hit tight end Jared Rice for a score.
I’m really happy with the way the first half of spring went. The guys came out today and put a lot of the things we’ve worked on in practice to good use. We still have a long way to go, so I’m really anxious to come back for the second half and improve a lot more.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford after the Bulldogs wrapped up practices before their spring break
Safety Jackson Finch had an interception, as did defensive end Johnny Rojas. Safety Justin Rice, the converted running back, made a nice play to strip the ball from a receiver on third down.
But more than any of that, the offense appears to be enjoying the game again. That might have been be difficult given 1-11 and 3-9 finishes the past two seasons while struggling to put up points, but this is a group that on the practice field had to be prodded by coaches to celebrate a play. It appeared to be drudgery.
This spring, the Bulldogs have started to break away from that.
“I don’t know any different so I can’t comment on it,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Bulldogs players on Friday were not available to comment. This spring, Tedford is making offensive players and coaches available after practice only on Monday and defensive players and coaches on Wednesday.
But the Bulldogs’ head coach has seen it before in inheriting a 1-10 team at Cal in 2002.
“A lot of it is apprehension a little bit,” he said. “With new people coming in, what are they allowed to do and what’s the right thing to do?
2.3 rushing yards per play in the red zone for the Bulldogs last season, 11th in the Mountain West ahead of only Hawaii at 2.2.
“We’ve been around each other enough to know now that it’s good to celebrate, it’s good to have fun in the right way. To do it with class and integrity and have fun with the game is a major part of what we’re doing.”
Another major component of the 15 spring practices is evaluation, and Tedford and the rest of the first-year staff have been able to get ahead there as well.
The scrimmage was instructive and when the Bulldogs resume camp April 17, after spring break, there could be a clearer picture of how certain position groups will play out headed into summer and fall camp.
There is a lot to work on; the red-zone and goal-line run game was rough, as it was a year ago when generating 2.3 yards per play there.
“It kind of gave us a chance to see who we are,” Tedford said. “Each day kind of does that. We’ll have a personnel meeting (Friday afternoon) and halfway through see where we are, see who needs more reps and who needs less reps in the second half.
“As long as we’re seeing progress every day and seeing some of the fundamentals from practice carry over to scrimmage time, it’s a good thing.”
Depth is lacking at several positions. But the quarterbacks and running backs certainly could see the distribution of reps narrowed over the final eight practices.
It kind of gave us a chance to see who we are. Each day kind of does that. We’ll have a personnel meeting (Friday afternoon) and halfway through see where we are, see who needs more reps and who needs less reps in the second half.
Tedford on the progress during spring camp, his first with the Bulldogs after taking over off last season’s 1-11 finish
Virgil has had a solid spring and in the scrimmage almost inspired a revolt when officials gave him a touchdown when chased into the end zone by Madsen and linebacker Nela Otukolo; quarterbacks are noncontact, particularly Virgil coming off shoulder surgery, and in a game he would have been taken down around the 3.
Reyna has been solid as well and Rossi and James Quentin Davis have progressed.
At running back, Johnson, Josh Hokit, Deonte Perry and Bryson Oglesby all have flashed at times.
Everything remains TBD, and players got a reminder of that from Tedford before heading up the ramp at Bulldog Stadium and out the door to their break.
His parting message: “Stay in shape. Be safe. Make good decisions. Keep their heads in the playbook a little bit. Enjoy themselves. Mainly, be safe and make good decisions,” Tedford said. “But I also told them on Monday we’re going to test to see if they’re in good shape, so don’t sit around on the couch all week long.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
- Monday, April 17: Practice No. 8; first after spring break
- Saturday, April 22: Spring practice No. 11: 10:35 a.m.-12:50 p.m., open to the public
- Saturday, April 29: Spring Preview, 10:30 a.m.
- Saturday, Sept. 2: Home/season opener vs. Incarnate Word, kickoff tbd
- Saturday, Sept. 9: Game at Alabama, kickoff tbd
- Saturday, Sept. 30: Mountain West opener vs. Nevada, kickoff tbd