Josh Hokit is back at running back, where he ended the 2016 season after starting it on defense where he played one linebacker position, then another and another.
Bryson Oglesby is looking much healthier than he did last season, when he was working his way back from a knee injury and made a late-season bid to get onto the field.
Saevion Johnson and Deonte Perry also are in the running back mix, while Dontel James and Dejonte O’Neal are on the sidelines this spring, rehabbing injuries.
So one thing that Fresno State has at the position is numbers, with two more arriving in the summer when incoming freshmen Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims hit campus.
Fresno State last season averaged just 116.2 rushing yards per game, ranking last in the Mountain West Conference. It also was the lowest per game average for the Bulldogs going back to the 1991 season.
But the question is whether they have one or more that fit a mold that new coach Jeff Tedford used so well at Cal, deploying a list of 1,000-yard rushers that included Marshawn Lynch, J.J. Arrington, Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen.
There were eight in 11 seasons, with Lynch topping 1,000 yards twice.
“They all had a really good feel for the game. They were all tough,” Tedford said. “They all had really good lateral movement. They had quickness. Most of them could catch the ball really well and could pass protect really well …we were fortunate there to always have a tandem of backs that were really solid.
“We’re not quite there, and we need to get there. Again, those guys are improving each and every day – just little things, attention to detail, how they’re making their reads, how they’re getting used to cutting, how they’re getting used to seeing it.”
Included somewhere in there is an ability to make a defender miss, a quality that the Bulldogs needed and were lacking last season with a position group beset by injuries starting in fall camp and ending with the final game of a 1-11 season.
This is the most competitive group that I’ve ever been in. So, it’s exciting, but there’s also pressure. If you don’t bring it, the next guy is right behind you.
Fresno State running back Bryson Oglesby
Fresno State also struggled up front with its offensive line. It only was last in the Mountain West Conference in rushing at 116.2 yards per game, it had the fewest rushing plays of 10 or more yards, just 49. It also had the fewest for 20 or more yards (eight), 30 or more (three) and 40 or more (one).
That even while playing in a conference in which seven of the 12 teams allowed more than 200 rushing yards per game and were 91st in the nation or lower.
Three of the Bulldogs’ four longest rushing plays weren’t even by running backs. Wideout Jamire Jordan had a run of 44 yards against Tulsa, quarterback Chason Virgil scrambled his way for 28 against San Diego State and quarterback Zach Kline had a run of 32 against San Jose State.
The longest by a running back: 34 yards by James against Nevada.
With the numbers in the group up this spring, all of the running backs have to make an impression and earn reps but without a lot of time to do so.
Fresno State had a 1,000-yard rusher 10 times in 12 seasons between 2001 and 2012, but has had only one in the past four seasons – Marteze Waller in 2014 gained 1,368 yards. The Bulldogs as a team last season rushed for 1,394 yards.
“It’s very competitive,” said Oglesby, who last spring injured his knee on the first day in full pads. “This is the most competitive group that I’ve ever been in. So, it’s exciting, but there’s also pressure. If you don’t bring it, the next guy is right behind you.
“It fuels all of us and we all love each other, we’re all together in the meetings and all that stuff, but out here it is competitive and coach preaches just competing every play.”
Jamie Christian, the Bulldogs’ running backs coach, said they could start adjusting the number of reps within the next couple of practices.
“Right now I’m giving them all reps, so once I realize who gets more reps and they deserve more reps – they’re running hard, they’re doing the right things, they’re taking care of the ball – then the reps might change a little bit,” he said. “The guys that are doing better and focusing on stuff, they’ll get more reps. But right now we’re trying to see who deserves all those reps and once we figure that out we’ll start really developing a depth chart.
“They’ve had four practices and really all of them have worked hard. Some have made more mental mistakes than others, some have taken better care of the ball. There’s also the factor of just being a physical, tough guy, that comes in. Somebody that is going to be able to hold that rock for us and run with some power and make some plays, those guys are going to get a little more opportunity. That’s the way it is.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
- Saturday, April 22: Spring practice No. 11: 10:35 a.m.-12:50 p.m., open to the public
- Saturday, April 29: Spring Preview, 10:30 a.m.
- Saturday, Sept. 2: Home/season opener vs. Incarnate Word, kickoff tbd
- Saturday, Sept. 9: Game at Alabama, kickoff tbd
- Saturday, Sept. 30: Mountain West opener vs. Nevada, kickoff tbd