There’s no hiding it. Fresno State struggled mightily a year ago to defend the pass, giving up far too many big plays — including 10 touchdowns of 30 or more yards — and some chilling totals on third down when all it takes is one play to get off the field.
Opponents completed 60.2% of their third-down passes and racked up 1,149 yards at 9.3 yards per play, 13 touchdowns and 50 first downs with an efficiency rating of 171.87, by far the worst marks in the Mountain West Conference.
No one else allowed more than 910 passing yards or 8.6 yards per play on third down, more than eight touchdowns, 47 first downs or an efficiency rating greater than 140.14.
But those are just numbers on a piece of paper now and with the Bulldogs’ first practice of fall camp Thursday, defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson said he sees no need to turn his meeting room into group therapy or invest any time in healing old wounds.
“That’s the one thing I can commend this group on: They’ve forgotten last year,” Woodson said. “This is a totally new group and they’ve attacked this spring and this summer that way. This is a brand new season, a brand new team. What happened last year can’t affect this team.”
The plan of attack in camp, Woodson said, is to do just that, to push an aggressive style that the Bulldogs were not able to get to a year ago.
I’m pretty sure that coming out of that first scrimmage well have a pretty good idea of the guys that we know who we can win with.
Fresno State defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson
“The main thing is what’s important now — the main thing is identifying the guys that we can win with in the secondary, so more is more right now from a competition standpoint,” Woodson said.
“It’s being able to go out every day and prove to us as coaches, to yourself and to your teammates that we can count on you to win. The first 10 practices going into scrimmage one is going to be vital as far as that goes. I’m pretty sure that coming out of that first scrimmage we’ll have a pretty good idea of the guys that we know who we can win with; and the more depth the better and the more quality depth the better. That’s the key. We don’t want to have to play a guy by default.
“We want to be able to play a guy because he has earned it, and the guy behind him is competing and pushing him on a daily basis as well. That’s going to be the main key for this group — just going out every day, working to get better and pushing each other from a competition standpoint.”
Aug. 13 Fresno State’s first scrimmage of fall camp
Turning that pass defense around, though, will not be easy even if the Bulldogs are healthier than a year ago, with more ready depth and experience to put into play.
Senior Charles Washington, who started games at four positions in the secondary last season, is strictly a cornerback and healthier after offseason surgery to repair a core muscle injury: “For myself, that will help, being able to focus on one position throughout the year and not have to worry about week to week having to learn new plays or this package and playing here and there,” he said.
Malcolm Washington, who was pushed onto the field last season and made seven starts as a 165-pound true freshman, is up to 182, a stronger, more physical player. Fourth-year junior Dalen Jones a year ago got a chance to take some ownership at strong safety, starting the final five games. Senior free safety Shannon Edwards is back and healthy after playing through a shoulder injury, and he will be pushed by junior Stratton Brown, who is in his second year in the program.
The Bulldogs added a JC transfer safety in Alan Wright, and have fourth-year junior Jamal Ellis and redshirt freshman Anthoula Kelly back at the corner spots. Redshirt freshman safety DeShawn Potts will be back at some point in camp after suffering a foot injury during spring practices.
Pushing that competition throughout fall camp at every spot will be at a premium in fixing what was broken, and developing a confidence in the back end.
“We definitely will play more aggressively this year, and that all comes from confidence and believing in yourself first,” Woodson said. “We will play with more confidence, be more aggressive and more attacking as a secondary, but also at the same time preventing the big play.
“But it’s a mindset we want. Don’t take the blow, deliver the blow. Don’t give up the big play, make the big play. That’s the mindset going into it, having that swagger, having that confidence as a player — and it’s going to carry over to us as a unit. It starts with us as coaches. I believe in them. They believe in themselves.”
Camp highlights leading up to the Sept. 3 season opener against Abilene Christian at Bulldog Stadium:
- Thursday, Aug. 6: Practice No. 1
- Monday, Aug. 10: Practice No. 5 (first in full pads)
- Thursday, Aug. 13: Practice No. 10, 6-8 p.m. (scrimmage No. 1; only practice open to the public)
- Thursday, Aug. 20: Practice No. 18 (scrimmage No. 2)
- Monday, Aug. 24: Practice No. 21 (scrimmage No. 3)
- Wednesday, Sept. 2: Practice No. 29 (pregame walkthrough)