In Year 1, A.D., (after Derek), the Fresno State football team was stunted to varying degrees game to game by operator error, which was to be expected given the inexperience at quarterback.
The Bulldogs not only were replacing a senior starter in Derek Carr, but a quarterback who was a two-time Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, a three-year starter and one of only 19 passers in college football history to throw for 10,000 yards and 100 touchdowns.
When spring practices start Monday, they again will be inexperienced at the position and this time the players there even younger. That has its upside and its downside, both of which will play out over their 15 days on the field.
Redshirt sophomore Zack Greenlee, redshirt freshman Kilton Anderson and true freshman Chason Virgil will compete and try to make a positive impression.
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Only Greenlee has thrown a Division I pass, hitting 18 of 41 for 213 yards and one touchdown during a season in which the Bulldogs ranked ninth of 12 in the Mountain West in passing efficiency (113.71), 11th in interceptions (21) and last in yards per passing attempt (5.9) — tied for 116th of 128 in the football bowl subdivision.
That competition will keep coach Tim DeRuyter and offensive coordinator Dave Schramm busy, but they also have to replace two starting guards in Cody Wichmann and Sean Rubalcava and continue to build a unit that struggled a year ago to extend drives and put points on the scoreboard.
Schramm discussed some of the challenges ahead in question-and-answer session with The Bee.
Let’s start with the quarterbacks. How do you go about starting the process this spring with those three guys?
Just like we did last year. We’ll go through it and throw a bunch of stuff at them, then come back and do it again and do it again. We’ll try to frontload everything from a scheme standpoint and come back and polish it up and come back and polish it up. For those three guys, they have to compete, just like before, we’ll chart everything and see why they’re making the decisions that they are and what we feel like we can do and what we feel like we can’t and go from there.
But the thing we have to do is we have to take care of the football. That’s No. 1 for us every single week and we did, I thought, a real good job not fumbling the ball away, but we did a horrible job with the interception side of it. We have to fix that. That has to be emphasized more. You can’t just throw the ball to the other team. That’s the No. 1 thing we have to fix.
With the inexperience of the three, how much of that is meeting room and knowing reads and knowing coverages and how much of that is field and being able to navigate plays and series?
I think it’s on the field. I mean, they can sit and look when they’re watching film and go, OK, it’s closed-middle coverage I should do this with the ball or it’s open-middle coverage I should do this with the ball or I’ve got a blitz, I should do this with the ball ... .’ And, like I’ve said before, our defense puts you in a lot of high-stress situations, which is great, that’s what we want to be in. But now, what are you going to do about it? How are you going to handle the stress?
There are worse things than punting. Can you learn to throw the ball away? Can you learn to check it down? Or are you just whipping the ball down the field hoping something good happens? That happens. That happens a lot. That comes with experience and we have to see what they can handle and what they can’t.
So, when you look at that binder (of spring installations) there on your desk, which looks like it weighs about 10 pounds, enough of that will be digested so that when you get them out on the field it will come down to all of those things?
It’s all of those things, and then you also have to keep in mind what you have to do to get ready for next year. What you have to install that you can fall back on in fall camp and during the season. We don’t necessarily work on scheming our defense so we can look good in a scrimmage; I don’t really care about winning a scrimmage or winning a team drill. We’re all competitive. We all want to do well. But at the same time we have to run what we know we’re going to run during the season to be successful. The offense has a lot of answers to what the defense does, but we have to prove we can execute it and execute it repeatedly.
When you look at the three guys, let’s start with Kilton, he had some opportunities to run your stuff last year at the end of practices. It gets better with more reps obviously, but there were times it looked like he had a tendency to get sped up a bit there ...
The game got fast for him. But he was in the exact same position that Zack was in a year ago. If you look back at spring ball for Zack last year, it wasn’t great. Everybody had all these high expectations because of what he had done as a scout team guy, but it’s a lot different when you’re operating off a (play) card and when you have to operate on the run and there’s a learning process that’s involved there and it is fast and it does speed up.
