Fresno State Football

Fresno State football: Quarterbacks taking to tempo in new offense

Kilton Anderson makes no excuses. All that was on the plate a year ago for the Fresno State Bulldogs’ quarterbacks, from reading this and identifying that, from adjusting and checking and everything else that was required before defensive linemen and linebackers with ill intentions started to give chase – that all was just part of the job description.

“We should be able to do that,” Anderson said. “As quarterbacks, we should be able to handle everything.”

The guy who manned the position a few years earlier obviously was able to do it, but there are reasons Derek Carr was able to succeed so early in the NFL, and his background and base of knowledge certainly are two of them.

But last year’s Bulldogs quarterbacks were mostly first-year players either on the field or in the program. They didn’t handle everything well, and the Bulldogs went 3-9.

The more user-friendly offense that is in installation mode now at the start of spring practices is a welcome change.

The quarterbacks still must make reads and quick decisions and, of course, execute plays, but the load is much lighter. The most significant change: Calling the protections now falls to the center.

“They’re taking a little off our plate, and it allows us to play faster,” Anderson said.

When offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau introduced the new system, there was a pause in the meeting room. Maybe some quizzical looks. Maybe a thought – something’s missing.

“We all just kind of looked at each other and started smiling,” sophomore Chason Virgil said.

With a system designed for speed, the changes could help the Bulldogs’ quarterback attain it. The first day of spring is not particularly revealing, but, for starters, not bad.

“I think for the first day, with brand-new terminology, multiple personnel groups, shifting, motions, I thought they handled Day One stuff really well,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “Now, we have to take care of the ball better and we’re not hitting anybody, but for the way they assimilated Day One stuff, I was impressed with how well they were able to just operate and operate with some confidence.

“There are some pre-snap things that they have to do in a hurry. We’ve limited those things compared to what we asked them to do before, but the whole thing is in hopes of playing fast and playing with confidence. As much as we can take the gray out and make it very clean for them so they can see it, make a decision and go, I think you can play with confidence that way.”

That was lacking a year ago when Zack Greenlee, Virgil, Ford Childress and Anderson all started games due to injury and infective play. Fresno State last season averaged 68.8 plays per game and had a hard time hitting the accelerator, ranking last in the Mountain West in yardage gained on first down. The number of first-down plays that netted a first down also was lowest in the conference.

“That’s not going to happen this year,” Virgil said. “We’re definitely going to be first in plays run. The goal for us, if we can run 90 plays in a game, then we’re going to run 90 plays in a game. Whatever it takes to win. We want to stress the defense and make them get tired. Once we get into the second half, late in the third quarter or the beginning of the fourth quarter, they should be drenched by that point. The defense should not be able to hang around with us.”

QB competition – Virgil, Anderson and Childress will compete through the spring – Virgil on Monday took reps with the ones, Anderson with the twos and Childress with the twos and threes – and incoming freshman Quentin Davis will join the group this summer. Greenlee left the program.

Cornered – The defense had four takeaways during 7 on 7 and team periods Monday, one when cornerback Tyquwan Glass quickly closed and ripped the ball out of the hands of Aaron Peck after a catch.

Nice play, but what is nicer, DeRuyter said, is the playmaking ability and depth at those positions with Glass, Washington State transfer Daquawn Brown, senior Jamal Ellis, junior Malcolm Washington and third-year sophomore Anthoula (Tank) Kelly. Depth has been an issue for several seasons when the Bulldogs were struggling in coverage, ranking last in the Mountain West in allowing 59 explosive pass plays (20 or more yards) in 2013, 10th with 54 in 2014 and ninth with 37 last season.

“Back in that first year with L.J. (Jones) and Sean (Alston), we had the ability, but when they got banged up we haven’t had that ability or depth,” DeRuyter said. “On defense, if you don’t have corners, that can make it tough. Especially on mixed downs, you have to hope that those guys can withstand a lot of one-on-one situations, and I think we have some guys that can. We’ve got some guys there that we feel pretty good about that are going to compete. Anytime you have a whole group like that coming back, you feel good as a coach.”

Winging it – Virgil missed the final nine games after suffering a broken clavicle in the second half of a loss to Utah but has added weight and upper body and arm strength and threw the ball well.

“It’s all a credit to (head trainer Tony Hill) and his staff, and (strength and conditioning coach Joey Boese) as well,” Virgil said. “They definitely helped me get back stronger than what it was before, and now, I don’t see me ever hurting it again. I had a couple of overthrows today. I had a couple of underthrows, too. But it just comes with being a lot stronger, and then it comes with being more comfortable in the system.”

Et cetera – There is not a spring depth chart, and it doesn’t mean much for the first few practices when players are getting their reps. But on the offensive line, coach Mark Weber had from left tackle across fourth-year junior David Patterson, junior Aaron Mitchell, senior Jacob Vazquez, third-year sophomore Micah St. Andrew and redshirt freshman Zack Kinninger.

The No. 2 line was junior Christian Cronk, junior Shane Gama, redshirt freshman Donnie Greene, redshirt freshman Isaiah Trevino and junior Ryan Popolizio.

Cronk, Gama and Popolizio are three of the five mid-year JC recruits. The other two, nose guard Malik Forrester and Mike linebacker Trent Soechting, took reps with the second defense.

▪ The Bulldogs, in helmets and shorts the first two days, will put on full pads for the first time Friday.

▪ The other three takeaways by the defense were interceptions by Soechting, senior free safety Stratton Brown and sophomore outside linebacker James Bailey.

▪ DeRuyter on practice No. 1: “Kind of typical first day after being out for three months. I thought we had great enthusiasm, a great buzz at practice, guys running around. A little sloppy at times, which is understandable, with brand-new systems on offense. I thought our defense did a nice job of getting back to a takeaway mentality – they had four takeaways today. The flip side of that, obviously, is we have to do a much better job offensively taking care of the football. I thought both sides competed, and I think our new coaches are setting a real good direction with their energy and just positive mojo.”

▪ Running back Dontel James is back in the program and looking fit after leaving following an injury-plagued redshirt freshman season in 2014.

“Offseason, I was worked out hard,” he said. “I made a couple of workout videos. I was just grinding. I don’t like being out of shape. That’s one thing I don’t like.”

James is at the front of a position group that includes redshirt freshman Bryson Oglesby, Wesley Hill and Marcus Chambers.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada