Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter opens his fourth fall camp looking to rebound from a season in which the Bulldogs won the West Division in the Mountain West Conference, but also were thumped in losses to Power Five opponents USC, Utah and Nebraska at the start of the season and tossed in puzzling clunkers against UNLV and Wyoming.
A lot went into that, the good and the bad, with their inexperience at key positions near the top of the list. The Bulldogs, who open the 2015 season Sept. 3 against Abilene Christian, again will be very young. But this year, more so than last, Fresno State appears to have an ability to improve as the season goes, with better and more consistent quarterback play and more legitimate weapons at skill positions.
DeRuyter said he expects the Bulldogs to be better in October and November than they are in September, and again contend for division and conference championships.
There are a number of questions to address over the next month on the practice field to get there, the elusiveness of those answers a determinant in whether they do or don’t.
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Players report Wednesday, with the first practice Thursday. The quarterback position will be a focus, with redshirt sophomore Zack Greenlee, redshirt freshman Kilton Anderson and freshman Chason Vigil set to compete with summer transfer Ford Childress.
DeRuyter addressed the competition there, as well as what else is directly ahead with The Bee.
Question: With four quarterbacks going into fall camp, what’s best case?
DeRuyter: The best-case scenario is if somebody clearly identifies themselves better than the other guys, and ideally you’d love to see that. You’d love to give a guy two-thirds of the reps and have the next two guys share the other third. I don’t know that will play out. During spring, I thought it was interesting. Each day, one or another guy had a really strong day and the next day we’d come out and do OK. … There wasn’t huge ups and downs, and I thought all three competed right away. None of them really separated themselves other than maybe Zack just having more experience in the system and taking advantage of it a little bit.
After going through last season so unsettled there, do you feel like you have to pick one guy and invest in him, whether completely there or clearly ahead or not?
Well, I thought last year was a little bit of a unique situation in that we really didn’t feel that we had competition, which is why we had to go out and actively seek out and find Brandon (Connette) and then with him getting hurt and him being a very different skill set than Brian (Burrell), it was difficult because you almost had to change an offense depending on who was in.
I don’t see that being the case this year. I have yet to see Ford, but we have three guys, anyways, that can run our full offense. Now, you may emphasize certain things with a different quarterback, but all three can pretty much handle the whole playbook.
Just from a confidence standpoint or feeling settled …
I would feel much better if I knew, ‘Hey, this is our guy going forward.’ In an ideal situation, we’ll get there, but I can’t guarantee that will happen. It has to play itself out.
How much do you think not being settled there last season impacted the offense? Early, it was Brian and Brandon, then Brandon got hurt. But Brian still wasn’t locking it down. Then for the final third of the season it was going to be Zack until that didn’t work out …
I’m sure it probably had some effect. The fact of the matter is not one quarterback could clearly establish himself. We went through the entire year, and thankfully we had Brian, but he’d be the first one to tell you that he turned over the ball too many times. That’s why we needed somebody else to compete with him and we just didn’t have that last year.
Had we selected Brian on Day 1, I don’t know that he would have played any better because I think he gave it his all and I think, even though it was his job, he continued to push and get better it’s just that he wasn’t consistent enough.
I do think on balance, everything else being equal, if you do select one (quarterback) it can, especially if it’s the right one, have a settling factor for that quarterback and probably more so the offense.
Coach Tim DeRuyter
From your perspective, though, did that experience change the way you approach that situation in the future? If you have two or three guys that are close, but not clearly separated, do you decide, OK, this is who we’re going to invest in and just go with it rather than playing two or switching?
That’s a good question. That’s something we’ll consider and it’s something (offensive coordinator Dave Schramm) and I will talk about, because I do think on balance, everything else being equal, if you do select one it can, especially if it’s the right one, have a settling factor for that quarterback and probably more so the offense, where you’re giving more reps to one guy and there’s a de facto, ‘This is our guy.’ But, again, it has to play itself out.
So, you let them go — and see …
We’ll go through the first couple of weeks and we probably need to get at least one scrimmage in and probably two where after that we start getting more live bullets and see, who is the guy who is leading the team, who is the guy making the right decisions and taking care of the football.
The differentiators in there, making the right decisions with the football …
The No. 1 criteria is going to be who is going to make the right decisions and take care of the football, because clearly that was the biggest bugaboo in our offense a year ago, the turnovers. If we have a guy that can make the right decisions and take care of the football and he is head and shoulder ahead of the other three he’s going to play.
Whichever of those four is going to manage that the best is going to be the guy we’re going to go with. We don’t look at our quarterback having to be the playmaker, but if we have one guy who clearly stands out making plays and it’s balanced with decision making then that could be the deciding factor. But all four are going to be told the No. 1 criteria is who is taking care of the football.
