Fresno State has taken some hits to its offensive-line depth in the summer and into fall camp, necessitating position switches for redshirt freshman nose guard Jaleel Carter and freshman defensive end Kevin Atkins.
In practice Monday, the Bulldogs’ fifth of fall camp, Carter was working as a left guard and Atkins as a right tackle. The changes were not the only indicator of of the team’s line depth. Carter on his first day took some reps with the No. 2 offense.
“We’re thin right now in the offensive line,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We knew coming into camp we were going to be thin there and we felt we had to do some things to shore up that position.
“I think both of those guys can do things for us on the defensive line. But Jaleel is a three right now behind two guys that we think very highly of (Malik Forrester and Patrick Belony) and we think he has some ability that can help us. He has a chance to get into the two-deep on the offensive line. Kevin has really been a pleasant surprise for us as a freshman. With his physicality, we thought he had a chance to travel for us as a defensive lineman, but he’s a team guy and he realizes we’ve got some holes and we had to take a look.”
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The Bulldogs, who under DeRuyter have been trying to raise the numbers in the position group since inheriting just nine scholarship offensive linemen, were in decent shape there after signing day in February. Since, there has been a run of injuries and issues. Freshman Netane Muti suffered an Achilles’ injury in summer workouts and is out for the season. Community college transfer Shane Gama has been held out of fall camp to this point after he suffered heatstroke during a team conditioning workout in July and was hospitalized. Quiero Woodley, another freshman, was expected to come in and like Muti and Gama have a chance to play this year, but his enrollment has been pushed back to January.
And Sunday, redshirt freshman Ben Northup, who had been struggling to gain footing even in a group that lacked depth, decided to give up the game.
Carter and Atkins were not available for comment. DeRuyter does not allow freshmen and incoming transfers to meet with the media until after they have played in a game.
But Carter at least has offensive-line experience, playing as a two-way lineman at Alief Elsik High School in Houston. Atkins was strictly a defensive lineman at Vista Murrieta High in Murrieta.
I’m just going to see how they learn and try to force-feed it a little bit, roll them in with veteran guys so they can tell them what to do. But they could both help us.
Offensive-line coach Mark Weber, on Jaleel Carter and Kevin Atkins
“I don’t know how they learn yet,” offensive-line coach Mark Weber said. “Just before a 15-minute meeting, I got them. Jaleel has played offensive line before and he’s a natural. Kevin is very athletic. I’m just going to see how they learn and try to force-feed it a little bit, roll them in with veteran guys so they can tell them what to do. But they could both help us.
“Jaleel, he could be a center, too. He snapped the ball a little bit in pre-practice and I’ll probably just try to find a good spot for Kevin and just leave him there and let him settle in.”
First day in, they didn’t appear lost.
“Coach Web does a great job getting guys ready,” DeRuyter said. “The good thing is, particularly at guard, you have a guy on either side of you that can help you out and tell you what to do. When we go tempo, it’s a little bit tougher. But, they were in a 15-minute meeting this morning, they don’t know any of the terminology and Jaleel was running with the twos today.
“Web will get them coached up between practices and they just have to work a little harder to learn everything.”
Going live – The Bulldogs went through their first practice in full pads, and graduate transfer Zach Kline and freshman James Quentin Davis got more reps at quarterback with the first offense.
“I talked to our offensive staff about giving those guys a shot with our ones and see how they did, and I thought both of them handled it well,” DeRuyter said.
“When you have a little bit better protection, when you have skill guys that maybe have a little more experience, it’s good to see what they can do with that kind of a group. They both did a nice job.”
The last period in the practice was live with the offense running second-down plays with different yardages to go to gain a first down and then a third-down play.
The first offense, with redshirt freshman Chason Virgil and then Davis, was sharp. In six sets of plays, they secured a first down five times. Virgil was 3 for 3, including one deep ball to tight end Chad Olsen.
Whiff – Running backs coach Dave Ungerer was looking forward to the first practice in full pads for a couple of reasons – the backs would do some pass protection but also have a chance to rush the ball, take a few real shots and see if they could make a defender miss.
The Bulldogs weren’t live in run drill or team, but freshman Saevion Johnson, sophomore Dejonte O’Neal and redshirt freshman Treyvon Green had nice runs after eluding an initial tackle.
“As a running back coach, I don’t feel like I can really teach them how to run,” Ungerer said. “If they don’t know how to run, you’ve got the wrong guy. I can teach them pass pro and who to block, ball security – and then the other thing we talk about is making that first tackler miss.
“Everybody has a different style, whether they’re going to run a guy over, hit and spin, juke a guy, but defenses are always going to have that one extra guy in the box. We’re either going to be average and get tackled by that guy or we’re going to make that guy miss and then you take a four-yard gain and make it a 12-yard gain.”
Et cetera – The Bulldogs added a walk-on player, running back/slot receiver Austin Harper, to the camp roster. He must go through the NCAA acclimatization period before being able to practice in full pads.
▪ Olsen caught two deep passes during the live period, providing more evidence that the tight end position could have much more presence in the offense this season. Virgil and Olsen teamed up on the first long pass, and Davis and Olsen took advantage of a bust in the secondary on the second.
▪ Freshman cornerback Juju Hughes from Hanford High continues to make plays in camp. In 7 on 7, he had a pick-six against community college transfer quarterback Christian Rossi.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada