Fresno State Football

Fresno State healthier, with surprise boost, amid prep for Nebraska

Quarterback Chason Virgil, left, and running back Dontel James exchange greetings on the first day of Fresno State’s fall camp Aug. 4, 2016. James, who had knee surgery Aug. 12, is moving closer to full participation at Bulldogs practices after going through through individual drills, 7 on 7, team periods and even one rep during a live run Tuesday.
Quarterback Chason Virgil, left, and running back Dontel James exchange greetings on the first day of Fresno State’s fall camp Aug. 4, 2016. James, who had knee surgery Aug. 12, is moving closer to full participation at Bulldogs practices after going through through individual drills, 7 on 7, team periods and even one rep during a live run Tuesday. sflores@fresnobee.com

Fresno State got its first glimpses of Nebraska on Tuesday, with the offense and defense working against scout teams for a period toward the end of practice. And as they get closer to game prep, the Bulldogs also are getting healthier after a rough go through much of fall camp.

Inside linebacker Nela Otukolo and running back Dontel James, who had knee surgeries Aug. 12, both were in practice. Though not on the field for contact periods, they couldn’t help but initiate some.

Their returns were expected, but the Bulldogs also received a surprise boost.

Cornerback Anthoula (Tank) Kelly, thought to be out for the season with his knee injury, has been cleared to return to practice and could work his way onto the field this season.

“We sent him to an expert down in Arizona for a procedure that we thought he was going to have to have, but upon exam and with how he is doing now they think that the surgery is not necessary so we’re going to try to progress him in as soon as possible,” coach Tim DeRuyter said.

Kelly had class immediately after practice and was not available for comment, but he did some individual work within a position group in need of depth.

Fresno State is set with seniors Tyquwan Glass and Jamal Ellis working with the No. 1 defense and redshirt freshman Mike Bell and freshman Juju Hughes having solid camps. But they lost Jerrell Sykes over the weekend, the junior college transfer deciding to return to Texas to be closer to family. He is likely to transfer to a FCS program.

To have those guys running around and be able to take some hits and feel good about it before we get into Nebraska prep is really big.

Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter on the return of Nela Otukolo and Dontel James from fall-camp injuries

Kelly, a redshirt sophomore, played in nine games last season so there is a base of knowledge there.

“We’ll see how he tolerates (the individual work) and go from there,” DeRuyter said. “He has been working out on his own and doing all the stuff that our trainers have asked him to do. The cardio, he has been keeping up with things. He hasn’t played football, so there’s a conditioning period to get ready for that. But as far as the cardiovascular and the running and cutting he should be ready to go.”

Nela knocks – Otukolo had been out for a couple of weeks and apparently couldn’t wait to make sure everything still worked as it did before the knee injury. In 7 on 7, a noncontact period, he smacked Chad Olsen after he caught a pass over the middle, with the tight end losing one of his shoes on the play.

“It was good to see Nela out here, though it was a drill you don’t want to see him knocking guys down,” DeRuyter said. “That’s kind of him. He’s a guy you have to say, ‘Whoa’ to as opposed to ‘giddy up.’ 

Fresno State last season recovered 11 of 16 forced fumbles, the highest percentage (68.8 percent) in the Mountain West. The 11 recoveries tied for the conference lead.

Otukolo, tied for fifth on the team with 3.5 tackles for loss last season despite playing in only eight games, said he would be ready to start the season. “This is a bump in the road and I just took every chance to better myself, come in before and after practice and just rehab, rehab, rehab. We have the best trainers here, so I took advantage of that.”

And, though he missed an extended period in camp, there is not a lot of catch-up.

“We look solid on defense. I like our mentality – one play, one shot and just playing fast,” he said. “The coaches have narrowed down the playbook and narrowed down every scheme. Now it’s down for us to see it and go get it, play real fast.”

Captains selected – DeRuyter, after the practice, revealed the results of voting for team captains.

For the offense, they are senior wideout Aaron Peck and redshirt freshman quarterback Chason Virgil. For the defense, they are Glass and senior inside linebacker Jeff Camilli.

It’s really surprising when a redshirt freshman exemplifies those qualities that guys look up to. … I think he has really matured in this past year.

DeRuyter on quarterback Chason Virgil, selected by his peers as one of four team captains

“We had a framework, which our team came up with on what they wanted as team leaders. We had a base level, two sides and a top,” DeRuyter said. “They talk about credibility, passion, selflessness and character is what they wanted to look for and we told them, ‘OK, that’s your model, vote for your captains,’ and I think they did a good job.”

Et cetera – Kevin Jeanniton, a freshman defensive lineman from Edison High, will miss some time with an elbow injury suffered in Saturday’s scrimmage.

“He’d been having a great camp and we are really excited about his potential, but he had an issue with his elbow,” DeRuyter said. “We got some good news (Monday) that he wasn’t going to have to have surgery, but he’ll still have to be out for a few weeks. But we’re anxious to get him back – we’re thin on the offensive and defensive lines and he’s a guy that has some bulk to him and was going to be a presence for us on the scout team defense.”

When the Bulldogs went into scout exchange, they used Jasad Haynes, Kevin Atkins, Stephen Van Hook and Tyrell Robinson across the defensive line.

▪ James also appeared to be feeling pretty good. He also went through individual drills, 7 on 7 and team periods, and even snuck in a rep during a live run-drill period.

“I don’t know that he was supposed to be in that drill, but I like the fact that he wants to get in right away,” DeRuyter said. “He’s feeling great. Both he and Nela, it’s great to have those guys on the field. We need them and are really grateful to our training staff and our doctors for getting those guys turned around so quickly. To have those guys running around and be able to take some hits and feel good about it before we get into Nebraska prep is really big.”

▪ In that run drill, the defense lined up in some fronts that Nebraska will utilize. The No. 1 line opened up large creases, sustaining blocks for backs Dejonte O’Neal and Treyvon Green. “They did,” DeRuyter said. “We lined up in some Nebraska fronts for them, trying to ease our way into our Nebraska prep, which our defense really wasn’t used to, but they have to get off blocks and they didn’t. It was a great job by the offense that they were able to create some holes for our running backs and that’s what we expect.”

▪ Freshman quarterback James Quentin Davis, who had missed time with inflammation in his right shoulder, did a little more throwing than he had toward the end of last week. He also ran the scout offense.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada

2016 schedule

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 Nevada-Las Vegas, 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

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