Fresno State Football

Can Fresno State football defense go from Ph.D level to … Jedi mind tricks?

Fresno State safety Juju Hughes is excited to see what Mykal Walker does at middle linebacker

Fresno State moved first-team All-Mountain West Conference defensive end Mykal Walker to middle linebacker. Safety Juju Hughes said Walker could be even more productive playing in the middle of the Bulldogs' defense.
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Fresno State moved first-team All-Mountain West Conference defensive end Mykal Walker to middle linebacker. Safety Juju Hughes said Walker could be even more productive playing in the middle of the Bulldogs' defense.

Fresno State pushed back post time for fall camp practice No. 3 to 5:30 p.m.

It was the first day in shells (helmet and shoulder pads), and the Bulldogs on Sunday night went through a few more physical drills with left tackle Netane Muti dominating some one-on-one matchups and some scheme installation.

Three things from practice …

Defensive coordinator’s next level

Defensive coordinator Bert Watts before last season said the Bulldogs could play a Ph.D level given the experience they had coming back – and they did.

Fresno State was third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 14.1 points per game.

But Watts believes the Bulldogs this season can hit a higher level even without linebacker Jeff Allison, safety Mike Bell or cornerback Tank Kelly, three key players in 2018.

“Jedi skills,” he said. “That’s where you know it’s going to happen before it happens …”

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Fresno State defensive coordinator Bert Watts, center, watches a drill on the first day of preseason camp Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

That could be where the Bulldogs are with a defense led by middle linebacker Mykal Walker, safety Juju Hughes and a deep and veteran interior defensive line.

“Our level of communication right now, it might be the best we’ve ever had,” Watts said.. “It’s not just the veteran guys, but some of the guys like (cornerback) Chris Gaston and (safety) Wylan Free who have stepped into some roles, those guys are talking.

“The whole defense is talking. They’re cluing into things all over the field. Anytime you can hear that chatter like you’re hearing right now you feel really comfortable as a coach.”

As Watts pointed out, the players last season were in a second season in the Bulldogs defense. Many of the players this season are going into a third year, and have a deeper base to work from.

JC tight ends did their summer work

JC tight ends Juan Rodriguez and Raymond Pauwels had solid springs, which is no surprise. Rodriguez was rated as the No. 5 junior college tight end in the nation by one recruiting service; Pauwels was rated No. 7.

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Fresno State tight end Cam Sutton caught two red zone touchdown passes in the Bulldogs’ first scrimmage of the spring Saturday March 23, 2019. “He can be a difference maker for us, some thing a little bit different,” offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said. “We just have to continue to be creative and find ways to get Cam involved in those spots.” ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

But both exited the spring with a to-do list, improving leg strength and explosiveness at the top. The work they put in over the summer, strength and conditioning coach Andy Ward said, is evident on the practice field now.

“You can see it now in the way they run, you can see it in the way they snap out of their stance. They’re a lot more explosive.”

The Bulldogs are loaded at tight end with Jared Rice on watch lists for the Biletnikoff and Mackey awards, Rodriguez and Pauwels, plus Cam Sutton still working there during individual periods.

Comparing Cam Sutton to KeeSean Johnson

The plan is for Sutton to also practice as a slot receiver, and as camp goes along to put more on his plate between the two positions.

“Cam gets his routes in,” offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said. “He gets plenty of those in. We still work him a million different ways. But a lot of it is on Cam Sutton and whatever he can harness and take in and learn. The more complex he learns how to be the more complex we can make things on defenses. You just keep feeding him until the plate is full and when it’s full, you stop. You don’t want to overfeed him because then he’s going to play slow and you’re going to take away his production.”

The Bulldogs employed a similar plan with KeeSean Johnson last season, lining him up in a number of spots on the field. Johnson was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals.

“KeeSean did a great job with that,” Grubb said. “He’s just a football smart kid, for sure. That’s a big part of why he’s going to be playing on Sundays, too.”

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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