The quarterback and, at this point, all the questions, is in the equation obviously. But how much better do you think you can be on offense this season?
Oh, I think we’ve got a lot better skill surrounding our quarterback. I think having Marteze (Waller) back for his senior year, he’s working even harder right now and he seems to be quicker and has even more grit to him as he works. I like when guys are seniors, especially someone with a work ethic of a Marteze. I think our offensive line, having three seniors back is going to help. The other two spots we have to solidify during training camp, but I like the experience we have there and I think in the run game and the throw game give us some leadership, give us some experience that maybe we didn’t have a year ago …
And the skill, inside and outside, there’s a lot more upside with the young players that you have recruited over the past two classes. A guy like Jamire Jordan or Keyan Williams inside, those are tough covers for opposing defenses … that really wasn’t there.
I’m excited about that. I mentioned the other day, I think we’re going to be a much better team in October and November probably than we are in September, because I expect those talented guys to start to figure it out and if they’ll continue to work, which we’re going to demand them to do, we expect them to be better down the stretch.
We’ve got much better speed in total than we did a year ago. And I like the fact that we’ve got the ability to have (more) personnel groupings than we did a year ago. You know, Chad (Olsen) was a freshman playing a year ago. He has had a chance to get bigger. We have a couple of other tight ends, so we can go to multiple tight end sets now. Having Malique Micenheimer, hopefully he can be healthy coming back, so we can get into more two-back stuff. At the end of the year last year, it was all one back and four wides. Chad, while a tight end …
… You never attached him, as I recall.
At 220 pounds or whatever he was last year, it was hard to count on him to be a guy that is knocking people off the ball.
I don’t see that being a problem this season.
No, I think he’s poised to have a really nice year and he’s another guy who is a hard worker and now he has some experience under his belt. I expect him to be much improved.
You lost Josh Harper, but as far as depth at the outside spots I’d think you’re better there, too.
We have some older guys who, as seniors, how are they going to react? I think we’ve got some talented guys coming up that, if they’re not ready, they’re going to take that playing time away from them. We’ve got Josiah (Blandin). We have some younger guys that redshirted. They’re going to get their opportunities. It will probably be a month into the season before Delvon Hardaway is ready to go, but I thought he was poised to start fulfilling that promise and did some things in the spring that got us excited before he got hurt.
Da’Mari Scott, you let him come back after what was a disappointing or maybe frustrating season. What went into that almost transfer and return?
Da’Mari is back and we’ll wait and see with him. Right now, our plan is to redshirt him. But I like how he has worked this summer and we’ll just see.
I don’t know all of the details, but early last semester he talked to me about his mother having some health issues and moving back to Michigan and he wanted to transfer back there to be closer to his family and I understood that. His mother has since passed away. He called me back in May and wanted to know if he could come back. I told him I had to talk to some of our senior leaders and our accountability captains about what they thought about him and the situation and the fact that he had missed all that work. Before I talked to them I talked to him about it and said, ‘Look, Da’Mari, I don’t know that it’s fair to the team to bring you back not having worked, so right now the plan would be to redshirt you because you haven’t redshirted yet. Now, I don’t know, injury-wise, we might have to do something, but the plan right now is to talk to those guys about bringing you back as a redshirt’ and he said, ‘Coach, I’m willing to do anything to come back.’
Like I said, it’s hard to predict the future with Delvon being down. I don’t know if anybody else will get hurt. But right now the plan is to redshirt him.
In his season last year, do you think the off-field had an impact on that?
I think so. I think he was disappointed in how the year went for him. He’s a guy who has always worked hard and he’s kind of a quiet, introverted guy. He probably needed to talk to some coaches about things that he was going through and kind of internalized things and with his mom, I think it helped lead him to think, well, maybe this is for the best.
I like the fact that this summer he has done a great job working. He’s leading a bunch of the drills and even as a redshirt guy he’ll be a guy to push people.
Those positions, the depth is so much better.
We’re getting better there. Again, you want Delvon back. But with Josiah and KeeSean (Johnson), you have (Justin Johnson) and you have Aaron (Peck). We’re starting to get our numbers where you’d like them to be. Then inside, I liked what Jamire and Keyan, both those guys, had really good springs. Jamire, with his speed, can be a difference maker. There’s just a lot different skill set than we had there a year ago.
You mentioned Chad and not attaching him to the line, but at those inside spots you didn’t have that crazy-tough matchup for a defense, either.
No. The reality of it was last year everybody knew that they could double Josh and match up with the other guys and not have a lot to worry about. We have to get it to a situation where they have to be worried about doubling just one guy and I think we’re getting closer to that.
When you look back at it, as opposed to looking at it before the season, it’s easy to see that offense struggle.
It was a multitude of things. You’re breaking in a new quarterback. The first time you go out there as a quarterback, it’s never like 7 on 7. It takes some time. We didn’t have a bunch of guys that could separate and demand double coverage and so, yeah, it made it difficult.
With Josiah, what do you anticipate you’ll see from him? I know he’s 6-foot-4 and all, but with the arms and the legs, he has got some length to him …
He has a chance to come in and compete for a starting job right away. Athletically, he’s a long, good-looking target that will make a quarterback happy because he doesn’t have to throw it with pinpoint accuracy. He can go up and get it. … He’s a basketball guy that is used to competing for balls. Obviously, he’d be an outside receiver for us and compete with Aaron (Peck) and KeeSean (Johnson), Delvon when he gets back.
From that standpoint, you have to feel a lot better. It sounds a little dumb, having won two conference championships and a division title in three years, but it’s a big year. It’s hard to shake that, given the expectations going into last season …
I think every year is a big year. It’s not the National Football League, but people are pretty demanding year to year to year and I like that. That’s the good part about our business. We expect to compete for conference championships. We shouldn’t talk about, ‘This is going to be a down year ….’ That’s just not where our program should be. There are factors for why we’re not picked at the top of the conference, but I don’t think we’re that far away. We’re poised to compete for it.
Overall with the program, how close do you feel? The roster issues that you inherited really showed last season … I still find it mind-boggling that most of your seniors were players that you had recruited, considering you had only three or really 2 1/2 recruiting classes …
You’re going to lose some guys. Attrition happens everywhere. When you have attrition at one position sometimes it’s difficult and so you have to manage it. That’s why I think you have to, whether you take junior college or other university transfers, augment your roster and if you have a chance to upgrade a position, if you find a guy that’s going to be a difference maker, you go ahead and sign that guy.
I don’t know that you’re ever comfortable at this level. Finding good corners, defensive linemen and offensive linemen and probably the keys, and obviously quarterback. Those positions make the differences between which teams are at the top of the league and which teams are not at the top.
That’s what I mean, all of the places that you don’t want to be short … you have been short.
That’s why everybody is looking for them. I like where we’re getting to, but we’re still going to be a little thin at some of those spots. I think we signed a really good offensive line class the last two years. But those guys are going to be young … it takes time to get those guys to where they’re up to speed.
Do you look at it as, OK, now 90% of these players are ones that we recruited … pressure’s on?
I guess when people ask me I look at it that way, but I really don’t. I just look at it in the sense of, where are we at? Whether they were recruited by the last staff or our staff, who are the guys that are ready to play right now? Who are the guys that are still a year or two away? At this position or that position, do we need to be bringing in an older guy next year? Or, can we go ahead and bring in a younger guy knowing that the guys that we have recruited and are developing are at a level that we can compete for a championship. I don’t look at it as old guys and new guys, not at all.
I don’t know if there’s more pressure to it. There’s pressure when you’re picked to win the league with what you have. It’s different. It gives somebody else a story line to say, ‘If they don’t (win), this is something I can criticize them on.’ But it is what it is.
The other side of the ball, keep the ball from going over your head like it has the past two years …
That’s the big thing. If we can keep the ball in front of us, we’re going to have a much better chance to play good defense. At times I liked what we did. I thought our guys most of the time went out and recruited real well. But there’s a fanaticism that you have to play with on defense and when the ball gets thrown over your head it can get deflated in a hurry when 10 guys work their tail off and look up and say, ‘Are you kidding me?’ just like our fans did. I think when you bring guys back with some experience, hopefully that will get cleaned up.
Talking to (defensive coordinator Nick Toth), he felt that fanatical part of the equation waned …
Again, I think there are reasons why that waned. To me, the primary reason is when you give up big plays. Another factor, and you can’t use this as an excuse, but it’s a factor especially with young players, when you turn the ball over with eight picks two years ago and then turn it over 21 times, when you have to go back out there after a turnover the natural reaction, especially with young players, is ‘Oh …’ and you slump your shoulders and think, ‘What happened?’ With veteran guys, they go out there and it’s ‘Hey, let’s go get it back’ and it takes time to develop that attitude.
Where do you think you are with that development? You still have a lot of young players on that side of the ball, are going to be breaking a lot of players at a lot of positions …
We do, but I do think we’re getting better at it. We’ve got guys that didn’t just get here in the summer out of high school and are having to play like we did a year ago. Hopefully, we’re at a point now where guys understand that adversity happens in football. We preach it all the time. Now we’re able to show guys, ‘Hey, look, that adversity we talked about, we didn’t respond well. Let’s grow up. Let’s figure this out so when this does happen it’s, ‘Hey, we’ve been there, let’s go.’
Who do you look to on that side to keep that going? Last year, Derron (Smith) was there, Tyeler Davison was there, Karl (Mickelsen) was there …
I think Kyrie Wilson is poised to have a really good year. But he’s a guy, a little like Marteze, where he’s going to do it and he’s going to work his tail off. He just is not a very vocal guy. I think Charles (Washington) can be, but he has been in the shadow a little bit of Derron, so it was, ‘OK, I’m going to let Derron take over’ and having not gone through spring ball because of the surgery, one of the things that I’m going to talk to him about is, ‘Hey, this is your back end.’ And I think Shannon Edwards is a guy who I think is ready to play his best football. He did some good things in the spring to have a decent year. Those two guys on the back end, and a guy like Ejiro (Ederaine), who last year was hurt and it’s hard to have that swagger when you don’t have a shoulder on either side, but he’s a vocal guy who I think can do it. I think Todd Hunt does a good job — he’s not an extremely vocal guy — just being a solid, steady guy. I think you need to have older guys in each segment that kind of carry the rest of those guys.
How different do you think Ejiro is going to be when he can actually use his arms?
I would hope that it’s going to be better. At that position (outside linebacker), especially with his skill set, you’ve got to be loose and flexible and able to dip. ... I don’t know how he did that with two bad shoulders like he had. It was a tough situation.
Where will Ejiro be physically at the start of camp?
I have to talk to (trainer Tony Hill), but during the summer he has been doing our workouts. We’ll probably not have him full contact until a little into camp. He should be ready to go full for the first game, but we’ll probably ease him into things.
DeShawn Potts, he was having a pretty good spring before he hurt his foot. When will you have him back on the field?
Same deal. During camp he’ll be ready, we’re just not sure when. He’s going to be a good football player. He’s a guy who really would have benefited from a full spring but he has worked hard to get back. It’s going to be hampered little bit just because he’s not going to get the reps early. But he’s a former high school quarterback as well as a defensive back, so he’s a guy who gets big picture a little like Derron. With safeties, I love those kind of guys who get football and see it in the big picture and not just in a little vacuum like some guys.
14/11 starters returning/lost (offense 6/5, defense 5/6, special teams 3/0)
Special teams, you’re pretty set there.
I feel pretty good. I really like our punter, Garrett Swanson. He’s a guy who earned a scholarship and gets it. He was selected as a captain by his teammates. I think (Andrew) Shapiro a couple of years ago set that standard and he and Dylan Detwiler kind of understood that, ‘Hey, we’re specialists, but we’re part of this football team. We’re doing everything that everyone else is doing.’ They’ve taken that mantra and run with it.
Dylan, he’s a great kid. He covers kicks. The thing I like about him, we picked him as one of the accountability team captains, and if guys are screwing up he jumps their butts. How many guys who are former walk-ons and are specialists would do that? But he has the respect of everybody on our team because he will kick guy’s behinds.
Having Kody (Kroening) back, he’s a guy we’d like him to get his leg stronger, but pressed into action after that first month, he was a fairly serviceable guy for us. He’s going to start camp as the No. 1 guy. Having Jimmy Camacho in, I think we’re going to have good competition there.
Do you change up anything with the way you run camp?
Each year you change up a little bit just so the older guys don’t think it’s stale. But, shoot, I think we only have three or four two-a-days, the way it works now. The first five days are acclimatization days — so you go two days no pads at all, just helmets; two days shorts, shoulder pads and helmets; the fifth day you can go full pads; the sixth day is your first two-a-day; seventh day can only be a one-a-day; so then you go every other day and we go into school.
Now, the way we structure it, when we practice in the morning, come back in the afternoon and three days a week we’ll lift and meet. The rest of the time we’re just meeting. Then we come back at night and we do an install and then we go out and do a walk-through for an hour. That walk-through for an hour at night is almost as good as a practice. Mentally you’re picking things up and guys are running your stuff. You’re not physically getting beat up. If they were to ever come back and say you can’t do a two-a-day, as long as they give us walk-throughs I wouldn’t be too upset. The second practice, it’s good for conditioning. It’s good for a little bit of a mental gut check to grind through it.
I did notice that those trees by the pond there have been cut down, which was pretty much the only shade …
Yeah, I saw that the other day. I don’t know what they were thinking … but I’ll tell the guys I had them cut down. There’s too much shade.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
- Tuesday: Coach Tim DeRuyter’s fall camp news conference
- Wednesday: Players report
- Thursday: First practice of fall camp
- Aug. 13: Open scrimmage
- Sept. 3: Season opener at 7 p.m. vs. Abilene Christian at Bulldog Stadium