Fresno State has had a freshman inside linebacker come in and play just about every year under coach Tim DeRuyter.
Jeff Camilli launched the trend in 2013, then Michael Lazarus and Xavier Ulutu continued it in 2014 and Nela Otukolo last season. Don’t expect that run to end this season, even in a deep group.
Jeffrey Allison, you’re up.
And with two practices in the books, he has made an impression.
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He has been phenomenal, exceeded expectations, which is really hard for me.
inside linebackers coach Nick Toth on the early impression made by freshman Jeffrey Allison
“We’ve hit it on the head again,” inside linebackers coach Nick Toth said. “He has been phenomenal, exceeded expectations, which is really hard for me. His football IQ is very good. He changes direction better than I thought he would with that weight. And he communicates with confidence for an 18-year-old and you don’t see that very often. We’re going to play another freshman linebacker for, what, the fourth year in a row? That’s going to happen. He’s going to play.”
Allison, who is 6 feet and 255 pounds, came to Fresno State out of Langston Hughes High in Fairburn, Ga., where he had 121 tackles as a senior including eight for loss with three sacks.
As a junior, he was in on 144 tackles on a defense that included linebacker D’Andre Walker, who signed with Georgia and last season played in 13 games as a true freshman.
Otukolo last season played in eight games with one start for the Bulldogs before going down with a knee injury. He was in on 25 tackles including 3.5 for loss with two sacks.
Camilli played in seven games in 2013 and was in on four tackles.
Lazarus and Ulutu are no longer in the program.
Line shifts – Fresno State is likely to do some experimenting at the tackle positions, developing options and adding to the depth behind left tackle Christian Cronk and right tackle David Patterson.
I’m just trying to find the best combination of five and develop a legitimate backup center.
offensive line coach Mark Weber on mixing and matching players at his position group
The Bulldogs did some shifting Friday in their second fall practice, but started inside. Offensive line coach Mark Weber moved center Jacob Vazquez to left guard and left guard Aaron Mitchell to center with the ones and center Zack Kinninger to left guard and left guard Ben Northup to center with the twos.
“I’m just trying to find the best combination of five and develop a legitimate backup center,” Weber said. “We’ve got to have two really good centers, so just moving some dudes around and identify. We won’t really know until we get into pads, but we’re trying to identify the top seven or eight guys who we can roll through there, have a couple of tackles, a couple of centers that can flip to guard.”
The Bulldogs have had JC transfers Logan Hughes and Ryan Popolizio working at left and right tackle with the second offense the first two days of camp.
Kinninger and Northup could end up at a number of positions.
“I’m going to always develop about four guys and have guys that can snap just in case or hopefully to get out of a game, you have a good lead and you want to get your starters out and get some guys playing time,” Weber said. “But Zack is a tough kid and he’s big and Ben is an athletic kid and he’s young so he has to start to learn. He didn’t take a rep, one snap, last spring, but he shows promise.”
▪ Offensive lineman Shane Gama, who was hospitalized in July after suffering heatstroke during a team conditioning workout, was at practice. He has not yet been cleared to return to the field.
Safety first – Freshman Jaron Bryant came in as a cornerback/safety and spent the first day of fall camp at corner. But, with the depth provided by starters Tyquwan Glass and Jamal Ellis, the emergence of JC transfer Jerrell Sykes and redshirt freshman Mike Bell and a strong start by freshman Juju Hughes, the Bulldogs have set him up now full-time at safety.
“He was a safety in high school and he has the potential to play corner, but we’re going to move him to safety so he can get more plays in and learn the system,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.
Bulkier backer – Inside linebacker Trent Soechting is one of six JC transfers signed in December. Back then, he was 207 pounds and still about there when the Bulldogs went through spring practices.
But he is just short of 225 now, which makes a bit of difference as a Mike linebacker, and definitely is on the list of players that the Bulldogs want to take a look at over the next few practices as the contact and physicality ramps up.
His best football showed up in the spring, in practice six, seven, eight and nine. He’s going to end up where we want him to be.
Toth on beefed-up inside linebacker Trent Soechting
“He’ll throw his body in there,” Toth said. “In the spring, he didn’t have the body and the strength to have reckless take care of everything. Like Nela, Nela is reckless, but he has got 250 pounds of reckless. That impacts the play a little differently.
“We’ll find out over the next couple of days how that weight has helped Trent. But I’ll tell you this, he has always run well. He has been very explosive. He has kept that with the weight, so I think we should see good results and he is a learning curve guy, too. His best football showed up in the spring, in practice six, seven, eight and nine. He’s going to end up where we want him to be.”
Et cetera - The receivers group continues to make plays downfield, with senior Da’Mari Scott taking the spotlight Friday. He made two sterling catches, leaving his feet on both, one over the middle of the field and the other against the sideline.
“That’s fun to see with seniors,” DeRuyter said. “They realize it’s their last hurrah, they’ve been training for four or five years and this is it. To see that sense of urgency, particularly with a guy like Da’Mari, who has been here and has had some ups and downs in his career, it’s great to see him have some success.”
▪ Offensive lineman Quiero Woodley, part of the 2016 recruiting class, is not in camp but is expected to enroll for the spring semester.
▪ DeRuyter on Day 2: “I like the progress we made … particularly on offense. We were much more crisp, we did a much better job of taking care of the football. The downside is defensively didn’t create an interception – we had a strip out here in one of the drills – but we went from two to one on takeaways so we have to get better on defense. But, overall, I like the energy. I think our kids have great retention from spring and it was really, really crisp.”
▪ The Bulldogs ran through some punt return and the depth and competition there is impressive. The group included Glass, Scott, KeeSean Johnson, Jamire Jordan, Dejonte O’Neal and Deonte Perry. Fresno State last season ranked fourth in the Mountain West Conference in punt return average at 10.6 yards.
Glass led the Bulldogs with an average of 18.8 yards on four returns. Johnson had one return for 7 yards, Scott five for 6.4 yards per return and Keyan Williams had one for 3 yards. The problem was the 11 returns – Bulldogs’ opponents punted 54 times, tied for 10th lowest in the 12-team conference.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Fresno State football key dates
Monday, Aug. 8: First day in full pads
Saturday, Aug 13: Scrimmage No. 1 (open to public)
Saturday, Aug. 20: Scrimmage No. 2
Friday, Aug. 26: Scrimmage No. 3
Saturday, Sept. 3: Season opener at Nebraska, 5 p.m. PDT
Home games in CAPS
Sept. 3: at Nebraska, 5 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Sept. 10: SACRAMENTO STATE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17: at Toledo, noon (ESPN3)
Sept. 24: TULSA, 1:30 p.m. (MWN)
Oct. 1: at Nevada-Las Vegas, 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 8: at Nevada, TBA (ESPN network TBD)
Oct. 14: SAN DIEGO STATE, 7 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 22: at Utah State, 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 28: AIR FORCE, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Nov. 5: at Colorado State, 12:30 p.m. (ROOT SPORTS/MWN)
Nov. 12: BYE
Nov. 19: HAWAII, 4 p.m.
Nov. 26: SAN JOSE STATE, 12:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Dec. 3: Mountain West Championship, TBA