Fresno State defensive back Jalen Smith, who reported to fall camp as one of six to seven true freshmen with a chance to play his way onto the field, is headed for season-ending surgery to repair a pre-existing shoulder injury suffered in high school.
“I think for his long-term health, it’ll be an opportunity to redshirt and get in our developmental program, get that shoulder taken care of, so that when we come back in January he’ll be 100% ready to go and compete in the spring,” coach Tim DeRuyter said.
Smith will continue to practice this week and could get some reps in the Bulldogs’ second scrimmage of camp Thursday before undergoing the procedure on Friday, allowing him to get through the surgery and do some rehab work before classes start on Aug. 25.
But he has had a strong first camp with the Bulldogs – Smith made a nice interception in a team period on Monday, fighting through and beating a receiver to the football to pick off a pass by Ford Childress – and the Bulldogs feel good about the base he has been able to get the past two weeks. He got a chance to learn the defense, get on the field and make plays.
Everybody’s path is different depending on injuries and health. Right now for him, he’s going to get that cleaned up and then be ready to go for the spring time and he’ll have four solid years after that.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, on freshman DB Jalen Smith
“We’ve been really encouraged by him,” DeRuyter said. “I think he probably would have had a shot to be on our travel squad. We had him as a backup on a lot of special teams, and you could see his trajectory going on a really good path where by the middle of the season he could have been a guy who was maybe starting on some of those special teams.”
While Smith will miss the season, the Bulldogs continued to get a number of true freshmen reps in practice on Monday with the No. 1 or No. 2 offenses and defenses.
Nela Otukolo is a solid No. 2 at Mike linebacker. James Bailey has taken reps with the ones and the twos at an outside linebacker spot. Mike Bell has played well at cornerback with senior Charles Washington and sophomore Malcolm Washington out with injuries. Jared Rice has worked his way up the depth chart at tight end and could play. L.J. Reed is competing for playing time as an outside receiver. And Chason Virgil, who graduated from high school early to enroll at Fresno State and participate in spring practices, is in the middle of the quarterback competition.
8 of 22 Number of freshman among first-year players in 2014 for Fresno State
After playing eight true freshmen among 22 first-year players last season, the Bulldogs appear likely to again have at least a few in the two-deep at the start of the season.
That has a downside – young players on the field are prone to mistakes – but it also is a positive for a staff that had few California recruiting ties when hired in 2011.
“Sometimes it takes a couple of years to get your legs under you as far as an entirely new staff, and it was several guys’ first time recruiting in the state of California and then seeing where we were going to make our base, which is California, and we put our foot firmly in the state of Texas to add to our classes,” running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Ron Antoine said.
“We’re established in the state, and then you’re looking for the best kids every year and everybody has to come out here and earn their spot. That’s Coach DeRuyter’s philosophy. No one is guaranteed to start.
You have to come out and earn it every day. So those freshmen, if you take that to heart, they get here and say, ‘I have a chance to earn it.’ They have a chance to play.
Fresno State running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Ron Antoine
Fresno State has benefited, adding a number of players after national letter of intent singing day in its 2015 recruiting class and becoming more of an option for players. Recruiting rankings become superfluous fluff once players step foot on campus and start camp, but Fresno State had as many three-star high school recruits in 2015 as it did in 2012 and ’13 combined.
“Take a guy like Josiah (Blandin),” Antoine said. “His coach called us from Long Beach City College, Coach (Brett) Peabody, and he said, ‘Hey, my guy is going to be getting eligible here.’
“You might never know if someone doesn’t reach out and tell you. Same thing with Wesley Hill, who was a late guy for us. The coach at San Gorgonio (High) reached out to (outside receivers coach Joe Wade). He called and said he was going to make it, ‘do you have anything left?’ It’s good with those programs around the state, hopefully they’re thinking of us first.”
Washington drills Monday
Safety Charles Washington, who has been out since the third day of camp trying to strengthen the area around a core muscle injury that required surgery in the offseason, went through individual drills Monday.
RB’s focus on protection
The running backs went through a pass-protection drill, butting heads, shoulders, arms and legs against the inside and outside linebackers.
They won some, they lost some. But everyone in the group, running backs coach Ron Antoine said, had an area of improvement to focus on in protecting the quarterback.
“We’re getting better, but they all have things they have to work on,” he said. “Marteze (Waller) is trying to get his punch established. With Malique (MIcenheimer), it’s moving his feet. When you watch the drill, first you have to get in there and strike, next you have to move your feet because your feet are going to do the blocking. That’s what we were working on, striking, moving our feet and staying in front of the defender. We’ll continue to work on that and add stuff to it. Once I feel like they’re proficient at one, we’ll move on to the next thing. But first things first ... develop a punch.”
Dustin Garrison, the graduate transfer from West Virginia, didn’t do a lot of pass protection when in the Mountaineers’ program, but experience does add up over four years.
“He had to do some of it,” Antoine said. “I’ve seen Coach (Dana) Holgerson’s scheme before and listened to him talk and watched their tape, and they get the backs out quite a bit. It’s very similar to Mike Leach (at Washington State), where they’re putting five out in the route all the time or using four receivers and the fifth receiver being the back. But he had to protect some. You can tell because he gets up in there and strikes and he knows how to move. It’s good having a little bit of an older guy who has done it before.”
▪ Senior wide out Aaron Peck, who had a great start to fall camp and is now out for the season with a left foot injury, is scheduled to have surgery Tuesday. “I’m going to have the surgery and from there, get with our training staff and work my butt off to come back,” he said. “I’ll be real top heavy for a long time, but I’m good, man. I’m in good spirits.”
▪ Ford Childress took care of the football in the second of double-day practices, but did not have a great start to the day. With the competition narrowed to three in redshirt sophomore Zack Greenlee, freshman Chason Virgil and Childress, the transfer quarterback threw three interceptions over the 7 and 7 and team periods. Freshman outside linebacker James Bailey got him in 7 on 7, then Smith and freshman safety Eric Wilson got him in team. “He’s a guy that’s learning the system and sometimes he reverts back to the timing of things at his previous institution and he just has to learn when things are going to open up in this,” DeRuyter said. “We have a set progression. I’d rather have him throw those interceptions and learn from them now than not go ahead and let it rip, and think you can do it in a game, and then pay that price.”
▪ DeRuyter did point out that on one of the interceptions Childress threw in the morning session the defense inadvertently had 12 men on the field, which obviously helps. “That’s tough when you have to face a six-man blitz and have six men back to cover,” DeRuyter joked.
▪ The Bulldogs ran situations mostly in the afternoon practice. The 2-minute segments were not the greatest. “A lot of teaching moments,” DeRuyter said. “I don’t know that we can do that drill enough. When we get a chance to come out, we’re going to continue to hit 2-minute situations. We’ve been good at it, traditionally. I like our X’s and O’s in it. We just have to be more efficient.”
▪ The red zone could use some work, too. Fresno State rushed for an average of just 2.4 yards on 86 plays inside an opponent’s 20-yard line, but the Bulldogs did complete 61.5% (32 of 52) passes there, including 16 of its 25 passing touchdowns. Fresno State ranked 11th of 12 in the conference in red-zone scoring percentage at 74.5%.
▪ The Mountain West logos on the field at Bulldog Stadium, which have been purple since the Bulldogs joined the conference in 2012, have been replaced. They are now red and white.