Spring Preview: Running Backs

Spring Preview: Running Backs

2006 starting RB Dwayne Wright is headed to the NFL a year early and starting FB Roshon Vercher graduates. But the cupboard is not bare. The ‘Dogs return a pair who played as true freshmen – Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding – and Clifton Smith, who is starting to get back to his pre 2005 injury form.

Starters Returning: None Letterman Returning: 6
Dwayne Wright rushed 1,462 yards and 11 touchdowns in his final season as a Bulldog, including a Fresno State game record 295 yards vs. Louisiana Tech. Lonyae Miller (5-11, 210) and Anthony Harding (6-0, 215) have the daunting task to replace Wright, who will likely be drafted in the first day of the NFL Draft.

Miller is the teams leading returning rusher. A bullish rusher with great breakaway speed, Miller is expected to take over the starting spot vacated by Wright.

He rushed for 287 yards – averaged 5.3 ypc – and two touchdowns in 10 games of action, including a 113 yard performance against Hawaii. He did not have too much playing behind an All-WAC performer but showed flashes of brilliance is his limited time.

Miller maybe expected to start but the upstart Harding looked equally impressive as a true. He chipped in 141 yards and one touchdown in limited action, but played in all 12 games. Harding displayed a burst of speed FS has not seen at running back in some years.

Both backs were not spectacular catching the ball out of the backfield, Harding and Miller caught three balls each for 31 and 30 yards, respectively. That is where Clifton "Batman" Smith is expected to fill in. While Miller and Harding are slated to pull the load, they both will have to contend with "Batman". The senior played sparingly last season after suffering a knee injury in game two of 2005. He was mostly used as a punt returner and rushed just once for four yards against Utah State last season.

Smith has looked good in pre-spring conditioning drills. It's a good sign considering he was at best 60% last season. Although Smith could start at running back, Miller and Harding are better suited for Coach Pat Hill's grinding between the tackle running style. But Smith can be used in a variety of packages.

Prior to last season Smith averaged a spectacular 54.3 yards on six career punt returns with three touchdowns. That Smith could change the complexity of game lining up in the slot or as an H-back.

Rich Owens (6-0, 220) had an impressive spring and fall camp last season as a redshirt freshman. If not for Miller and Harding playing as true freshmen, Owens likely would have backed up Wright. Owens only saw playing time in the 34-0 route over Idaho. He carried four times for 10 yards. He should see a great deal of reps as the second or third back in spring.

Jamal Rashad (5-11, 195) redshirted last season after transferring from Glendale College. He played one season at Glendale where he finished seventh in rushing among all California community college rushers. He rushed for 1,160 yards and 11 touchdowns in just nine games. He is expected to compete for spot behind Miller and Harding.

New Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain will likely not add too many, if any, new packages to the offense for spring. Under Coach Hill, the offense has had the same philosophy establish the run and mix in the play-action pass. Throughout Hill's 10 years the only difference in formation has been the use of an H-back instead of a fullback.

In Hill's early years there was not a true fullback and the offensive coordinator at the time Andy Ludwig added the H-back to the offense to help fill the void. Basically a two tight end formation, the H-back/tight end would line up as a fullback or lead blocker.

But when Frank Cignetti took over play-calling duties in 2002 the use of a true fullback was put back into the offense. Roshon Vercher is the only fullback in Fresno State history to have been the lead blocker for three different 1,000 yards rushers. From 2003-06, Vercher blocked for a 1,000 yard rusher, Wright (2003,2006), Bryson Sumlin (2004) and Wendell Mathis (2005).

The Bulldogs return a slew of fullbacks this season. But the favorite to become the starter just may be a throwback to the H-back days.

Sophomore Isaac Kinter (6-1, 240) came to Fresno as a linebacker but switched to fullback after the Bulldogs had depth issues due to injuries in 2005. He redshirted but remained a fullback in spring of 2006. However, Kinter practiced predominantly with the tight ends and did not carry the ball once last season but caught 10 passed for 79 yards and two touchdowns.

Kinter is an H-back in the mold of former Bulldogs Alec Greco and Stephan Spach, but with better hands and speed. As a former high school receiver his speed was a given, but few knew what a dominant blocker he was. Kinter was the team's second tight end in many double-tight formations last season and along with starter Bear Pascoe was an excellent blocker on the edge.

Senior Nate Adams (5-11, 240) is the team's most experience fullback. Adams was the starter for the 2004 season opener and played in four games that season. He missed 2005 with an injury and played in just four games last season, rushing for three yards on one carry and had one reception for seven yards. Adams is not as versatile as Kinter but is a pure lead blocker that could emerge as the starting fullback in spring.

Frank Padilla (6-0, 240) had a great spring last season and many fans expected to see him play as a true freshmen. After redshirting the talented back is expected to contend for a starting fullback spot. Padilla rushed for just over 100 yards as a senior at Clovis East, as most yards went to all-state RB Tracy Slocum. But Padilla has good speed for his size and position to go along with good hands.

If there is a Bulldog back with the most untapped potential, it just may be backup fullback Reynard Camp (5-11, 270). Camp is a monster back tipping the scales at almost 300 lbs. He showed his ability in last year in scrimmages as a lead blocker and goal line back. In a wide-open race to fill Vercher's starting spot, Camp has the potential to be a solid contributor.

Notes: Senior running back Shannon Dorsey moved to wide receiver last season and is expected to participate in spring ball as a wide receiver. Potential walk-ons will not be known until the start of spring ball. Former walk-ons Kreig Peters, Andrew Jones and Kyle Richard did not return in fall after participating in spring of 2006.

Other Spring Preveiws:
Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebackers, Defensive Backs

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