Fresno State is taking a conservative approach bringing back starting center Bo Bonnheim from a hamstring strain, which makes a lot of sense. It’ll be much better to have the senior with 21 consecutive starts a full-go, fit and healthy, for the Sept. 3 opener against Abilene Christian than push and risk re-tweaking that hamstring just so he can play in the second or third scrimmage of fall camp in the middle of August.
But that also has fueled a bonus for the Bulldogs and offensive line coach Cameron Norcross, who is trying to separate three well-qualified combatants into two starting spots at guard.
Jacob Vazquez has been working at center with the No. 1 offense while Bonnheim has been out, allowing Norcross to evaluate Vazquez and guards Aaron Mitchell and Micah St. Andrew where it counts on every rep the ones take, rather than rotating the three of them through the two guard positions.
“I know that (Vazquez) knows how to play guard. I know he knows what he’s doing, that he knows his assignments,” Norcross said. “There are some fundamental things at guard, but the thing I want to see from him, is he playing hard and is he playing physical? He can still win the guard spot by playing his tail off at center. It’s about being able to count on him.”
It is about being able to count on Mitchell and St. Andrew as well, and the early reviews in fall camp have been positive on all fronts. After watching film of the first scrimmage of fall camp, the Bulldogs’ coaches liked what they saw from all three players.
Mitchell and St. Andrew are likely to start the season at left and right guard, but Vazquez has worked his way into becoming a valuable piece to the puzzle.
“For Jacob to contribute this year, he’s not going to be just a right guard,” Norcross said. “He’s going to have to be able to play left guard, and he’s going to have to be able to play center. As it stands today, he’s probably the fourth guy in that middle three, but by the end of it he might be the second guy. He is proving himself really valuable right now and I’m really glad he’s here.”
Bonnheim is one to count on
Bonnheim has started to do some drill work, and will mix in some team reps here and there. But he already has answered the requisite questions and checked the nasty box on the résumé.
“He cuts everyone,” Norcross said. “He’d cut his grandmother at Christmas dinner if she got in the way in the buffet line. That’s just his mentality on the football field, and that’s a great deal when you have a guy that will throw his body around and not care, and is smart enough to be able to set all of our protections, set all of our run game and do all of that. I know I can count on that guy.”
Coordinators concerned about consistency
Offensive coordinator Dave Schramm and defensive coordinator Nick Toth both came away concerned with some inconsistent play after reviewing film of the first live scrimmage in camp, much of it from twos and threes.
“We just have to be more consistent,” Schramm said. “I was pleased we handled the cadence. We didn’t have too many procedural penalties, which is always good. We had some alignment issues that we have to get fixed, typical things that show up on the first day of scrimmages.”
There is a lot of tape to learn from, Schramm said, and work for the young inside and outside receivers’ groups that flashed potential in spots throughout the scrimmage.
“Inconsistent,” Schramm said. “Nothing too horrible. We have to block better. That has to continue to be a point of emphasis and it showed up again (Thursday) night. They’re young and they’re not sure, and it’s different when it’s game speed than it is at practice speed. They have to figure that out. Lining up right, a lot of times, is going to dictate you’re not going to run the right route, you’re not going to be in the right spot that we practiced because you’re lined up too tight or too wide, whatever it might be. The quarterbacks have to handle that, too. The quarterback has to understand that, hey, if that guy is not lined up right you better get him lined up right before you get the ball snapped.
“I thought in our tempos at times we were so concerned about going fast that we weren’t poised enough to make the little adjustments that we need to make when you see the defense.”
Defensively, Toth was irked by the first series of the scrimmage when the No. 1 defense allowed the No. 1 offense and Zack Greenlee to convert three third-down plays into first downs, the last turning into a 50-yard touchdown scramble by the redshirt sophomore quarterback.
But Toth also was pleased by the response after it.
