Four days ago, in Fresno State’s first scrimmage of fall camp, it appeared the No. 1 offensive line had quite a bit of ground to make up.
They were coming off a week on the practice field with an emphasis on developing a backup center, with guards taking reps at center and centers taking reps at guard. Not surprisingly, perhaps, there were some communication issues that had an impact in pass protection and the running game.
Sophomore running back Dejonte O’Neal had some nice runs behind the ones, 17 and 12 yards, but the majority of those plays went for three or fewer yards.
But that first group now appears to have fit some pieces together. In a run-drill period in practice Wednesday, the No. 1 line created some gaping holes for O’Neal and Treyvon Green, who bolted into the secondary.
The Bulldogs struggled in the running game last season, but on third and short, they averaged 5.1 yards per play, second best in the Mountain West Conference.
“After the scrimmage, we debriefed and talked about how the defense is doing a lot of movement – our defense does a great job for us, just getting us ready for all the movement and the blitzes, especially in this conference where we see that a lot,” center Jacob Vazquez said.
“We just tried to get a little bit better every day, targeting and seeing things and getting those live reps really helps you see it better when it comes to game time. Communication is a key and we’ve been focusing in on the details and I think we’ve been getting a little bit better every day, just focusing on the steps, head placement, targeting. It showed up in run drill.”
Rushing is a priority this season, with the Bulldogs running a more multiple offense and myriad new personnel groupings. A year ago, Fresno State saw opposing defenses load the box and dare its quarterbacks to make plays. Fresno State ranked 11th of 12 in the Mountain West in rushing offense at 3.9 yards per play and 136.8 yards per game.
Our offensive line has done a much better job of picking those things up. They gashed the defense a couple of times.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, on run blitzes the offensive line faced in practice
The No. 1 line – from left tackle across, Christian Cronk, Aaron Mitchell, Vazquez, Micah St. Andrew and David Patterson – is working to change that and dealing better with the movement up front..
“In that run drill, we’re doing some run blitz pressures and early on our defense was getting penetration and making plays and our offensive line has done a much better job of picking those things up,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “They gashed the defense a couple of times and even though we went thud (without tackling to the ground), the tempo didn’t drop down and we have to keep it at that and not have to go live to get that tempo set.”
Make a call – The past two seasons, Fresno State didn’t have particularly good choices at quarterback, which made it difficult to make any choice. In 2014, the Bulldogs went through the week in practice, often not announcing a starter until a few minutes before game time.
Last year, it was a matter of deciding who was healthy enough to play and hoping they could make it through a game.
But with redshirt freshman Chason Virgil and graduate transfer Zach Kline in a fairly tight race to take that first snap Sept. 3 at Nebraska, DeRuyter said there would be a No. 1 and a No. 2.
If it’s all tied up, we’ll take the guy that fits the best game plan to win the game.
Offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, on the Bulldogs’ quarterback competition
“To me, playing the second guy is at the end of the game,” he said. “You obviously want to get a couple of guys some reps, but we’d like to be able to pick one and say, ‘He’s our guy,’ and have someone finish the game ideally if you’re up. That’s the plan right now.”
The Bulldogs’ scrimmage Saturday could be the decider, though they could take the competition into the following week before starting game prep for Nebraska.
“If it’s all tied up, we’ll take the guy that fits the best game plan to win the game,” offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau said. “We can tailor our game plan because we’re so multiple and can do so many things. We’re not one-dimensional, so we can tailor our game plan around whoever we’re playing.”
Et cetera – The Bulldogs have not decided where outside linebacker Tyrell Robinson will line up this season when on the scout team. In 2014, when he transferred in from Oregon, he stayed on the defensive field and wore a white practice jersey, but he ran plays as a running back, a receiver and a tight end.
“That’s a great question,” DeRuyter said. “We have to look at our numbers and it wouldn’t be bad for him to start playing in our defense. Offensively, he may be a pain to block, so I don’t know if they want him over on that field, but we’ll figure it out.”
▪ The Bulldogs were scheduled for double day practices Wednesday, but DeRuyter gave the players the afternoon off following their meetings.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Fresno State football key dates
Saturday: Scrimmage No. 2 (closed to public)
Aug. 26: Scrimmage No. 3 (closed to public)
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