He’ll be thrown in those situations and that’s what I mean. He has to prove that he can handle that. Same with Zack. Same with Chason. Chason is going to be thrown into the deep end and you’ve got to learn how to deal with it. To me, that’s the most important thing. Are your actions hurting the team or are they not? Are you trying so hard to make a play that it’s a detriment to what we’re doing or are you able to manage the stress and the situation? You may not complete the ball, but if we have to put it that’s a heck of a lot better than you turning it over or taking a sack? It’s a learned thing. It seems easy when you sit down and talk about it. We can sit down and say, what would you rather do, throw an incompletion or would you rather throw an interception? Well, they’ll all tell you they’d rather throw an incompletion, but they’re trying so hard to make a play they’re making dumb mistakes. Those are things that he has to fight through.
Kilton in particular, how do you think he’ll handle that? He seems like a competitive guy that’s going to go at it at the right way and with the right approach, but learning how to navigate those situations without pressing …
It’s like anything. You get better as you do it. And you don’t get put in those situations on a daily basis. It’s not like you’re walking down the street and all of a sudden you’ve got to beat a blitz or something. It’s something you have to learn how to do and learn how to deal with and understand, OK, when this happens, when it gets bad, what do you do? How do you handle it? What is your response to them bringing that pressure or them dropping eight or whatever? What is your response in terms of what you’re doing with the football? Are you holding the ball and taking a sack? Are you throwing it for no reason? Are you throwing it to the right guy? Are you throwing it away? Are you running the ball? And in all that you have to be productive.
Is there one question or one concern you have going into it with him?
No, just managing the offense. What I said. Managing the stress and managing the pressure. I mean, all of them can stand in there in 7 on 7 and look really good, right, because there’s nobody rushing them. There’s no pressure. It’s just a matter of handling all of that stuff. Our install will be a little bit less than probably what it has been. We’ll cut some stuff back, maybe not put in so many routes so we can concentrate more on just some basic stuff so we can give them all a chance to compete at the highest level possible.
With Chason, you’ve started freshman quarterbacks before when you were at Utah, so there’s no obstacle there ...
No. If he’s ready to play and he’s the best player he’s going to play. The best guy is going to play. I like it here. I want to keep my job. Coach DeRuyter wants to keep his job and we do that by winning and if he gives us the best chance to win then he’s going to play, along with everybody else. Zack and Kilton, both. Through our practices and our film study and scrimmages and all those things, we have to come up with who that guy is going to be and if it’s him, it’s him.
Now, he has a ways to go in terms of development, but it’s a really good thing that he’s here now because he has got through the semester and through the summer to get his body ready to play. So we’ll see. He’s a very talented guy. What he can absorb and how he can handle the stress of our defense will be interesting to see. That’s going to be the biggest hurdle for him to overcome. Like with Kilton, it’s so much faster than anything he’s seen before. I think wit Zack, Zack has at least seen it so he kind of understands the stress that he’s about to be put under. The other two have no idea. Kilton a little bit, just like you said, he was put in the situations a little bit.
You’ve had some time since he’s been here — you’re allowed two hours a week — to do some things with him inside, with film and things. How has that gone?
He’s a sharp guy. He understands football. He can talk about it. But that doesn’t mean you can do it. That’s why I’m coaching. If I could still do it, I’d be playing, but I can’t so I get to talk about it. That’s kind of how it works, right?
What’s your sense of how he picks that up?
He’s pretty sharp, just in terms of talking football and understanding. He has to learn our terminology. He has to learn how we identify defense. He has to learn how we talk and how we verbalize things. That’s a process. He has to learn to operate faster. That’s a process. He has to learn the mechanics of how we go through our read plays and our quick game and our drop backs. He has to learn all that. There is a lot of stuff for him to try to absorb real fast. You just try to give him the basics, let him start there and build as you go But he’s a very bright guy, understands football. And then of course situations come into it. Is it a third-down deal? Is it a second-down deal? When is it OK to check to a fade and when is it not?
Moving on, Zack ...
Yeah. Zack. He has to grow up. Because of the situation with Brian (Burrell, last year’s starter, who left the program) I mean, he’s going to have an opportunity. There are more reps, not just for him but for all of them. Now you get another chance. You get an opportunity. Take advantage of your opportunity. So, we’ll see. I think obviously he knows the offense better than the other two — he has played in it, he has played in games, he knows what to expect from our defense. To say the guy has a better chance than everybody else, from an experience side, just playing against our defense, he certainly has had a lot more reps against our defense. He can throw the ball — you’ve seen it. He has the ability. He has got to just make better decisions and do what he’s supposed to do. He has to stay healthy. That freak deal last year that he had with his knee coming out, that’s not necessarily his fault, it happens. I’m excited to see him. I’m excited to see him lead the team and see how he responds.
How much do you think that experience he had last year with the Wyoming game, getting the start and getting a chance to win the starting job right there, helps or hurts him?
It’s invaluable, like you said, one way or the other. It can either put you in the tank or you can learn from it and move how. How do you respond to that situation? He didn’t play as well as he wanted to, so now what do you do about it? Do you take that experience and learn from it and understand what happened and why it happened or do you let it bury you? We’ll find out. Time will tell. But he is an extremely talented guy and he understands what we want to do in this offense.
Now, has he done it all the time? No, he hasn’t. But there are times where you think … OK. He throws that fade route against Southern Utah (for an 81-yard touchdown) and I wasn’t really excited about him doing that being up by so much, but having sat in the meetings all week and listening to what we want to do in that situation, that’s what they did, and so he did it. Now, it was my fault. I probably should have told him not to that late in the game, but he did it and threw a laser. It was a pretty good deal. He did the same thing in the bowl game. He checked, got us into a slant route. Unfortunately, we dropped the ball, but that was just him showing that he has the ability to operate. Now he just has to be more consistent. Like I said, we’ll see. He’ll be put under stress and we’ll see.
… That’s the best thing that we do here. Coaching the quarterbacks, we stress the quarterbacks. They get stressed in practice because the stress allows you to see … OK, does he get big-eyed? How does he handle those situations? When you get in the game against Ole Miss or Utah or Boise or whoever, if you’re getting big-eyed it’s tough for us to put you in the game. But if you can prove that you can handle it … and it’s 10 times worse in the game than it is in practice.
We’ll see. I’m excited to watch them compete. I’m excited to coach them. I like all three of them I think they work hard, so we just have to build on what they know and they need to learn how to get the ball out of their hand fast, find the one on one and you have to do that through repetition.
With Zack, do you think he needs to convince himself this spring or does he need to convince the other 90 guys out there?
I think it starts there. I mean, obviously if he doesn’t believe in himself, nobody is going to believe in him. Absolutely, that’s No. 1, and then from there everyone else will start to believe in him. I think everybody else has got their own things to worry about, but at the same time they have to believe that when you’re the guy taking the snap, you touch the ball on every single play, that you know what you’re doing with it. So absolutely. I think it starts there.
Where do you think he is from that standpoint?
I think he thinks he has something to prove. He knows he has to earn their respect and like you just said, he has to earn his own respect. He can do it in the film room, now he has to prove that he can do it on the field. Not every ball is going to be a completion. Not every ball is going to be right on the money. But that’s not the issue. The issue is, are you going to the right place with the ball and are you operating as fast as you can operate within the scheme of what we’re doing. If worst comes to worst, we’ll punt the ball. We’re not just big-eyed out there and just whipping it around because you’re guessing about what’s happening. Nobody plays disguise like our defense does, so if you can do it against our defense and show that you know where you’re going with the ball, at some point in time that guy has to catch it, he has to run with it, you have to be accurate with it and all those other things. But, yeah, I think he probably feels like he has something to prove to himself and to everybody else, that he’s capable of running this offense.
Could be his …
Yeah, no doubt. Now it’s his to take. I’m sure Kilton feels it’s his to take. Chason came here at mid-semester so he thinks it’s his. That’s a good thing. Go compete. Go fight. Be smart and run the team. Basically, in this offense, you’re a point guard. We’re going to take what they give us. At times it’s going to be run to pass, at times it’s going to be which side of the field we’re working based on coverage, so you have to understand how to operate that way.
With the rest of the offense, you look at the other skill groups, the outside receivers, there were some walk-on guys that were maybe more competitive than some scholarship guys.
