Fresno State will open its football season down a second starter with strong safety Dalen Jones now sidelined by a knee injury.
Jones, according to a source, will not require surgery, but recovery and rehab time is expected to take six to 10 weeks. Under that time frame, the earliest Jones would be back in the lineup would be the Oct. 3 Mountain West Conference showdown at San Diego State.
The junior safety started the final five games last season, moving into the lineup when the Bulldogs decided to lock in Charles Washington at left cornerback after he had started six games at strong safety, one at nickel back and two at right cornerback.
The Bulldogs played games against two of the top four passing offenses in the Mountain West Conference in that stretch – Boise State (second) and San Jose State (fourth) – but the pass defense improved considerably after the lineup changes. Opposing quarterbacks completed 62.6% of their passes in the first nine games, but 56.4% after the lineup changes. Passing yards allowed per game fell to 240.8 from 261.4, and passing touchdowns to 1.8 from 2.6.
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Jones ended up with 15 tackles in 2014 with one sack and six pass breakups – the latter ranking fourth on team
Jones ended up with 15 tackles on the season with one sack and six pass breakups – the six breakups ranking fourth on the team.
With their starting strong safety out, the Bulldogs on Wednesday had junior Stratton Brown taking reps there with the No. 1 defense, playing opposite free safety Shannon Edwards.
Brown played in 12 games last season, primarily on special teams. He was credited with three tackles and recovered a fumble while on the kickoff cover team against Boise State.
Peck hobbled but on hand
The Bulldogs earlier this week lost senior outside receiver Aaron Peck for the season due to a foot injury.
Peck had surgery Tuesday, but came out to watch practice Wednesday.
Hello, Newman – at linebacker
When Fresno State signed Gabe Newman out of Diablo Valley College, he was an investment in the future. He had four years to play three seasons of football, a good 6-foot-4 frame that could carry additional weight. They saw him eventually as a defensive end, a position where they needed bodies.
But at 247 pounds and more than a few double cheeseburgers away from playing at end, the Bulldogs have been exploring their options with Newman at outside linebacker this week.
Three days into it, defensive coordinator Nick Toth said he could see the third-year sophomore getting on the field this season, playing situationally on first and second downs.
He’s a 247-pound guy we can line up on the edge and he’s pretty physical.
defensive coordinator Nick Toth on Gabe Newman’s potential conversion from defensive end to linebacker
“With us doing what we were doing with him in nickel, he’s playing end, and he played end. He was a field end. So there’s no new learning there, other than the stance,” Toth said. “You think, how can that happen? Well, he has played all of those calls with his hand on the ground. So that’s not hard. The blitz stuff will be hard, and if we ever ask him to be out in space. We have to see if he can do a good job there.
“But, on first and second down, I think he’s going to be able to give us something. I don’t doubt it. His motor has been phenomenal. He’s a 247-pound guy we can line up on the edge and he’s pretty physical. He just wants to play, so even if it’s one play, he’s going to go.”
Depth a delight at defensive back
The Bulldogs were hoping to have started setting their depth chart at cornerback. They had some experience returning there in Charles Washington, Jamal Ellis and Malcolm Washington, and some good young talent as well.
But Charles Washington is working his way back from core muscle surgery – he went through individual drills Wednesday for the third time this week. Malcolm Washington missed some time with a groin strain – he, too, is working individual drills in practice.
The Bulldogs have had to adjust a bit.
“I don’t know that the whole corner thing is going to be figured out (in Thursday’s second fall scrimmage) because we still have to protect Charles and Malcolm,” Toth said.
“But it’s really good that Tyquwan (Glass) and Mike Bell are getting all those reps because if we had six corners right now I’d be trying to figure who to pull off. There is a positive side to that. I do feel good about what Charles is going to bring us. I feel like there are less question marks about his ability. So, I’m not as concerned as I would be if Chuck wasn’t a senior and hadn’t played big in games for us. He still has to do it when he comes back. He has to compete for that job – he’s not going to be a one.
“The biggest thing is I want to see those guys getting an opportunity to play well. I want to see them take advantage of it. If that keeps happening, we have a good problem. If we end up having six cornerbacks, shoot, we didn’t have two sometimes (last season).”
▪ The Bulldogs were in full pads for practice No. 17 of 29 ahead of the Sept. 3 opener against Abilene Christian. They did a tackling drill with their defensive backs and inside and outside receivers, and it was interesting to watch the collisions involving 6-foot-3, 240-pound freshman receiver L.J. Reed. Good luck to the corners in the Mountain West.
▪ In a live 11 on 11 period with the offense running second-down plays into third downs, freshman quarterback Chason Virgil hit redshirt freshman inside receiver Justin Allen for a 13-yard gain on a third-and-10. The best part of it, though, might have been the blocks on the perimeter that created the space for Allen to get up field – redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Riddering and junior wide out Da’Mari Scott cut their marks to the ground.
▪ Redshirt freshman receiver Keyan Williams made two very good plays in that period. He caught a short pass from Ford Childress on a second-and-5, made a quick move to make freshman outside linebacker James Bailey miss and went for a 9-yard gain. On a third-and-5, he caught a pass from Childress crossing the middle of the field and turned it into a 15-yard gain.
▪ There is some thought that outside linebacker Justin Green would benefit from a redshirt year – he was forced onto the field last season as a 6-foot-3, 180-pound freshman to try to add some pop to the pass rush. It might be too hard to keep his speed off the edge off the field, though. In that second-down live period, Green had sacks on back-to-back plays going against the No. 1 offense.
▪ DeRuyter on the scrimmage: “We’ve got another week of guys feeling more comfortable in our schemes. Now, we want to see that in a game-like situation where it is live tackling. Who can make plays? Who can rush the passer? Who can make a tackle in space? Who can make someone miss? Who can protect? Which quarterback can lead us consistently, making good decisions and lead the offense down the field? Those kinds of things will separate players if they can do that on a consistent basis.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada