Spring Ball Primer

All-MWC S Derron Smith

Fresno State enters spring football practice as defending conference champions for the first time since 2000. Despite its 9-4 season, and some early 2013 top 25 projections, the Bulldogs have many questions to answer this spring namely who replaces Robbie Rouse and Phillip Thomas on offense and defense, respectively…

Fresno State kicks off spring football practice Monday
'Dogs practice Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday morning next three weeks*

Fresno State has had previous success with senior quarterbacks: a 9-2 season in 1986 with Kevin Sweeney, a 10-2 season in 1991 with Mark Barsotti, a 11-3 season in 2001 with David Carr, an 8-1 start (8-5 finish) in 2005 with Paul Pinegar, and a 3-1 start (7-6 finish) with Tom Brandstater in 2008. Each one of those signal callers had their team ranked at least once during their respective senior years. Derek Carr will likely add to that list of senior quarterbacks leading a ranked team.

Carr enters spring as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. With no reason to overwork the 2012 MWC Offensive Player of the Year, he will be going through the motions this spring as the real battle lies among mid-year JUCO transfer Brian Burrell, Marcus McDade, and freshman Myles Carr for the No. 2 job.

Burrell is a threat to run or pass and is a seasoned player after playing the last few seasons at Bakersfield College. McDade has a rocket arm, but he struggled last season to learn the offense.

Robbie Rouse departed Fresno State as the Bulldogs' career leading rusher. Despite is sub 5'6 diminutive frame, his missing presence is huge. Replacing him will not be easy and with the backup quarterbacks receiving most of the reps in spring, the running backs should see plenty of action.

Marteze Waller received valuable carries last season in a reserve role. He moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart in 2012 and will try to fill Rouse's void. Helping out will be BYU transfer Josh Quezada. The junior sat out last year to fulfill NCAA transfer requirements but will be a big force in 2013.

Dillon Root moved to wide receiver last season but was never looked quite comfortable in that role. With Rouse gone, now is as a good time as any to give running back another go around. Freshman T.J. Thomas also looks to get into the mix.

If there was one position that benefited with solid depth it was wide receiver. The Bulldogs return another loaded unit that will be missing two of its players this spring (Victor Dean, Justin Johnson) while rehabbing injuries.

Freshman All-American Davante Adams is one of the top wideouts in the nation. Nonetheless, the most talented receiver on the team may be junior Josh Harper, who missed the last half the season with a nagging injury.

Isaiah Burse enters his final spring as a leader and will likely mentor converted cornerback Anthony Riggins, who played spraining last season,. A.J. Johnson is back in the picture after sitting out 2012 with a season long suspension. Tight end Marcel Jensen, freshman Aaron Peck and former quarterback Greg Watson round out a very talented group.

If replacing Rouse if priority 1 for the offense, improving the offensive line is priority 1A this spring.

The ‘Dogs lose their most talented interior linemen, Matt Hunt and Richard Helepiko. Cody Wichmann's late season move to guard somewhat eases the loss of both seniors, however, after watching true freshman Alex Fifita being manhandled by SMU defensive end Margus Hunt in the Hawaii Bowl, right tackle may be the more pressing issue.

Austin Wentworth is an all-league left tackle and his backup is an improving Andrew Gustafson. Center Lars Bramer started the first half of the season at center before being sidelined. But that's where the experience ends.

Walk-on Bo Bonnheim is the only other center on the roster. Mike Saenz, James Le'au, and Kameron Henderson return at guard and Justin Northern and freshman Travis Harvey return at tackle. The Bulldogs will look for immediate help from mid-year JUCO transfers Patrick Kim and Josh Tremblay.

Defensively, Fresno State may have the most talented defensive front in the MWC in 2013.

All-MWC selections Tyler Davison and Andy Jennings return at nose tackle and defensive end, respectively. Todd Hunt, who suffered a knee injury last spring, is the one to watch this year. He fits nicely at weak side defensive end. Nikko Motta played both end spots a year ago, and returns for his final spring. Maurice Poyadue adds depth inside.

Starting middle linebacker Pat Su'a was lost for the season at Boise State. Along with Jeremiah Toma, the Bulldogs return two solid inside backers. Their backups Karl Mickelson and Kyrie Wilson will push them all spring.

Donavon Lewis made a seamless transition to outside backer from defensive end in 2012. He's the incumbent at the weak side rush backer position. Nat Harrison backed up Lewis last season. However, like a year ago with Tristan Okpalaugo at strong side, the coaching staff may look to use two converted ends on the outside.

Outside linebacker Jamaal Rose was lost for the season with a knee injury in the third game versus Colorado. His status for spring is questionable. Ejiro Enderaine and Ronald Ussery add depth.

Phillip Thomas became the first unanimous All-American in school history last season after leading the nation in interceptions. Charles Washington will get the first crack to fill his shoes followed by mid-year JUCO transfer Rodney Matthews.

All-MWC free safety Derron Smith should take over where Thomas left off leading a talented secondary. Both starting cornerbacks return. L.J Jones and Sean Alston were much improved last season. Davon Dunn and nickel back Shannon Edwards are solid backups.

Special teams will be very interesting to watch this spring as the only player listed on the spring roster with experience as a kicker, punter or long snapper is kickoff specialist Garrett Swanson.

Fresno State will conclude spring practice Saturday March 23 at noon with the annual spring game inside Bulldog Stadium.

*all practices are closed to the public

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