Fresno State wrapped up its spring practices Saturday, dodging trouble when starting left guard Aaron Mitchell went down with what appeared to be a knee injury on the first play from scrimmage only to return, as the Bulldogs finished five weeks of work relatively healthy.
The on-field effort went well through the spring, including the last of three scrimmages. Coach Tim DeRuyter had his defense keep the blitzes under wraps Saturday morning, allowing the quarterbacks and the rest of the offense more chances to make plays.
Chason Virgil, taking reps with the No. 1 offense, hit on 13 of 22 passes for 112 yards with one touchdown and one interception, a nice play by inside linebacker George Helmuth dropping into coverage. Virgil excelled on third down, converting his first five and 7 of 10. Ford Childress was 6 of 12 for 65 yards.
Running back Dontel James rushed for 70 yards and one touchdown on 12 plays. Aaron Peck caught four passes for 57 yards and the touchdown from Virgil, from 23 yards out, working his way open along the back of the end zone as Virgil scrambled to his left.
Offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, installing a more multiple offense this spring, said that he got everything that he wanted in. The defense, with new coordinator Lorenzo Ward simplifying scheme and tweaking technique, played much faster throughout the spring. No question, also, that there was a different vibe to the 15 practices, with Kiesau and Ward in place along with new coaches Joe Bernardi working with the tight ends, Burl Toler III with the receivers, Mark Weber with the offensive line and Dave Ungerer with the running backs.
“I really like where we are there,” DeRuyter said.
The Bulldogs will get a discretionary week with no mandatory workouts or meetings, then on April 11 start a five-week strength program focused on power and speed through the end of the academic year.
When they reconvene in June after a short break, they will offer a hint to their prospects in 2016 that will be as telling as anything that happened on the field this spring.
I think the (player-run practices) in the summer are going to show how bad we want to win a championship and how bad we want to go to a bowl game. I’m looking forward to it.
Fresno State QB Chason Virgil on players taking ownership of workouts outside the coaching staff’s presence
Last year’s summer and player-run practices, when the coaching staff is not allowed to be on the field or even to watch, were well short of optimal and it showed during a 3-9 season. Those workouts usually are led by quarterbacks and the Bulldogs’ most experienced there was Zack Greenlee, a redshirt sophomore with just three games, 41 passes and a low passer efficiency rating (95.59) on his résumé.
Childress had just stepped onto campus, transferring from West Virginia. Kilton Anderson was a redshirt freshman and Virgil, who had graduated from high school early to enroll at Fresno State and participate in spring practices, had just a few months of college in him at that time.
“We kind of didn’t know what we were doing,” Virgil said. “Nobody wanted to take the lead and we didn’t hold each other accountable enough and I think that showed when we got into the season.”
Peck, a fifth-year senior, went through two summers with Derek Carr leading those PRPs and there was a much different tenor to the work.
“He definitely took command,” he said. “You knew that Derek would be on you if you didn’t come out or didn’t work hard.”
That, both said, again has to be the approach and they are confident it will happen.
“We all have to push each other,” Virgil said. “We all have to hold each other accountable. I think the PRPs in the summer are going to show how bad we want to win a championship and how bad we want to go to a bowl game. I’m looking forward to it.
“I think this year it’s going to go a lot differently. You’re going to see guys actually be leaders and hold guys accountable and it’ll pay off for us. We know what’s at stake. We know what we’re trying to do in the season and I think the difference is we’re actually going to put in the work this year.”
It’s going to be really important that Chason and the offense develop timing and they need to see him as a leader, but I also like the progress that Ford made.
Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter on the starting QB duel among Chason Virgil, Ford Childress and Kilton Anderson
Virgil is a step ahead of Childress and Anderson coming out of the spring, but all three will be charged with leading through those summer months into fall camp.
“It’s going to be really important that Chason and the offense develop timing and they need to see him as a leader, but I also like the progress that Ford made,” DeRuyter said. “He’s going to also keep battling to show that he can be a leader as well. Kilton is a little behind those two guys, but he can’t take a back seat. He has to continue to progress.
“He and the quarterbacks are going to have to take the lead in that. Coach Kiesau has a great plan for these guys. One of the reasons I hired him was his understanding of how they did things at Alabama and the process and he’s going to take the lead on what he wants from the offense. Everyone has different philosophies on things and he’s going to have a very structured program for our guys, that this is what we have to get done before we show up in August.”