“I’m really pleased with our first 16 players. Our next 16 have a lot of growing to do,” Toth said. “I was happy with the way we responded, but we should have been off the field on that first third down. We had a third and 3 and missed a play two yards deep in the backfield and we have to make it. Then we get them in a third and 9 and we blow a blitz, we misfit it, we don’t contain to the boundary. So we get them to third and 9 again and really it’s not a good call, it’s not a third-down call I made. But we still should be able to get him down and it goes for 50 yards.
“The first series was frustrating because we had some chances to make some plays and we blew some assignments. The thing I liked was that the next six series in a row, I don’t think they had a first down. There were a lot of sacks, some takeaways. We were around that quarterback a lot.”
If there was a concern coming out of the scrimmage, it was with some of the younger players.
“You saw some big eyes, and that’s what I didn’t like from our twos,” Toth said. “We have a couple of freshmen and sophomores that are in that two group and they got in that stadium last night and there were people there and their eyes got really big. It wasn’t like practice any more. It was a game, and they reached a little bit. We have to grow up a little bit with those young guys, with our twos. I feel really good about our first 16, but I need our first 22, so we still have to grow a little bit.”
▪ The Bulldogs practiced for about two hours on Friday morning, ending with a team period and the offense trying to work its way out from the 1-yard line. Greenlee, who had a solid scrimmage working against the Bulldogs’ blitzes, took the first series with the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense and again showed some poise when his play broke down. On the first snap, Greenlee lost the first read when it was taken away rather forcefully by outside linebacker Ejiro Ederaine. But Greenlee stayed in the play and worked his way back to his second option, hitting redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Riddering for a 20-plus-yard gain and a first down.
▪ The four quarterbacks – Greenlee, redshirt freshman Kilton Anderson, freshman Chason Virgil and junior transfer Ford Childress – split reps evenly when the Bulldogs were in 7-on-7 periods.
▪ Virgil took the second run in that last team period and he also helped generate a first down. After a sketchy play on first down where Virgil was almost sacked in the end zone, running back Dustin Garrison picked up 2 yards and then busted through the defensive front for a big gain off a one-read fake by the freshman quarterback.
▪ Mike linebacker Kyrie Wilson was excused from the practice to attend a wedding, with freshman Nela Otukolo taking his place with the No. 1 defense.
▪ Cornerbacks Charles Washington and Malcolm Washington remain out with lower body injuries, which obviously hurts an already thin position group. Charles Washington is the only senior in the group, and just when it appeared the Bulldogs had worked past some inherited depth issues … uh, no, they haven’t. “It’s football,” DeRuyter said. “Guys are going to get injured, there is always the unexpected and that’s why you have to have depth and when someone is out you have to do a good job developing those younger guys for their opportunities.”
▪ Junior Jamal Ellis has had a strong camp at one cornerback spot, and freshman Mike Bell, redshirt freshman Anthoula (“Tank”) Kelly and junior college transfer Tyquwan Glass have been getting a lot of extra reps at corner.
▪ Ellis, Toth said, had one of the better scrimmages on the defensive side of the ball. “He played really well,” Toth said. “Jamal Ellis made a great open-field tackle, did a really good job in man. He got beat on a heck of a catch in the end zone (by Da’Mari Scott), but competed his butt off. The kid made a good play, but fundamentally and technically, he was there.” Toth also singled out Wilson at Mike, defensive ends Todd Hunt and Claudell Louis, nose guard Nate Madsen and outside linebackers Ederaine and James Bailey.
▪ Senior wide receiver Aaron Peck continued to have a strong fall camp, making a contested catch in a red zone team period over the freshman Bell for a 14-yard touchdown.
▪ Running back Marteze Waller, the Bulldogs’ leading rusher a year ago with 1,368 yards and 11 touchdowns, was held out of the scrimmage to guard against injury and has been held out of the live periods in practice. He has been in during team periods when the Bulldogs play to a thud, but, no surprise, he would prefer to be on the field all the time. “To tell you the truth, I’d rather be live because you get the feeling of it,” he said.