Fresno State Football

Talent and secondary needs creating opening for Fresno State freshman Mike Bell

Fresno State freshman Mike Bell could be headed to a redshirt season but after a strong fall camp he’s also in the conversation to get on the field in the defensive backfield.
Fresno State freshman Mike Bell could be headed to a redshirt season but after a strong fall camp he’s also in the conversation to get on the field in the defensive backfield. Fresno State Athletics

From the time Mike Bell arrived at Fresno State this summer, he was in the mix at cornerback, which is a reflection of his raw talent and ability as well as a depleted position group coming off a rough season in which a lot of footballs were thrown, and caught, over the Bulldogs defenders’ heads.

The reality: Fresno State allowed 54 pass plays of 20 or more yards and were ranked in a tie for 125th of 128 bowl subdivision teams in yielding 8.8 yards per pass play.

But then Jamal Ellis parlayed a strong spring into an even better fall camp and Charles Washington made it back healthy again after two surgeries to repair a core muscle injury. Malcolm Washington, with an additional 20 or so pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame, became a more physical and confident player. Anthoula (“Tank”) Kelly was in there, competing for playing time in his redshirt freshman season. And the Bulldogs landed Tyquwan Glass late, the transfer from Mt. San Antonio College reporting to fall camp three days in and closing ground quickly in picking up the defense.

Bell had a strong camp as well, but as a true freshman the coaching staff is leaning toward redshirting him. He still is right in the thick of it, though, taking some cross-training at safety, which defensive coordinator Nick Toth believes will help him as his career progresses.

“I have no doubt that he is going to be a great corner here,” he said. “He has all the skills we need to play him at corner. Physically, he needs to keep developing, and with the depth chart right now I don’t know that he is going to play enough meaningful reps there. But, with where our safety thing has been off and on, and how smart he is, we decided to teach him the safety position, try to broaden his knowledge of the secondary a little bit so he has a little bit bigger picture.

“We’ve had a lot of success whenever we’ve cross-trained a guy – Charles Washington, Shannon Edwards, even Derron (Smith) learning the two safety positions. The knowledge level goes way up and whether it’s this year or next year or three years from now, I think he’s going to be better for having gotten some time at safety.”

Bell was unavailable to comment – by team rule, players are not allowed to meet with the media until they have played in a game.

But with the Bulldogs’ scholarship numbers where they are – they have seven corners and six safeties, so one to three players short across both positions – Bell could have an impact at either position in the future. He is a long body at 6-2, and already has 190 pounds on his frame.

“He has some innate Derron Smith- or Phillip Thomas-type qualities when it comes to recognizing plays,” Toth said. “Some of that stuff helps him at corner, but that also can be a really, really, big help at the safety position.

“Were just trying to put him on the field and teach him that stuff and if it looks like he’s going to pass somebody by then great, but if not we’re setting up for success in the future. And, here’s the thing: With what we’re doing with nickel and dime and stuff like that, there comes a point where you need to play another safety there with the twos – and he would be a guy that I would like to watch play. I’d rather not waste reps there on somebody that might not play there, and I feel at least with him I’m watching a guy that’s going to be playing in our secondary someday.”

Season opener

Fresno State vs. Abilene Christian

  • Thursday: 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
  • Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
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  • Of note: The Bulldogs are 17-2 in home games under coach Tim DeRuyter