More on QB competition – DeRuyter said they will not put together a post-spring depth chart, but at the quarterback position, the competition will continue through the summer and into fall camp.
Kiesau: “Chason has done a great job. I think he has progressed really well through the spring, but he hasn’t separated himself enough yet. In fairness to him, I have to watch (Saturday)’s film and really look at the whole body of work through spring and put all the information together before we make any decisions. My gut feeling, though, is that we still have some time. We have some young quarterbacks coming into fall camp and I want to give them an opportunity to compete for the job. I think when you have a level of competition it makes everybody better. We’ll keep going and I’ll let these guys compete.
My gut feeling is that we still have some time. We have some young quarterbacks coming into fall camp and I want to give them an opportunity to compete for the job.
first-year offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau on the QB battle
“You continue to develop the whole group. The other guy that I keep mentioning is Ford. Ford has done a really good job. He has probably made the biggest jump from Day One to Day 15 throughout all spring. He has probably made the most improvement at the quarterback position. Chason is a good player and he has gotten better, but from where Ford started to where he is now he’s doing a really good job. I’m really fired up about his progress and then like I said, we have a couple of guys coming in fall camp and we’ll look at all of them. We’ll let them all get out there and compete and see who can command the offense and run the offense and put us in position to win games and be successful.”
Injury updates – The Bulldogs had some players out before the spring started and lost some to injury during the 15 practices, but only running back Bryson Oglesby, who suffered a knee injury and had surgery the second week, is expected to be impacted at the start of fall camp.
Cornerback Tyquwan Glass, who suffered a knee sprain, is expected back by June. Defensive end Kyle Hendrickson, who spent the spring rehabbing a knee injury suffered in the final game of the 2015 season, also is expected back then.
Inside (Will) linebacker Jeff Camilli, who did not participate in the spring due to a lower leg injury, is out of the boot and expected to be ready to participate in the next phase or workouts. Wideout Delvon Hardaway, who suffered high ankle sprain this week, is expected to be limited over the next four to six weeks but back in workouts this summer.
Running back Wesley Hill, who suffered a knee injury, is expected back toward the beginning of fall camp.
Et cetera – The Bulldogs’ defense had the one takeaway on the interception by Helmuth. But by playing more man outside and simplifying schemes, they are hoping to reverse a troubling turnover trend.
Fresno State in 2012 was fifth in the nation with 35 turnovers (22 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries), but dropped to 23 in 2013 and 20 in ’14 and ’15.
We want to attack people. That’s what we’re going to do next season.
new defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward on his philosophy
“We want to attack people,” Ward said. “That’s what we’re going to do next season. I feel like with the group of guys we’ve got we have a chance. I feel like we have right now 15 to 18 guys that we can count on. We have to get some more that we can count on to help us next season because you never know with injuries. But I think guys like the things that we did this spring because we blitzed a lot. We didn’t do it in the spring game, but that’s what we’re going to be. We’re going to attack people.”
▪ The stats from Saturday …
Passing: Virgil, 13 of 22 for 112 yards with one touchdown and one interception; Childress, 6 of 12 for 65 yards; Anderson, 2 of 4 for 16 yards.
Rushing: James, 12 for 70 with one touchdown; Dejonte O’Neal, 5 for 39 yards; Marcus Chambers, 4 for 16 yards; Treyvon Green, 11 for 35 yards; KeeSean Johnson, 1 for 1 yard; Childress, 1 for 1 yard and one touchdown; Anderson, 4 for minus-9 yards; Virgil, 7 for 18 yards and one touchdown.
Receiving: Peck, 4 for 57 yards and one touchdown; Johnson, 4 for 26 yards; Frank Dalena, 2 for 24 yards; Da’Mari Scott, 1 for 8 yards; Chad Olsen, 1 for 20 yards; Jared Rice, 1 for minus-1 yard; Michael Martens, 1 for 12 yards; O’Neal, 2 for 2 yards; Justin Allen, 2 for 28 yards; Chambers, 1 for 10 yards; Green, 1 for 3 yards; Jordan Washington, 1 for 4 yards.
Tackles for loss: Mason Bradley, DeShawn Potts, Wyatt McBee, Stephen Van Hook.
Pass breakups: Malcolm Washington, Mike Bell, Tobenna Okeke, McBee, Anthoula Kelly.
Sacks: Okeke, Jasad Haynes, Van Hook.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada