Fresno State running back Dontel James, the Bulldogs’ leading rusher last season with 697 yards, has taken a medical retirement.
“He has had a lot of issues with his health and with his legs,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “He tried it. He was here. He left for a couple of days. He came back and gave it another try and his body was just not responding the way he wants it to. He has had a lot of injuries.”
James, a fifth-year senior, had slipped on the depth chart in fall camp, but running back is a spot where the Bulldogs do have depth. Freshman backs Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims both will play this season rather than redshirt, Josh Hokit is back along with Dejonte O’Neal, Saevion Johnson and Deonte Perry.
Boyer back; time to tinker – Center Markus Boyer, who started camp as the backup center before missing almost two weeks due to injury, has been cleared for contact and went through practice. That helps the Bulldogs not only at center, but allows offensive line coach Ryan Grubb to do a little tinkering in trying to find backup options at the tackle spots and identifing a top eight or nine to take into the season.
In individual drills and one-on-ones, Grubb has had right tackle David Patterson take some reps on the left side, right guard Micah St. Andrew rep at right tackle and center Aaron Mitchell move out to guard.
“It does open some doors, because there has been no real clear-cut No. 3 tackle that has showed up yet. So now you have to go, ‘OK, is there a guard that can step in?’ ” Grubb said. “Zelan (Tupuola), he has only been back (from injury) a short time, but he has looked really good. Zelan and Ryan Popolizio – we’re probably better off with one of them at guard and moving one of the other two guys around at tackle.”
Back strong – Boyer was away from the team for one week, but it didn’t show Tuesday when he was on the practice field.
“We snuck him in a few things and he had no (missed assignments), knew right what he was doing, knew all the right calls to make,” Grubb said. “That’s been pretty strong. He has been able to come back and when he watches film, he recognizes fronts right away. That part comes pretty natural for him.
“Now, he missed dang-near two weeks of that grind of fall camp, and there’s nothing like football conditioning and there’s nothing that can train you to push another human around besides pushing another human around. I’m sure he’s going to be a little out of shape right now, but he did good. He looked good.”
Picked off – The No. 1 and No. 2 defense came up with some interceptions in team periods Tuesday – cornerback Johnny Johnson, safety DeShawn Potts and defensive end Kwami Jones on a tipped pass all had picks.
That, obviously, is an area where Fresno State struggled last season. The Bulldogs had only five interceptions and nine forced turnovers, tied for last in the Mountain West in both categories.
Defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer ran defenses with high turnover numbers in Canada, said the Bulldogs have the pieces to flip that turnover number this season.
“It’s a mentality,” he said. “It’s how we practice. It’s what you emphasize. It’s the standard you set. I see some pieces and you start to see some familiar faces continually making plays. But what’s refreshing is you’re seeing different faces making plays. That’s when you know you’re on the verge of something possibly special.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada