When it comes to sheer passing ability, Fresno State redshirt freshman Zack Greenlee throws with more velocity and accuracy than any of the Bulldogs’ other quarterbacks.
The football might not zip out of Greenlee’s hand quite like it did for former quarterback Derek Carr, the record-setting senior star who left after last season for the NFL.
But Greenlee regularly throws a spiral and hits his intended receivers at or about chest level, rather than the too high or too low tosses that the Bulldogs have seen far too many times this season.
The throws travel deceptively fast, even appearing to pick up speed midflight.
“That’s the thing with Zack — he’s got a lot of arm power,” Bulldogs receiver Delvon Hardaway said. “So the ball, you see it coming, and then it gets on you. It gets up on you quickly.”
As impressed as Fresno State’s receivers might be with the speed, it is something they must get used to and make the proper adjustments — and that means by Saturday against Wyoming, when Greenlee makes his starting debut. He is expected to remain the starter for at least the final four regular-season games.
During one stretch at a practice this week, Greenlee threw a couple of bullets that hit wide-open receivers — on their face masks. The balls fell to the ground, with the receivers unprepared to make the catches out of their breaks.
It’s primarily a timing issue that Greenlee and the receivers have been working on, and only for a week after coach Tim DeRuyter, off a bye, decided to devote all of the first-team reps exclusively to the Lincoln High-Stockton graduate.
Some of the blame for the incompletions also falls on Greenlee, as he learns to put more touch on the ball.
“It’s not a huge adjustment how to catch passes from Zack, but it is different from Brian (Burrell) and Brandon (Connette),” receiver Aaron Peck said. “It’s not just pass and catch. There’s a lot of timing to it.
“It’s interesting. When the ball is coming off his hand, the football doesn’t look like it’s coming at you that fast. But as the ball gets closer to you, he sticks it on you. You’ve got to be ready. I think all of us are doing a good job getting used to catching the balls and knowing where the passes are going to be.”
Receivers coach Ron Antoine has stressed that players must catch with their hands, rather than trying to also use their bodies to corral the ball. Antoine has always preached that, but the Bulldogs’ receivers have seemed more mindful lately of proper technique.
But there also will be an adjustment to live conditions. After all, they haven’t caught a pass from Greenlee during a game since the freshman’s lone appearance this season — the fourth quarter of Fresno State’s 56-16 win against Southern Utah on Sept. 20.
Fresno State senior receiver Josh Harper said he didn’t think there would be a drastic adjustment. Saturday, however, will be telling.
“It’s not really a big thing, at least to me,” said Harper, a three-year starter who has caught 51 passes for 694 yards and four touchdowns this season. “We’re going to run the same plays. I’m going to have to run my routes at the same depth that I always run it at. I’m expecting the ball to be right there when I come out of my breaks. So, really, it’s not really a big difference if you ask me.
“And the good thing about the younger dudes is they’re used to practicing with Zack from last year. So they already are aware of what Zack does and how he throws the ball. I don’t think it’ll affect them much either.”