It has been a challenge since Day One for Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter: Look back at the 2012 roster, and there were only three returning scholarship cornerbacks.
While the players were talented, there was not even a two-deep. And in developing that position group, there have been hits but also misses that showed on the field – most glaringly two seasons ago when footballs went flying over their heads in frustratingly routine fashion. Pass, catch and the official is there, arms in the air.
But that could change this season, even with two key pieces down. There is evidence to support that, even as more is riding on seniors Tyquwan Glass and Jamal Ellis with Daquawn Brown and Anthoula (Tank) Kelly out for the season.
You hate to jinx it, but we’re excited about the depth and the talent that we have coming back.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter on the hope for further improvement in cornerback play
Never miss a local story.
The Bulldogs went into spring practices wanting to see if they could play more man-to-man on the outside and came out of it convinced it was possible, particularly in conference play, which would free new defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward to use more defense, apply more pressure.
“As a defensive play-caller, you have to mix it up to not put guys into man coverage situations all the time, and when you have guys that aren’t quite ready to accept that much man, now you’ve got to be much safer in your calls and make sure you keep safeties over the top and now you’re not going to be as aggressive,” DeRuyter said. “The stats kind of reflected that.”
“It is,” Ward said, “vital.”
Glass, representing the Bulldogs’ defense at Mountain West Media Days this week, is a key part in that. Ward, who also coaches the secondary, said overall he was surprised at the level of talent at his disposal after coming from a Power Five program in South Carolina of the Southeastern Conference.
A late add to the 2015 recruiting class from Mt. San Antonio College, Glass worked his way into the lineup and ended up starting the last eight games. He had a team-best four interceptions. He made 62 tackles, fourth on the team and the most by a defensive back. And he impressed Ward in the spring with his technique and ability to make and use adjustments.
You feel confident in his ability to change up the techniques and that gives you a chance.
Bulldogs first-year defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward on impression made by senior cornerback Tyquwan Glass
“Tyquwan could have played for me at South Carolina,” Ward said. “He’s very similar to Stephon Gilmore (10th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills) in a lot of ways. He’s not as big as Stephon, but his work ethic, he doesn’t talk, he just goes to work and he tries to be a master of technique.
“He wants to be very technically sound, and he uses the tools that you give him as a player as changeups more than any player I’ve seen other than maybe Stephon Gilmore. He has a lot of the same work ethic and mental things about him to where you feel confident in his ability to change up the techniques, and that gives you a chance.”
He is ready for the challenge.
“I want the coaches to keep blitzing,” Glass said. “That leaves us on an island and gives us time to compete. It’s one on one. That’s what corner is about. You have to compete. I feel like that’s my job and that’s what I signed up to do, so that’s what I’m going to be ready for.”
The Bulldogs struggled defensively last season, ranking ninth in the conference in passing defense. But their third-down efficiency and explosive pass play numbers improved with Glass and Ellis getting a majority of the reps outside.
Fresno State in 2014 allowed a passing efficiency rating of 171.87 on third-down plays, last in the conference and 127th of 128 in the bowl subdivision.
Last season, it was better at 131.34.
8th Fresno State ranking in third-down pass efficiency allowed (131.34) in 12-team Mountain West Conference. San Diego State led at 69.9.
The Bulldogs two seasons ago allowed 54 pass plays of 20 or more yards, ranking 10th in the conference and 121st in the nation.
Last season, the number was 36, with 23 over the final eight games; two of those final 23 were passes to running backs, two to tight ends and one a trick play to a quarterback.
They believe it can improve again this season.
“We thought coming out of spring we had made tremendous strides there. You hate to jinx it, but we’re excited about the depth and the talent that we have coming back,” DeRuyter said.
“Last year, we didn’t have the season we wanted to have obviously, but there were some learning experiences from that. We were able to cut down on the explosive plays and make a lot of plays on defense to help our offense,” Ellis said in a phone interview. “We’re going in with a confidence. If you study your opponent before the game and know what things he’s going to do and know the tendencies of the quarterback and of their offense, you should be fine. It’s all about being prepared. We call it studying for the test. So just study for the test and you’ll be prepared.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
2015 Mountain West Conference passing defense
1st: First Downs; 15+: Pass completions of 15 or more yards; 25+: Pass completions of 25 or more yards