Fresno State will run about 100 plays in its scrimmage on Thursday night at Bulldog Stadium, driving competition through the first-, second- and third-team offenses and defenses to start to set its depth.
“We’d like to get everybody in, divide it up, 35 or so (plays) per unit,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We’ll work all four phases of the kicking game. We’re going to get a lot of good work so we can get it on film, get guys evaluated and see where we’re at.”
The quarterback play obviously will be a focus, with redshirt sophomore Zack Greenlee, redshirt freshman Kilton Anderson, freshman Chason Virgil and junior transfer Ford Childress in a four-way fray to take the first snaps Sept. 3 against Abilene Christian.
But there are position battles and some interesting decisions upcoming at a number of positions. Three freshmen on defense bear watching in the scrimmage – Mike linebacker Nela Otukolo, outside linebacker James Bailey and cornerback Mike Bell.
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The defensive line is an area where the Bulldogs are looking to set their depth.
The outside receivers have flashed throughout camp – notably senior Aaron Peck and redshirt freshman KeeSean Johnson – but there is competition there as well.
Jacob Vazquez has been taking reps with the No. 1 offense at center, with starter Bo Bonnheim out after tweaking a hamstring. Are sophomore Aaron Mitchell and redshirt freshman Micah St. Andrew solidifying holds on the left and right guard spots in that three-way competition? Is redshirt freshman Jacob Hicks gaining ground?
Junior college transfer Patrick Belony has been taking his reps at nose guard from the third huddle, but is he at a point where he could take reps away from No. 2 Ryan Steele?
Otukolo took some reps in a brief practice on Thursday morning with the No. 1 defense and if he continues to progress as he has through the first week-and-a-half of camp could alter rotations at the inside linebacker spots. Senior Kyrie Wilson, the No. 1 Mike, started every game last season at Will, where junior Jeff Camilli has been taking his reps with the first unit.
Bailey, who was 180 pounds when he signed a national letter of intent in February and reported to camp at 202, also has moved up the depth chart quickly in camp.
And Bell has taken advantage of injuries to senior Charles Washington and sophomore Malcolm Washington to make an impression at corner.
Defensive line spots still ‘up for grabs’
The first three seasons in a 3-4 defense, the Bulldogs had or were able to generate some options in their front with some swing players capable of lining up at end and at nose guard. Nikko Motta and Andy Jennings had that versatility in 2012 and ’13. The Bulldogs had Tyeler Davison take reps at end in the spring and through fall camp before his senior season to add some versatility as well.
This year, the Bulldogs don’t have that swing guy who can go between the two positions. The Mountain West this season is allowing teams to travel 68 players rather than 64, which means Fresno State likely will travel with a fifth defensive end and a third nose guard.
But setting a top seven, or top eight, is a work in progress.
“I’m trying to secure a second and a third nose. I’m trying to develop a fifth and a sixth end,” defensive line coach Pete Germano said. “It’s up for grabs. I have to feel where some of their strengths and weakness are. Some of those guys that start to drop off become more one-dimensional rather than two-dimensional when you start looking at third down and what you want to do with your front.
“People like Nate (Madsen) and Todd (Hunt) are versatile enough players that they could play in both situations. Nick Kristofors is a guy that we’re really repping a lot. He has some mental overload right now because he’s dual teaching, but he can run and he can get after the quarterback.
“I just have to find, to decide, where we are with our depth as to what they can and can’t do; and what they’re lacking in one, I have to get them better at the other. Versatility is huge, but realistically, I have to find just two guys to rush when we’re going nickel. This is a big scrimmage for a lot of guys. If there are going to be any depth chart changes, it’s going to happen probably starting now.”
Schramm’s QB plan for scrimmage
The plan for Greenlee, Anderson, Virgil and Childress in the scrimmage is very simple to put down on paper – though perhaps not in execution.
“Play with poise, play with tempo, take care of the football when operating the offense,” offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. “You have to make sure you get yourself protected. You have to be able to play fast at times. But No. 1 we have to take care of the football.
“When we have a bad play on, don’t make it worse by trying to be a hero and doing something that you know you’re not supposed to do because you’re panicked. You have to handle those situations with poise. … It’s all that stuff they need to do to grow up fast. We’ll take the training wheels off and see if they’re going to crash into the parked car or if they can ride down the middle of the street.”
Defense wraps up morning session with pick-6 – and kick
The Bulldogs ended their morning practice in team, running 2-minute offense.
The defense made a play there, capitalizing on a poor mistake.
Freshman receiver L.J. Reed, working with Virgil and the No. 2 offense, ran the wrong route on a play and when the quarterback fired a pass to where he should have been, the only person there was cornerback Anthoula (Tank) Kelly.
Kelly intercepted the pass and raced up the sideline for a touchdown and once into the end zone gave the ball a swift kick, punting the ball away while getting doused with water by his teammates.