Through 14 spring football practices, one thing is abundantly clear for Fresno State: Potential in the inside receivers group is deeper and dramatically different than it was a year ago, with redshirt freshmen Keyan Williams and Jamire Jordan, senior Justin Johnson and walk-ons Justin Allen and Michael Martens.
“We’re getting back closer to that first year as far as athletic ability there,” fourth-year coach Tim DeRuyter said Thursday. “Now, we’re young and sometimes guys aren’t always doing the right thing, but we have some guys that when they do have the ball in space can do some exciting things with it.”
Last season, Greg Watson led the inside receivers with 35 receptions. As a group, they combined for only seven explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards. Fresno State was tied with Hawaii for fourth in the Mountain West with 38 pass plays of 20 or more yards.
“They’re guys that are real anxious to learn, they love competing and they love pushing each other,” said Phil Earley, who coaches inside receivers and tight ends. “I think it translates into a lot more enthusiasm on the field and a lot more competitiveness and that’s the thing that’s great. It has been fun. They’re competitive. They’re tough. They won’t back away from anything. And, oh by the way, they have some talent. Jamire is a smooth, athletic, fluid guy and Keyan is a guy who is quicker than heck in a small space. You’ll be grabbing air in a small space on him a lot, so they both have very good skills for slot receivers, and then you throw in Justin Allen, J.J. and Mike Martens. It’s a good group.”
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“They’ve done a nice job of picking up the offense and that’s the toughest thing — as a young player, you’ve been running scout team all season and now finally in spring, you get to start learning the ins and outs of the offense and that is what has impressed me about them. You figure that they’re going to get the basics down. These guys are savvy enough to where they’re getting some of the details and subtleties down. They’re done a nice job. They’re sponges in the meeting room. They’re taking notes, they’re asking good questions. We expect big things out of all those guys.”
Camp wraps up with Saturday’s Spring Showcase, a public workout that includes a post-practice autograph session and a fundamentals clinic for youths in eighth grade or younger. Action starts at 10:30 a.m. with gates to Bulldog Stadium opening at 9:30 a.m.
Around camp …
• Inside (Will) linebacker Jeff Camilli, slowed by a hamstring, got to take some 7-on-7 reps Thursday. “He probably could have done more,” defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. “He’s really good mentally right now, so I don’t think there’s going to be any lag there. I’d like to see him down the ball — I wish he could have got to tackle more this spring. But mentally, he’ll be fine. He’s one of the smartest guys in the room.”
• Tight end Chad Olsen returned to practice after missing time because of concussion-like symptoms. “He’s probably not going to go on Saturday — we know what he can do. If we were playing a game he’d be ready to go, but it was good to have him out here going through 7-on. He’ll probably do 7-on Saturday, but none of the live stuff,” DeRuyter said.
• Thursday was a brief practice in helmets and shorts. The only team period was an end-of-half 2-minute drill. Freshman quarterback Chason Virgil led the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense, going three-and-out. Redshirt freshman Kilton Anderson had the No. 2 offense against the No. 2 defense and they picked up one first down on a second-and-8 pass to third-year sophomore Darrell Fuery.
• Wideout Aaron Peck made some big contested catches in 7 on 7, including a one-arm grab in the end zone when using his body to shield the defender from the football.
• Earley gave Johnson a lot of the credit for the development of those young inside receivers. “J.J. had to miss one practice (for a class conflict). As the older guy, he’s kind of the leader of that group. And that was the worst practice by far that these young guys had,” Earley said. “He’s leading them, most of the time by example, but he’s leading them. Overall, we’re so much tougher inside than we have been and I attribute that to J.J. He’ll put his face on you and hit you and drive you, and those guys see that and come after you, not that those guys would turn it down, they certainly are tough guys, but he set the tone for it and they have followed him. It has been really good to see.”
• The Bulldogs were hoping to get sophomore inside linebacker Michael Lazarus, coming back from offseason shoulder surgery, at least some walk-through work this spring. That did not happen, and he will have to play catch-up over the summer and into fall camp. “Now, in the meeting room he is better than he has ever been. He’s answering questions that other guys are asking,” Toth said. “I think his knowledge is ahead of where I thought it was going to be. But knowledge with not running around, not going fast, we have to see how that translates. He has to make up for some lost ground. He can. We’ve seen guys do it, but the other thing is those reps are really competitive in there, so that’s going to be good.”