Fresno State quarterback Zack Greenlee might have thrown six touchdown passes last week in the Bulldogs’ victory at Hawaii, but he got a reminder Tuesday that competing for and holding onto that job is an everyday deal. While going through much of the heavy lifting with their game plan in preparation for BYU, Chason Virgil and Ford Childress both took turns in an individual drill.
They were not dressed out for the practice in full pads, but made some throws. Though not at high velocity, they were positive forward steps for the quarterbacks, who are out for the season – Virgil with a broken clavicle suffered in his start in a Week 3 loss to Utah and Childress with an internal injury that required surgery the following week in a loss at San Jose State.
Both are expected to be ready to go by the start of spring practices.
298Passing yards for Chason Virgil in three games this season, hitting 31 of 56 passes for three touchdowns with three interceptions
“Ford has been cleared for all activities except for football contact, so he has been conditioning, is back into lifting and progressing so we can get him ready for January,” said Tony Hill, the head football trainer. “He has made a full recovery, had no complications after surgery and he’s just working on gaining weight. He lost about 12 pounds from the injury and he has gained about eight of that back.
“Chason has been released out of the sling and he has been working the past couple of weeks on strengthening the shoulder, but now we’re going to change that, get it a little more functional. Unfortunately, it’s not going to work out with trying to get back on the game field this year, but he will be fully ready to go for January as well.”
159Passing yards for Ford Childress in two games this season, hitting 19 of 34 passes for two touchdowns with two interceptions
For Virgil, it is an important step. The freshman had taken over the starting job after a solid second half in a loss at Ole Miss, hitting on 12 of 18 passes for 140 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, the 66.7 completion percentage in that game a high for any Bulldogs quarterback this season attempting more than five passes. And the offseason strength and conditioning program headed into the spring, injury or not, was seen as critical for him and his physical development.
“He has lost some of the weight that he had gained here, he has to get that back,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “I’m sure getting back into lifting, getting into the nutrition program, he’ll get that weight back and this spring will be big for him. Having a couple of games (this season) was good, but we have to make strides there and let them go compete again.”
Virgil, who weighed about 170 pounds when he signed a national letter of intent with Fresno State in February and got up to about 185 this season, is hoping to be around 195 in the spring.
Whether or not he gets there, he will be well ahead in spring with the offense.
“The game time is good – I got some playing experience,” Virgil said. “Now, I’m able to get mental reps and talk to (offensive coordinator Dave Schramm), pick his brain, see what he’s thinking about certain situations. There are a lot of pros to being able to just sit back and listen to everything and not play.
“Obviously, playing, you’d be able to get more comfortable and get a lot quicker with it, but now, being able to relax and actually watch the film, not have to worry about playing, but sitting back and watching it and having more time to talk to Coach Schramm about things, I definitely got a lot of out this year.”
Former Bullard standout measuring up – Fresno State has three senior running backs in Marteze Waller, Malique Micenheimer and Dustin Garrison, which sets up an interesting competition when the Bulldogs start spring practices between freshmen Wesley Hill, Bryson Oglesby as well as Dejonte O’Neal, the diminutive back from Bullard High who is the only one of the three young backs playing this season.
Hill is taking a redshirt and Oglesby is taking an academic redshirt as a partial qualifier – if he passes 12 units with a grade-point average of 2.5 or higher in this fall semester he can participate in spring practices, and all indications to this point is that he is on track to do that.
O’Neal, a non-scholarship walk-on, is doing what he can to make sure that he is part of that competition.
“I’m confident that I can play at this level,” he said.
The question, obviously, is his size. At 5-foot-7, O’Neal is the same height as Robbie Rouse, who is Fresno State’s leading rusher with 4,647 career yards. But Rouse played at 190 pounds in his senior season and O’Neal is listed at 166 pounds, but a bit heavier right now.
Former Bullard High standout running back Dejonte O’Neal joined the Bulldogs in spring 2015 as a walk-on.
“We have to work on his lower half,” DeRuyter said. “He has done a great job working in the weight room, but we have to get some bulk on him. He has Robbie’s size up top; they’re the same height. But Robbie had a good lower half and we have to develop that with Dejonte.”
Rouse in 2012 carried the football 282 times, which was 78.3 percent of the plays by Bulldogs running backs and tied for the 10th most in the country.
There will be a lot more competition for those carries next season.
“All I’m doing,” O’Neal said, “is I have three great senior running backs in front of me. I listen to every single detail from them. It’s great for me, to get this level of experience and maturity, because it’s maturing me faster. Marteze is a great running back. Malique Micenheimer is a great running back. Dustin is a great running back. And Coach (Ron) Antoine is a great coach, as well.
“When we’re breaking down film, I pay attention very well and I listen to what they’re saying and I go in there and try to execute it just like they taught it to me and I try to do it to the best of my ability, just like them, just the way they did it.”
Et cetera – The Bulldogs were on the practice field for about two hours Tuesday, the session including a rookie ball period for players who are redshirting and on scout teams. “It was good,” DeRuyter said. “Guys had some life about them. I think coming off the win, it always gives you a little extra juice. Our guys know that when we execute, we can be a pretty good football team – and you want to finish the right way and that’s our challenge for our guys.”
▪ Senior outside linebacker Ejiro Ederaine not only is pursuing the Mountain West record for career tackles for loss in the final two games of the season, he has a chance to be the first Bulldogs player with 100 or more tackles in a season since Ben Jacobs in 2009. With 43.0 tackles for loss, Ederaine is four from the conference record held by San Diego State linebacker Miles Burriss, and with 86 tackles he is 16 away from reaching 100 this season.
▪ Jacobs had 106 total tackles in 2009. Since then, Jacobs led Fresno State with 87 in 2010, Travis Brown led with 85 in 2011, Phillip Thomas led with 84 in 2012 and Karl Mickelsen led with 95 in 2013 and again with 96 in 2014.
▪ Fresno State has played to a significant deficit in time of possession this season, but in the victory at Hawaii the Bulldogs held the football for 37:13. It was the first time they have held possession for more than 37 minutes since a 24-21 victory at Hawaii in 2011 when it had the ball for 38:15.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT BYU
- Saturday: Noon at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah
- Records: Bulldogs 3-7, Cougars 7-3
- TV: ESPN3 or BYUtv (Dish Network channels 63, 470)
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)