Fresno State devoted a good chunk of its first Hawaii Bowl practice on Thursday to its scouts, who got to run the Bulldogs' offense and defense for a change at full tilt, going live, and they were sent out there with a clear message with the future in mind.
"It's almost like a pre-spring ball type deal," said defensive coordinator Nick Toth, who will have some important pieces to replace with nose guard Tyeler Davison, free safety Derron Smith and inside (Mike) linebacker Karl Mickelsen all playing their final college games against Rice on Christmas Eve.
"I really want to look at all our guys, just want to see them compete again, and I want to make sure that they understand it's time to affect the depth chart and though they might not be ready to play in this bowl game the minute that bowl game it's over it's next season. I wanted to impress upon them (Thursday) and for the next 13 days they're competing for a job again.
"Don't wait until we start spring ball to win that job. This video is just as good as the first day of spring ball. What we did out there (Thursday) with the guys that are redshirting is just as good as practice No. 1 in spring ball. It's not evaluated any differently. Just because they're not doing it now doesn't mean that I'm going to give them another chance later. You have to go."
Never miss a local story.
Winning the Hawaii Bowl is the primary objective, but the Bulldogs, coach Tim DeRuyter said, will put the scout team players front and center a few times on days they practice in full pads before they depart for Hawaii. Fresno State is scheduled to practice on Friday and Saturday, then four days next week around final exams.
And there are a number of positions on both sides of the football where scouts and players that are in rotations now and will be back next season put some proof on video.
Defensively, the holes are obvious. The answers at this point are not.
"I want to see DeShawn Potts. I want to be Stratton Brown. I want to see those two guys and what they do. Anthoula Kelly, Tank, I'm watching him really closely. Malcolm Washington, these practices are just as big for him and he plays. Kyle Hendrickson, he's not going to be able to be patient. He can't wait his turn. Ryan Steele. It's time for him to take that next step," Toth said.
"I think we have a bunch of guys there. Xavier (Ulutu). Michael Lazarus. Those are dudes where this time can be huge for them. During the season I don't have as much time to focus on maybe some of the things that those guys need to do better - we're just trying to get day to day in the game plan. But now we get to step back a little bit and fundamentally get better.
"There are plenty of guys. And there are upperclassmen that have to continue to improve as well - Maurice Poyadue, Kyrie Wilson, (Ejiro Ederaine). 'Dro has got to work his butt of because he's going to have shoulder surgery after the bowl game, so he has to show some progress out there. He has to show that he's working on those things because the thing with all of those guys, there are guys behind them that can take those jobs."
Washington, the freshman corner, is playing now. Ulutu and Lazarus, freshman inside linebackers, also are in rotations. They all have specific things to get done fundamentally over the next two weeks, but for the scouts it starts with competitiveness, which was a key element for the Bulldogs in bouncing back from a second three-game losing streak to win the West Division in the Mountain West Conference.
"It's important that we understand that not everyone is going to be ready at the same rate," Toth said. Not every freshman is going to be ready as freshmen or even sophomores, but you want to see the fire, you want to see the drive to do it now. You want to see the competition.
"And we're highlighting things with individual guys that we want to see. It's not just, 'Hey, throw it out there and hope that they get better.' We're telling guys, 'Hey, these are the two things I need to see you do in the next couple of days. I want to see you do these few things better.' That's what they pay us to do. We know what we want to see, what guys are deficient in and what they do well, so we're highlighting those things and we're going to hit those things really hard.
"When we get to Christmas Eve we're going to have two things - we're going to watch our old guys and watch how they compete their butts off, and these guys that are developmental, hey, did they get better at the things we wanted them to get better at over bowl practice? If that happens, on Christmas I'll be really happy."