Fresno State’s newest starting quarterback was the last player who finished practice Monday and even was going over a play with a teammate as they walked off the field.
There’s much for redshirt freshman Zack Greenlee to know and learn and familiarize himself with after coach Tim DeRuyter officially named him starting quarterback over the weekend. Greenlee spent last week’s bye taking all the first-team practice reps.
DeRuyter reiterated during his weekly Monday news conference that Greenlee is the starter for the remainder of this season, barring injury or catastrophic failure. Junior Brian Burrell, who started the first eight games, will serve as the primary backup with senior Brandon Connette as a special-packages quarterback who might even play other positions.
Fresno State (3-5, 2-2) must win three of its final four games to become bowl eligible and still has a chance to win the West Division of the Mountain West and play in the conference championship though the Bulldogs will need some help.
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“Zack, of our three quarterbacks that are playing right now, has the best, most well-rounded skill set for what we want to do as an offense,” DeRuyter said. “He’s athletic. He’s got the skill set. His release, his accuracy, his arm strength, those kind of things lend itself to running our offense very, very efficiently and well.
“We decided after that (Boise State) game, it’s probably time to give Zack a couple of weeks to work with that first (team), and work the timing out, and have him be our starting quarterback the rest of the way out.”
Rated a three-star quarterback coming out of Lincoln High-Stockton, Greenlee received an offer and took an official visit to Mississippi State before sticking with his oral commitment to Fresno State and becoming the headline recruit of the 2013 signing class.
Greenlee redshirted last season and has played in one quarter of one game this season. In that brief appearance during the fourth quarter of Fresno State’s 56-16 win against Southern Utah last month, he completed 4 of 7 passes for 109 yards, including an 81-yard, deep-ball touchdown to receiver Da’Mari Scott.
“He’s got all the talent in the world to make our throws and be able to read defenses and be able to do some things,” DeRuyter said. “We’ve just got to make sure he understands he doesn’t have to do things bigger than himself. He just has to do things that he’s capable of.”
Senior receiver Josh Harper also expressed confidence in Greenlee as Fresno State enters the final quarter of its season with three games at Bulldog Stadium, starting Saturday against Wyoming (3-5, 1-3).
Harper has known Greenlee since both were in high school (Harper went to St. Mary’s-Stockton) and they spent a few Sunday afternoons practicing together with other top players from the Stockton area, such as former Bulldogs receiver Jalen Saunders and current NFL receiver Brandin Cooks.
“I caught balls from Zack before he was even out here so I’m pretty aware of what Zack can do,” Harper said. “Greenlee is talented. You guys will come to know that. He’s smart. He’s accurate. He has a nice touch to his ball. That’s some of the attributes that I’ve seen.
“I’m 100% confident in Zack. I know he’ll do great out there. People are going to see some great things out of him. I don’t expect for him to be perfect. But I expect for him to do good things out there and control our offense and do the best that he can do. We’ve got 100% faith in him.”
DeRuyter said the coaching staff considered turning to Greenlee earlier in the season. Greenlee, however, began the season injured after bruising his knee late in fall camp, which forced him to miss some practice time.
With Greenlee sidelined, the staff focused on the quarterback competition between Burrell and Connette. After Burrell and Connette split playing time during three of first four games, the coaches went primarily with Burrell as the starter and Connette for special situations.
Burrell, however, never developed the consistency the coaching staff sought. He delivered his best game against New Mexico, completing 27 of 39 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns with one interception while leading Fresno State to a 35-24 victory. But two weeks later, Burrell committed three turnovers while passing for 310 yards and three touchdowns at UNLV and Fresno State lost 30-27 in overtime.
During Fresno State’s last game -- a 37-27 loss at Boise State -- Burrell completed 13 of 25 passes for just 127 yards and one touchdown. He was intercepted once and sacked five times.
“The last couple of games, we were trying to do some things where we thought Brian was going to have the success to get over the top,” DeRuyter said. “I thought he really had a terrific New Mexico game and that he would take that momentum and parlay it into some confidence with his timing and decision making. But then we’d have setbacks. ... With the bye week, we thought the timing was right.”
Though Greenlee didn’t receive any first-team snaps prior to the bye week, he continued to show progress in his knowledge of Fresno State’s spread attack.
“As the battle was going on (between Burrell and Connette), Zack kept making his push,” DeRuyter said. “For what we want to do as an offense, I think his skill set is probably the most well-rounded."