Spring practice kicked off Monday for Fresno State. Tommy looked sharp. Clifton looked cocky. …
Head Coach Pat Hill is a former offensive lineman and it's a big reason his teams have great o-line play. The 2006 season was disappointing in many aspects but the offensive line paved the way for a 1,400 yard rusher – Dwayne Wright – and only gave up 12 sacks – four came on the road against LSU, who arguably had the nation's best defensive line.
Kyle Young was a four-year starter at center but missed the last four games of his senior season because of suspension. Senior C/G Ryan Wendell (6-2, 275) took over the center spot after starting at guard his first 30 games as a Bulldog. Wendell was second on the depth chart at center as a true freshman until he was pushed into early action at left guard in the third game of the season.
Wendell made the move back to center with ease last year and is expected to contend for all-conference honors in his final season. In 2004 Wendell started nine games at right guard and was named WAC co-Freshman of the Year and first team Freshman All-American. However, he has yet to be named first or second All-WAC in his first three seasons at Fresno State.
C Joe Bernardi (6-2, 280) redshirted last year after sitting out 2005 as a grayshirt. Bernardi had a great spring last season and probably could have earned the job at center if not for returning three-year starter Young. The emergence of Wendell may push Bernardi's chance to start a year back.
Junior C Cameron Harris (6-3, 260) flirted at tight end in 2005 as a redshirt freshman. The athletic center will be fighting for spot in the rotation.
Sophomore C/G Richard "Oso" Pacheco (6-2, 285) redshirted last year after playing in seven games as a true freshman in 2005. Pacheco has showed flashes of brilliance in his two years a Bulldog. He is expected to compete for a spot at center or right guard.
Junior G Adam McDowell (6-4, 285) was the scout team's Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 as redshirt. In 2005 he played defensive end as a freshman in five games totaling six tackles. He was moved to offensive tackle last spring and shined. But he made is mark at right guard. He filled in for injured Popovich last year and again when Wendell was moved to center. McDowell may also compete for a starting spot at right tackle.
Andrew Jackson (6-5, 280) was the Sacramento Bee's 2005 Player of the Year out of Nevada Union. He redshirted last year despite having a great fall camp at defensive line. But to the surprise of many fans, Jackson will be moved to the offensive side this spring. He is expected to battle for the starting spot at right guard.
Junior G Pierce Masse (6-4, 285) is another converted defensive end, making the switch in the spring of 2005 after redshirting in 2004. He was Popovich's backup at right guard last spring and fall. And he got plenty of reps when Popovich missed part of fall camp with an injury.
Masse played against Washington last season, after Popovich left the game with an injury. But despite being second on the depth chart, McDowell started ahead of him at right guard while Popovich recovered. He is expected to fight for a spot in the rotation at right guard this spring.
Junior G Cole Popovich (6-2, 280) sat out 2003 as grayshirt but immediately burst onto the scene in spring of 2004. He came off the bench in the season opener becoming the first true freshmen offensive lineman to play under Coach Hill. But he injured his knee in his first start the next week vs. Kansas State and was lost for the season.
Popovich used a medical redshirt in 2004. He started 12 games at left guard in 2005 and was a unanimous first-team Freshman All-American. He moved to right guard last spring and started the first three games until getting injured. He moved to left guard for the last four games of the season and cemented his place on the left side of the line.
Redshirt freshman Charley Robbins (6-2, 270) has been compared to Popovich by Coach Hill. He is expected to battle for a spot on the line this spring, more than likely backing up Popovich on the left side.
Senior G Chris Piligian (6-6, 270) has yet to crack the starting lineup but to his credit Wendell and Popovich are among the best at their position in WAC. He will battle for playing time at either guard or tackle this spring.
Junior T Bobby Lepori (6-5, 285) started the first eight games last season at left tackle. He will likely be moved to the right side in 2007 to fill the vacancy left by future NFL pro Chris Denman. Despite not starting the last four games of the season, Lepori is still the team's most experienced tackle.
Sophomore T James Meeks (6-6, 310) missed most of the 2006 fall camp and season with a heart condition. He returned to play in spot duty in the last four games of the season. He should get plenty of reps at right tackle due to Lepori's injury.
Junior Kenny Avon (6-3, 270) had a stellar high school career playing multiple positions but was never able to make his mark as a Bulldog on defense. He was moved to offensive tackle midway through fall camp last season after Meeks was declared unable to practice.
Avon backed up Denman at right tackle until he was moved to the left side and started the last four games. He quickly became a dominant run blocker with Popovich on the left side. Avon might not see too much competition at left tackle until 2007 recruit Devan Cunningham reports in August.
Freshman T Kenny Wiggins (6-7, 260) redshirted last season. The former all-league high school football and basketball player is slated to backup either tackle spot in spring.
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