If you ever want to have an interesting talk about football, specifically Fresno State football, Nick Toth is a good person to start with.
Just be careful making assumptions.
I was in the middle of one — that senior linebacker Kyrie Wilson and senior cornerback Charles Washington would enter next season as established starters, in fact I used the word “guaranteed” — when the Bulldogs defensive coordinator interrupted mid-sentence.
“Charles Washington is far from guaranteed,” Toth said.
Huh? Charles Washington? The best athlete in Fresno State’s secondary? The guy who makes game-saving tackles and selflessly switches to unfamiliar positions?
“He’s not playing spring ball,” Toth said. “He’s got to get back on that field again.
“I think Kyrie Wilson is the incumbent guy who has earned it every day since we’ve been here. His job is up for grabs, but he is the clear leader for that job. I think Todd Hunt is a clear leader for his job. I think Nate Madsen, with his progress at the end of the year and what he’s showing now, he might earn that job.
“But none of the other positions, the other three linebackers and none of the secondary guys, is going to have an established starter going into our first game.”
In case you’ve been wondering how far the Bulldogs are toting the competition theme, there’s your clue.
It’s one of those springs where no one’s job is safe. Not even the team’s best cornerback while he recuperates from offseason abdominal surgery.
And you know what? The team’s best cornerback is OK with that.
In fact, he’s more than OK with it.
“Everyone has to show themselves, including me at corner,” said Washington, in uniform but not practicing. “It’s all about competition right now. We need that.”
I didn’t catch offensive coordinator Dave Schramm following Wednesday’s practice, but his situation is nearly identical to Toth’s. Besides 1,300-yard tailback Marteze Waller and a few guys up front, everyone else is less rooted than a 3-inch-tall giant sequoia.
That’s especially true at quarterback, a three-way duel between a sophomore with scant experience (Zack Greenlee), a redshirt freshman with no experience (Kilton Anderson) and a freshman (Chason Virgil) who technically is a senior in high school. Poor Virgil. No senioritis for him.
It also explains why Fresno State hasn’t issued a depth chart.
When not much separates your No. 1s from your No. 2s, and in some cases your No. 3s, why bother?
As much as it would probably comfort Toth to be able to pencil in eight or nine established names on defense, there’s also something to be gained from waiting to see how things play out.
Actually, two things.
Besides providing depth, having two capable players at each of the 11 positions (if they truly are) also creates an atmosphere of accountability.
Creates, as in to cause something into being that did not previously exist.
“We don’t want to coach accountability,” Toth said. “You want it to be innate in your program, and some of that comes through competition.
“It comes from a guy knowing that he needs to be at his best, every day, or someone could take his job. Not because Coach Toth is saying it, but because the other guy is working to take it.
“We didn’t have that at all last year.”
Coach Tim DeRuyter arrived at the same conclusion, though via a slightly different path.
“I think this group has an energy, a commitment to competing that’s a little different than years past,” DeRuyter said.
“When you have established (starters) and (backups) who are a bit younger or there’s a talent drop-off, sometimes those (starters) can get comfortable. Today, we’ve got competition at just about every position. If you have a bad day, someone’s going by you.”
College football teams never stay the same. They are always changing and evolving.
Right now, the Bulldogs are in a cycle where there aren’t many established studs. The names “Tyeler Davison” and “Derron Smith” are no longer on the roster, to say nothing of “Derek Carr.”
That doesn’t mean there are no replacements in line. If the scenario both Toth and DeRuyter envision comes true, it’ll be more like a fight to get through the turnstile.
Unlike last year, or the year before, Fresno State isn’t defending anything. For the first time under DeRuyter, expectations will be low.
It’s far too early to predict the 2015 Bulldogs will stoop to meet them. Sometimes, young teams in transition surprise us all and evolve into bowl winners. See Fresno State, 2002.
Other times, they go 4-8.
We’ll find out in seven months or so, but not before.
“These guys, I think, have a different edge about them,” DeRuyter said. “It’s more, ‘Nobody expects much from us. We’ve got to prove something. And we’ve got to earn it.’
“As coaches, we’re excited about the possibility because we know we’ve got some talent in here. Now we’ve got to let it play out.”