Aaron Peck went up and came down with the football in hand, which is what he had done most often throughout the Fresno State Bulldogs’ fall camp. The landing was not out of the ordinary, but he felt a slight twinge, thought nothing of it.
“I thought everything was good,” he said. “I thought it was something that I could just walk off and I told (outside receivers coach Joe Wade) I’d be fine.”
It was not, and on Tuesday, Peck had season-ending surgery to repair a left foot injury while the Bulldogs returned to the practice field with a message in harsh reality delivered and trying to find some answers and stability in the position group that was lost when the only senior in it went down.
“We had a meeting, not necessarily just for the outside receivers group, but for the team that injuries are a part of this game and we have to develop a culture of next guy up,” Coach Tim DeRuyter said.
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“There’s no asterisk on the season because one of your leaders went down. That was the message when we met, and I fully anticipate someone is going to get an opportunity (who) felt they weren’t going to get an opportunity this quick, and we have to coach them up and make sure they take advantage of it.”
We feel bad for Aaron and obviously hope and pray for a speedy recovery, but football goes on.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter
Redshirt sophomore Delvon Hardaway is expected to be cleared to practice the first week of September as he works his way back from a knee injury suffered in spring practice.
But with Peck sidelined, the outside receivers in practice are redshirt freshman KeeSean Johnson, junior Da’Mari Scott, junior college transfer Josiah Blandin, third-year sophomore Darrell Fuery and freshman L.J. Reed along with a group of non-scholarship walk-ons, including Anthony Grayson, Jordan Washington and Chris Pryor.
Only Scott – who returned to the team this summer after seeking a transfer following the 2014 season and was expected to redshirt this season – has caught a pass for the Bulldogs. He had all of eight receptions last season, two as a freshman the year before. Most of the outside receivers are not yet allowed to meet with the media; by team rule, they must first play in a game.
But through all of the question marks that emerged when Peck went down, there was a faint glimmer.
In a live team period, Fuery, who has been inconsistent on the practice field, ran a perfect slant on a third-and-7 play and turned a short pass from freshman quarterback Chason Virgil into a 30-yard gain. Then, on a third-and-7 in that same sequence, Blandin ran a strong route to get open and Virgil put the ball through a good-sized window the receiver had created for a gain of 18.
10 Career receptions for Da’Mari Scott, the most among Fresno State’s healthy outside receivers
Johnson continued to flash, during what was a solid practice for the offense running through situational periods, including 4-minute offense and tempo.
There is, though, a long way to go and no way to accelerate a process that changes practice to practice.
“The thing that happens is, the defense puts in a new install and now that changes your release, that changes who you block, that changes all those things,” offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. “We have to practice them. They have to play. We have to put them in game situations so they can understand what they’re supposed to do. That’s the only way they’re going to do it, by going and getting in there, and we have to be smart with what we’re asking them to do.
“That is minimal in scheme right now, because we have to get better with our physicality, we have to learn how to get lined up – we have to do all those things. We just have to take it slow..”
They have training wheels on right now and eventually we have to take them off.
Fresno State offensive coordinator Dave Schramm
But they will be pushed, and prodded to make up ground over the next week. There is a live scrimmage on Thursday, another, the third and last of fall camp, on Monday.
“They all have to pick up a piece of the flag,” Wade said. “It’s not going to be done by one guy. I think we still have enough outside. We would have been better with Aaron, but I still feel good about the guys that we’ve got. L.J., as a true freshman, is about where you’d think he would be. He still has a long way to go, but there’s a lot of potential there. Josiah Blandin is going to have to step up. But I think they’re up for the challenge. Fuery, he has been encouraging.
“We’ll be all right. We have to be – there’s no other choice. But I like the kids in our room, I think they’re trying to do what I’m asking them to do, and I think over the long range we’ll be fine.”