Fresno State Football

Injuries to two Bulldogs running backs are ‘long term,’ Tedford says. Here’s what it means

Tedford on scrimmage clean up and facing USC

Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford hit some high points after the Bulldogs' 16th practice of fall camp – a situational mock game, the focus coming out of the second scrimmage in fall camp. The Bulldogs open the season Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019 at USC.
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Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford hit some high points after the Bulldogs' 16th practice of fall camp – a situational mock game, the focus coming out of the second scrimmage in fall camp. The Bulldogs open the season Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019 at USC.

Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said on Tuesday that knee injuries to running backs Romello Harris and Peyton Dixon look like “long-term” issues, two serious hits to a position group that has taken its lumps during fall camp.

Jordan Mims, the Bulldogs’ second-leading rusher last season, had ankle surgery last week and already had been ruled out for the season.

Now, Harris and Dixon could miss the year, as well.

“Neither one of them has had a surgery yet, but we’ll see if that comes about in the next couple of days, what the rehabilitation time is going to be for them,” Tedford said.

The Bulldogs have leading rusher Ronnie Rivers back to full health after the junior started camp rehabbing a hamstring injury, and they moved Josh Hokit back to running back from linebacker on Saturday before their second camp scrimmage.

Saevion Johnson would be the third running back and Zion Echols is expected to return this week from an injury that has kept him out of practice for the past week-plus. The Bulldogs could get a transfer waiver for Jevon Bigelow, the former Central High standout, but that is considered a long shot.

That leaves a relatively thin group for a team that the past two seasons has played with a deep rotation of running backs.

More work for Ronnie Rivers

Rivers last season led Fresno State in rushing with 743 yards and 5.6 yards per play, but he carried the ball only 132 times in 10 games.

He accounted for 34.6% of the rushing plays in the group, while Mims had 29.6% of the carries and Hokit 19.1%.

There were four 1,000-yard rushers in the Mountain West Conference last season and they all logged a higher percentage of their team’s rushing plays ranging from Alexander Mattison (Boise State) at 72.6% to Darwin Thompson (Utah State) at 39.6%.

Rivers certainly can take on more of a load. He carried the ball a season-high 24 times in rushing for 212 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ Las Vegas Bowl victory over Arizona State.

las vegas bowl
Fresno State running back Ronnie Rivers, right, led the Bulldogs in rushing last season with 743 yards and 10 touchdowns. He rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ Las Vegas Bowl victory over Arizona State. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

But that also was only his 11th game of the season – he missed the first three coming back from a foot injury suffered in spring practices.

Change of plans for Josh Hokit

Hokit, who moved seamlessly back to offense with his first reps on Saturday, also could handle the football much more than he has the past two seasons. That plan to redshirt this season, however, would appear kaput.

He had 73 carries last year, but never more than six in a game over the last seven weeks of the season and he didn’t have any in the Las Vegas Bowl.

But Hokit is the most likely fill-in, Tedford said.

“The great thing about it is, putting Josh back over there, it’s like he never missed a beat,” Tedford said. “He was always a dependable guy for us ... still will be. Now he’ll carry a lot of the load, him and Ronnie will carry a lot of the load.”

Johnson, a junior, rushed 21 times last season for 131 yards, most of it coming in an opening 79-13 rout of Idaho (10 for 45) and a 48-3 blowout at UNLV (three for 47 including a career-best 37-yard run).

Echols, who has progressed in his rehab work, started his career at Cal before playing last season at Mt. San Antonio College. He played in three games at Cal in 2017, against Washington, USC and Oregon State, and carried the ball eight times for 7 yards.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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