Fresno State Football

Bulldogs are down three running backs, but get one back. Plus, is Muti on the move again?

Fresno State football loading up at guard position

The Fresno State Bulldogs college football team moved UCLA transfer Alex Akingbulu to guard from tackle this week, adding to options for filling those two spots. Assistant line coach Roman Sapolu discusses the move with the 6-foot-5 junior.
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The Fresno State Bulldogs college football team moved UCLA transfer Alex Akingbulu to guard from tackle this week, adding to options for filling those two spots. Assistant line coach Roman Sapolu discusses the move with the 6-foot-5 junior.

The Fresno State Bulldogs went through practice No. 17 in fall camp on Wednesday, their last before the defending Mountain West Conference champions start game prep for the Aug. 31 opener at USC.

“It will be all USC stuff … time to go,” offensive coordinator and line coach Ryan Grubb said.

The Bulldogs got welcome news at the injury-depleted running back position and also are getting healthier on the offensive line, adding to their options in putting together a depth chart.

Here are three things from practice …

Zion Echols back in mix

The day after Fresno State running backs Romello Harris and Peyton Dixon were ruled out likely for the year with knee injuries, the Bulldogs put Zion Echols back in play.

Echols, who has been out with a hamstring issue, went through individual drills and team periods on Wednesday and with as much time as he has missed the priority is getting him up to speed in the Bulldogs’ offense and going from there.

The 5-foot-9 junior, who started his college career at Cal and spent last season at Mt. San Antonio College, could be a dynamic piece for the Bulldogs in the run game as well as catching passes.

Jordan Mims, the Bulldogs’ second-leading rusher last season, had ankle surgery last week and already had been ruled out for the season. Then came the news about Harris and Dixon.

Echols will have to compete with junior Saevion Johnson for playing time behind Ronnie Rivers and Josh Hokit, but with the way the Bulldogs have deployed their backs the past two seasons there could be considerable opportunity there.

Rivers and Hokit are No. 1 and No. 2 and how the reps are split could be determined week to week, depending on game plan.

“A lot of it is play-based,” running backs coach Jamie Christian said. “There might be times where it’s 80/20, it might be 50/50, it could be 30/70. It depends on the game plan and what we have going. To me, right now, I look at both as possible starters.”

MUTI
Fresno State offensive lineman Netane Muti has been working at left guard as the Bulldogs try to find their best five across the offensive line. Muti last season started at left tackle before suffering a season-ending Achilles’ injury. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Netane Muti on move?

Fresno State has offensive linemen Quireo Woodley and Dontae Bull back in practice after some missed time due to injury. It also has moved UCLA transfer Alex Akingbulu inside to get some reps at guard after he started camp at tackle.

It adds to the Bulldogs’ guard depth, and it also adds to the intrigue with junior Netane Muti, who is one of the best offensive linemen in the Mountain West Conference.

Is Muti a guard? Is he a tackle?

Muti started all 14 games for the Bulldogs as a redshirt freshman in 2017 at left guard and the first two last season at left tackle before suffering a season-ending Achilles’ injury in a loss at Minnesota. This fall he has played both positions with the No. 1 offense and on Wednesday was at left guard. But with Woodley, Bull and Akingbulu joining a mix that includes seniors Nick Abbs and Nick Aibuedefe and freshman Bula Schmidt it appears they are looking for options with Muti back at tackle full time.

“Every day we’re talking about it,” Grubb said. “He could line up at either one, but obviously where he plays influences a lot of stuff.”

When Woodley and Bull were out, the Bulldogs’ options on the practice field were somewhat limited. Woodley, especially, is seen as a critical piece in the equation up front with the versatility to play guard, tackle or center and experience after playing in three games last season behind a veteran group with one start.

Woodley and Bull both made starts last season at right tackle when Syrus Tuitele was working through an ankle injury, Bull against Hawaii and Woodley at UNLV.

UCLA transfer adds size inside

Akingbulu definitely adds to the Bulldogs’ length inside with a tackle frame. He is listed at 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds and has long arms.

“He adds length and experience, playing multiple positions,” assistant line coach Roman Sapolu said. “We think it ultimately could help him and his versatility.

“But his length helps him – it’s easier for him to get his hands on guys faster. That was the big thought there. He played a little bit at UCLA, so it’s not foreign to him by any means. He actually played right guard at UCLA a little bit so being able to play left and right, the more he can do helps our team a lot.”

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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