Fall camp is considerably different this time for Fresno State cornerback Jamal Ellis.
Five years in and prepping for his final season of college football, he is trusting that gut feeling more and more. It’s understanding and intuition, not indigestion from the leftovers that were in the fridge for maybe a day or two too long, With the Bulldogs in their second week of fall camp, that mindset is helping to keep his part of the field pretty quiet in practice when they are in 7-on-7 and team periods.
The reps banked from the past are helping Ellis play faster and with more confidence. Along with senior Tyquwan Glass, the cornerback position quickly is turning into one of the deepest on the team, which obviously has not been the case for a while.
Just three years ago, Curtis Riley showed up one day before the Bulldogs opened fall camp and within a handful of practices was running with the No. 1 defense.
“I have all this knowledge from being here so long and I’m putting it to use,” Ellis said. “Having that kind of veteran feel out here, things are a lot easier, so I’m trying to apply that.
The Bulldogs’ allowed an average of 254.0 passing yards in their first four games last seeason and 190.3 in their last eight with Jamal Ellis and Tyquwan Glass starting at cornerback.
“When I was in my younger days in my freshman, sophomore, junior years, you do it a couple of times, like, five out of 10 times you trust your gut and you feel good. But there still are those times where you feel like you might still be wrong. Basically, it’s having that quick reaction time. None of that slow thinking, for lack of a better word, but just that quick reaction. When I see it, just go get it. Don’t second-guess it and go and make a play.”
Catching a ball in Ellis’ vicinity, meanwhile, is taking some doing. Sophomore wideout KeeSean Johnson had one Wednesday, coming down with a high and hotly contested catch in an early practice period. Ellis used just about everything he had to try to knock the ball away before they returned to the ground. He didn’t get it out and moved on.
“Man, yeah, good play …,” Ellis said.
He has been a very workmanlike, steady guy at the corner and you’ll take that most of the time.
Coach Tim DeRuyter, on Jamal Ellis
“I think he’s starting to step up like a senior should,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “The thing about those young guys, they flash, but unfortunately, they flash the other way, too.
“They’re not as dialed in play by play. Jamal has gotten much more consistent. Right now he’s playing his most consistent ball. You’d love to see him flash a little more, make some interceptions like those young guys are, but he has been a very workmanlike, steady guy at the corner, and you’ll take that most of the time if you can feel good about a guy holding down his end.”
Speed snaps – The Bulldogs continue to develop a No. 2 center, with No. 1 left guard Aaron Mitchell in the mix with redshirt freshman Zack Kinninger and now redshirt freshman Jaleel Carter, who started camp as a nose guard. It is a work in progress. All three had issues snapping the football Wednesday and it didn’t matter if the quarterback was under center or in the shotgun.
There were some poor snaps, most in a tempo period at the end of practice.
As we’ve upped the tempo and guys are huffing and puffing, we don’t have as much experience in there and we’re experimenting with different guys. That’s taking its toll.
Coach Tim DeRuyter on issues with center snaps Wednesday
“I think when we’re going at a normal tempo and you’ve got new guys doing it, they’re OK,” DeRuyter said. “As we’ve upped the tempo and guys are huffing and puffing, we don’t have as much experience in there and we’re experimenting with different guys. That’s taking its toll.
“We’ve got to obviously get better and it’s going to be a point of emphasis. But I know (offensive-line coach Mark Weber) can find the right guys to do it.”
At this early juncture in camp, it is not as simple as just picking a No. 2. The Bulldogs are looking to lock in a top five and a top eight, and a move with a No. 2 center likely would include a corresponding move on the offensive line.
“We’re at practice No. 8. We get 29 of them, so we’ve still probably got another week before we need to settle in on somebody there,” DeRuyter said.
Et cetera – Treyvon Green started fall camp as a slot receiver, and though he was moved to running back when freshman Justin Rice went down with a fractured foot, he continued to wear a receiver’s number –84. The Bulldogs finally made the switch for the second of two-a-day practices Tuesday and he is now wearing No. 29. But in either jersey, he has been making some plays, giving the Bulldogs some flexibility with backs who also can thrive as slot receivers on the roster.
“He’s explosive and he has good vision,” DeRuyter said. “Similar to Dejonte (O’Neal), he’s a guy we projected body-type wise as a slot, but because of our injuries at the running back position, in order to get him on the field and get him reps, we slid him in there. He has flashed in his opportunities, so he gives the coaches a chance to want to give him more reps to see what he can do.”
▪ Offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, on the progress of quarterback Chason Virgil: “He has made a lot of progress since spring. Spring was just so new, new people, new terminology, new language, new playbook. Now we’re kind of past that. Now we’re kind of growing the offense and what we’re doing. He’s doing a good job.”
▪ Inside (Will) linebacker Robert Stanley went down toward the end of practice with an apparent leg injury. His status was to be evaluated.
▪ Running backs and linebackers did a 1-on-1 blitz pickup drill. As might be expected, given the lack of experience and in some cases lack of size with the backs, they struggled. Green is 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, O’Neal is 5-6 and 169, freshman Saevion Johnson is 5-11 and 187, and freshman Deonte Perry 5-11 and 170.
The best rush came from freshman walk-on Dallas Ruth from Mt. Whitney. He won a matchup against Perry fairly handily.
▪ Running back Bryson Oglesby, who injured a knee in spring practices, has started some running and agility drills. It is expected he will be cleared to return sometime toward mid-October.
▪ Rice, a freshman from Central Catholic-Modesto, had his surgery to repair the broken bone in his foot. At this point, it is likely he will redshirt this season.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Fresno State football key dates
Saturday: Scrimmage No. 1 (open to public)
Aug. 20: Scrimmage No. 2
Aug. 26: Scrimmage No. 3
Sept. 3: Season opener at Nebraska, 5 p.m.
Home games in CAPS
Sept. 3: at Nebraska, 5 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Sept. 10: SACRAMENTO STATE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17: at Toledo, noon (ESPN3)
Sept. 24: TULSA, 1:30 p.m. (MWN)
Oct. 1: at UNLV, 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 8: at Nevada, TBA (ESPN network TBD)
Oct. 14: SAN DIEGO STATE, 7 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 22: at Utah State, 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 28: AIR FORCE, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Nov. 5: at Colorado State, 12:30 p.m. (ROOT SPORTS/MWN)
Nov. 12: BYE
Nov. 19: HAWAII, 4 p.m.
Nov. 26: SAN JOSE STATE, 12:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Dec. 3: Mountain West Championship, TBA