Fresno State started the spring without some key pieces along the offensive line, including Netane Muti, the starting left tackle, who is coming back from an Achilles’ injury.
Dontae Bull, Marc-David Bien-Amie, Tyrone Sampson, all are out with injuries. Quireo Woodley joined them on the sidelines last week, missing a couple of practices after getting dinged.
Woodley is expected back in spring practice when the Bulldogs return from a week break. Fresno State also is hopeful Sampson will get some reps the final two weeks of the spring.
The unsettled line has increased the degree of difficulty for quarterbacks Jorge Reyna, Ben Wooldridge and Steven Comstock, who are vying to take the first snap in the 2019 season-opener at USC.
The QBs got their first extended live work this spring during an 88-play scrimmage Saturday at Bulldog Stadium.
“There were good opportunities to learn out there,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “There were some situational things – there were a couple of times today where we took sacks, but, ‘OK, sometimes it’s going to be that way and you have to throw the ball away.’
“Those are really important lessons to learn, feeling the timing of the game. That’s a whole deal with the speed at this level and you have young quarterbacks that are not used to that, so they’ll learn from that and they’ll know, OK, with their internal clock, they’ll know, ‘I have to get rid of this ball, especially in the red zone.’ Situational, down and distance, those type of things are really important.”
All three quarterbacks made some plays. But it was a learning experience, and at times, less than ideal with the defense dialing up the pressure.
“It can show the guy’s improv skills for sure, as far as what they can do when things break down,” offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said. “But you have to work on scripted things so that you can set those guys up, put them in the same positions and see who can make what throws in a controlled situation, where it’s not a jailbreak or something like that.
“We do that on a very consistent basis at practice and make sure we put those guys in those spots. It can be difficult, but we manage that.”
Reyna went into the spring with an experience edge on redshirt freshman Wooldridge and Comstock – he completed 8 of 12 passes last season for 111 yards and one touchdown.
But there is a lot of spring to go – the Bulldogs return to the practice field on April 2, with eight of their 15 spring practices remaining including the April 13 spring preview that’s open to the public.
“We got an opportunity to kind of put some things on tape,” Tedford said. “There are a lot of lessons to be learned and a lot of work to do, but it’s always good to have the young kids get their feet wet a little bit. We have some guys playing new positions, so it gives us an opportunity to learn and get better.”
Grubb on Reyna – “Jorge has really come on the last couple of practices. I think it was the last practice I believe he was 73 or 74 percent completion (percentage) in team. He has really done some nice things.
“I think once we start kind of taking the top off with it as far as him making protection checks and run checks and things like that, he’s really bright, he’s going to pick that stuff up pretty well. He has done a good job and has been very level headed, doesn’t get himself up too high or too low, so he’s doing a good job.”
Romello Harris looks good – The Bulldogs limited the reps for running back Ronnie Rivers – they already are without Jordan Mims this spring due to injury.
That left a lot of work for Romello Harris, who put together some nice plays behind those lines.
On one, the Tulare Union High grad and Washington State transfer had a nice run after catch, making a spin move in the open field to avoid a defender and pick up an additional seven or eight yards.
“He broke some tackles, looked pretty darn good,” Grubb said.
Alex Cruz a force? – Alex Cruz was moved to end from linebacker last fall, and the 240-pound redshirt sophomore made an impression there before suffering a season-ending foot injury.
Healthy again, he was in on two sacks and made some nice plays during the scrimmage utilizing his speed off the edge.
“He came off the edge one time when we had a seal block going on and he blew it up,” Tedford said. “He played really fast today. It’s nice to see.
“He’s able to bend the corner and he’s able to do things like that, which is something you always wonder about when guys have foot problems. It’s always the tight edges that you worry about, but I thought he did a good job today.”
Cam Sutton stands out – Fresno State has one of the most productive tight ends in the nation returning in Jared Rice, but is loaded at that position with Cam Sutton and junior college transfers Raymond Pauwels and Juan Rodriguez.
The 6-foot-6 Sutton was lined up outside against a smaller cornerback on one play, and the tight end made a nice adjustment on the ball in the air to pull down a touchdown pass.
“He can be a difference maker for us, something a little bit different,” Grubb said. “We just have to continue to be creative and find ways to get Cam involved in those spots.”