I wouldn’t say that. I like where we’re at. I think we’re talented, but we’re young. I think KeeSean Johnson will be a really good player here and I think Delvon Hardaway will be a really good player here in this league. Aaron Peck is back. He has to be more consistent, but we have to put him at a spot and leave him there. Aaron is one of those guys, we’ve played him at every single spot inside and outside. But he has played a lot of football, but we need to lock him down into one of those positions and say, OK, this is your deal. Play. (Justin Johnson) is back for his final deal. And then we have some young slot receivers that are really dynamic that we redshirted. So we’re excited to see all those guys. I think we’re talented, we’re just not very experienced out there right now. But they’ll fight and they’ll compete, so we’ll see. But I like their ability. We just have to make sure we’re not putting too much in for them. That’s probably a mistake I made a year ago — having too much in for those guys. We’ll get better. I like the group. They work hard. They’re working hard right now. We’ll see. But this offense is made for them. It’s a players’ offense. It’s a receiver offense. So we’ll see. They’ll have their chances.
KeeSean, was it hard not putting him in there last year?
Well, no, not really. It wasn’t hard. From a physically developed standpoint I’m not sure he was physically ready to play so we didn’t need him to. We moved Aaron around a little bit and we moved J.J. around a little bit because to take his redshirt year and have him play 50 plays in a season, that wasn’t going to be anything that would have helped him. He needed the weight room. From a physical standpoint, I’m not sure it would have been the right thing to do to put him out there, not that he wouldn’t have. He would have gone out there and competed.… But I think having that year to develop and helped him and now looking at him, he’s looking like he’s supposed to look and he’s working like he’s supposed to work.
The two older guys in that group, Aaron and Justin, it’s not like last year when you had Josh Harper who had been through it and been very productive as that leader. Is it better to have two guys who still have as much to prove as the younger guys?
I think it is. And I think both of those guys think they do have something to prove. They’ve kind of been in the shadow of Harp and Davante (Adams), so now it’s their turn. They understand the expectation. They understand the offense. They understand what they’re supposed to do. It’s their time, and I do believe they know the guys behind them are talented so they need to be productive or those other guys are going to play. They’re both really good guys and they work hard, but now is their time. … Aaron, you know, he has flashed at times where you say, ‘Wow, that guy has a chance to be really good, and there are times where he has kind if disappeared a little bit and, again, I think a little of that has been us moving him around. But I think he’s ready for his senior year and he’s ready for a challenge. I think just leaving him in one spot and locking him in there and saying, ‘This is your deal, you don’t have to worry about all the other spots, now just go compete,’ I think that will help him immensely.
Physically, in this conference, he could be a dominant guy …
No doubt. He should be a dominant guy.
Bee: How do you get that out of him?
Like I said, you don’t put as much on his plate. You leave him, and you let him develop. But, shoot, we had him outside, then we needed him inside so we moved him inside because we felt like we could count on the guys outside, then we ended up moving him back outside … and never once did he blink. He just did what we asked him to do, and that’s what you love about the guy. He’s a smart guy, so he can play all of them, so you tend to think, ‘Well, do we throw a guy in there who hasn’t done it before? Aaron, he knows what to do, so let’s throw Aaron out there … .’ I think by just putting him out there and letting him play outside, which is where we’ll play him, it will really help him.
Last year, you had guys inside, but this year you have Jamire Jordan, you have Keyan Williams, guys who can be dynamic players in there, so the need isn’t what it was …
Plus we have some tight ends now we can play. Chad (Olsen) will be ready to put his hand down next to the tackle a lot more so the other two guys (Kyle Riddering and David Tangipa-Enwistle) after they redshirted, will be ready. It will take a little off those inside receivers to have those tight ends, so that will be good. We’re excited about their development. Obviously, Chad had a really good year last year. He’s getting bigger and stronger, so like I said, we’re excited to implement that back into the offense that we didn’t have a year ago.
Kyle Riddering and David, that’s what you want — 6-5, 250-pound guys that can block a defensive end and they can run routes. It will be good to have those guys. We didn’t ask Chad to line up on the line of scrimmage too much last year. As a true freshman, he probably wasn’t physically developed to where he could have pounded it like that. But he will be this fall after he’s got this semester and all summer to get bigger and stronger. It will be good to have those guys. It adds another dimension, something else for defenses to have to deal with, help us in the run game a little more. We ran the ball pretty good last year, but it gives us another dimension.
So less of a chance needing to move Aaron around …
Oh, yeah, no question. He’s going to be an outside guy. We’re going to leave him there and let him flourish, let him go. We’re going to let him compete and be the player he can be.
Hardaway, another guy who flashed here and there ...
He’s got a chance to be a really good player. We threw him in there and like all young guys, he lacked consistency at times and wasn’t a great blocker at times. At times, he was. He was a lot like the rest of the offense. It was inconsistent. I think he’s working his tail off in the weight room, he’s a fast guy and he can make plays. We’re young there, but we’re talented.
You mentioned the running game. What is the plan for getting through the spring? Malique (Micenheimer) isn’t going to have contact because of the shoulder surgery. Marteze (Waller) I’m sure is on the stay healthy at all costs plan. There was some attrition there.
Mice won’t get any contact reps in the spring, but we know what Mice is and what he can do. Feel great about having him back. Tez, I don’t know that there’s a better back in our league, so he won’t get a ton of reps. … We’re going to run the football and those guys, we have to be able to run the ball when teams play open-middle coverage. They’ll get their chances. We won’t do anything greatly different. We’re going to run the zone and those guys are going to have to protect and pick up blitzes and all those things, which is great for them to be here in the spring.”
But if Mice is out of contact and you hold Martee out of a lot of stuff, there are a lot of reps there …
A lot of reps. … We moved Chris Moliga back over to offense. He was a high school running back, very productive, very good high school running back, so he’ll get an opportunity to show what he can do there. James Noble is there. We’ll have some guys that will be there to play.
The attrition …
It is what it is. It’s college football. Guys don’t want to do it, then you can beg them to do it. You think you need to go somewhere else, then go somewhere else. The game is too hard. If you’re having a hard time doing winter conditioning then you’re going to have a hard time in the middle of October. I don’t ever worry about that. Guys that decide to leave, I wish them the best. But I worry about the guys that are here, the guys that are with us. It’s like recruiting. I never worry about who we don’t get. I worry about who we have and who we’ve got and making them better and what we have to do to make this group productive and go from there.
Where do you expect to be at the end of the 15 practices, especially with the quarterbacks?
You like to feel like you’re getting better. ... We’ll go through the spring and we’ll implement the stuff that we have to implement. We have to try to get some idea of what we have at the quarterback spot with those young receivers … I don’t know that we’ll develop much depth, in terms of a depth chart coming out of spring ball, but it will give us a better idea going into fall camp. But I hope to get better. I hope to get tougher. I hope to get more physical. I hope guys learn how to compete. Those are the things that I think spring ball is for — learn what we have to do scheme-wise, but just learn how to get in there and compete and make plays under pressure, have some poise and some grit about you. You put them in tough situations and see how they battle. Down by 10 or up by four, whatever it might be, 2-minute, in all of those situations. On third down, third and long, what do you do? You look to get better so you can build on that for fall camp and then from fall camp going into the season.
When you look back at last year, I felt that was one thing that really needed to improve. Just having that foundation or that base of, I’m coming to beat you …
Absolutely. Having that mentality if, Hey, I’m confident in what I’m doing, this is what we’re doing and I believe in myself. There’s a lot to that. There’s a big mental part of this game that you have to feel like you have confidence in what you’re doing and we have to feel like we’re not asking them to do too much. I think you get that sense as you go through spring ball. We’ll have our install of the whole spring, but as we get going and we’re eight days in and we’re feeling like, ‘This is too much,’ then we’ll back off. Like (DeRuyter) says all the time, ‘Initially it will be like drinking out of a fire hose’ for a lot of the guys, the young guys especially. But as you get through spring ball you have to decide, ‘OK, are we going to keep going with this or are we going to back off and hold off and get better at the stuff that we have in?’ We’ll start with the base stuff and go from there.