Spring Practice #4: Week One Complete

About 100 high school coaches and players took in Saturday's practice. The annual coaches' clinic was the reason for the large amount of spectators and they were treated to the first spring practice in full pads.

The oohs and awes were abundantly heard throughout the Fresno State Practice Facility Saturday afternoon. The cloudy skies didn't damper a very loose practice.

OFFENSE

Neither Tom Brandstater nor Ryan Colburn stood out. Each had their moments but the running backs stole the show on Saturday.

Running Backs
Clifton Smith is an amazing back and is one of the most electrifying players to watch when the ball is in his hands.

Bulldog backs, receivers, defensive backs, and return men all got their chance against three awaiting tackles in one particular drill.

Each and every time Smith got the ball in his hands, the sparse crowd inched a little bit closer. And he didn't disappoint juking and cutting his way past defenders.

Lonyae Miller – with cohort starter Anthony Harding sitting out – showed why he should be lining up at running back once the season starts. Already bigger than his 225 lbs of a year ago, Miller is a pure power back with impressive speed.

His style was bruising and was much apt to bulldoze tacklers instead of running around them.


Receivers
Marlon Moore had his best practice Friday, but just a day later the speedy receiver could not hold on to the ball. The quarterbacks put the ball in his hand numerous times only to have Moore lose control and bobble the ball away.

Jamel Hamler has been pretty quiet this week. The true freshman receiver is battling for some time in the rotation but has been getting reps behind some of the walk-on receivers.

He looks a lot bigger than the 6-1, 190 lbs he is listed as and does not look slow at all. But he just needs some time to adjust to the college game. He easily passes the eyeball test.


Tight Ends
Junior Cameron Harris has moved to tight end from the center position. Harris was recruited out of high school as an OL/C. But the talented athlete was moved to tight end in 2005 because of depth issues. He moved back to the o-line later in the season and backed up the center spot last year.

Harris – who now wears No. 49 – will be a pure blocking tight end. He is still capable of catching the ball but spent a good amount of time practicing with the o-line during blocking drills.

Bear Pascoe continues to have a tremendous spring. He rarely, if ever, drops a pass, no matter how poorly it is thrown.

He routinely works with the first team offense. Brandstater has a habit of tossing the ball a bit high and behind his tight ends, but Pascoe catches anything within arms reach.

Drew Lubinsky has sat out the entire week of practice which has allowed Jesus Tapia to get all the reps with the second team. He only has two receptions in his career but with Michael Stuart remaining on offense and until Isaac Kinter returns, Tapia has a chance to move up on the depth chart.


Offensive Line
G Andrew Jackson, T Kenny Avon, G Cole Popovich, T Kenny Wiggins and G Charley Robbins are a few of the offensive linemen who have been impressive during the first week of practice.

Ryan Wendell is in a battle to hold off Joe Bernardi at the center spot. What compounds the issue is the play of right guard Adam McDowell. In a perfect world, Wendell would move back to right guard and Bernardi would become a four-year starter at center.

But McDowell and Avon have emerged at guard and tackle respectively, despite originally being recruited as defensive linemen. And redshirt freshmen Jackson, Robbins and Wiggins looked as good as any of the veterans during the first week of spring drills, giving the ‘Dogs a very deep, athletic line.

It all boils down to Bernardi probably backing up Wendell, even though he could start for most teams in the WAC at center.

Massive T James Meeks is a big, wide body. But in comparison to Bobby Lepori, Avon and Wiggins, he is tad slower and not as athletic. It is not hard to figure out that OL Coach Derek Frazier prefers a quicker, athletic line compared to sheer size.

Big bodies like Meeks and walk on Sean Yandall will have to work that much harder on their footwork and quickness if they want to see time in the rotation.

C/G Richard Pacheco is about the same size as Popovich, Robbins, Wendell and Bernardi but not quite as quick off the line. Pierce Masse has gotten bigger and better from last season, but is battling Jackson and Robbins for time. It shows how talented the line is compared to last season, when Masse was easily the top guard behind Wendell and Popovich during spring practice.


DEFENSE

Defensive Line
Jason Shirley is a man among boys at defensive tackle. He is easily the best defensive tackle on the team and hopefully he will be able to carry the line this season.

The battle for the other starting defensive tackle spot has not gotten any clearer this week. Jon Monga and Charles Tolbert continue to have the inside lead on the job, but neither is setting the world on fire.

Mark Roberts is still learning, as is Cornell Banks. Banks struggles somewhat in drills but was impressive in 11 on 11 action. He showed his quickness off the line and his ability to get into backfield form the defensive tackle spot.

Yandall played some defensive tackle in high school. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the 300 lb linemen make the move to defense, if needed.

Jason Roberts continues to look a step slower than last year. He has added some weight but still looks in impressive shape. Chris Lewis has struggled getting off the line and has trouble shedding blocks. But it is still very early in the season; physically no one looks in better shape than Lewis.


Linebackers
Marcus Riley resembles his 2005 form each and every practice. In 11 on 11 action he showed time and again his ability to shut-down the run. It is hard to tell that he is not 100%.

Todd Chisom had a good first week of spring. Last spring Chisom sat out and was not listed on the depth chart in 2006, despite being one of the few middle linebackers on the roster. Ahijah Lane does not look like he will relinquish the MLB spot, but Chisom and Ryan McKinley are getting solid looks with the second team.

Ben Jacobs was moved to the inside this spring and Nico Herron was moved outside to the strong side. Herron is backing up Quaadir Brown and once Trevor Shamblee returns, he could fall to third on the depth chart despite looking good thus far in spring.

Jacobs on the other hand could see a lot of time at MLB. Unlike Herron at SLB, Jacobs is physically better than any other MLB on the team. He just lacks experience.

Former baseball player Nick Bates has walked on as a linebacker. He made his presence felt Saturday, laying some vicious hits on some unsuspecting ball carriers.


Defensive Backs
A.J. Jefferson continues to impress but this time running the ball. In the same drill Smith and Miller got oohs and awes from the crowd, Jefferson was just as impressive.

The former high school track athlete is quick, agile and can make defenders miss every bit as much as Smith can. Unbeknown to most, Jefferson is one of the better athletes on the team.

Fellow cornerback Damion Owens has gotten some reps with the first team defense. Outside of getting pushed around by Miller, Owens has improved from a year ago.


Special Teams
Kyle Zimmerman has gotten a lot of work all spring. Returning K Clint Stitser has missed most of the first week of spring, including Saturday.

Zimmerman looks stronger but shanked most of short FG attempts but was dead-on beyond 40 yards.

P Robert Malone is the new holder on field goals and PAT's


Miscellaneous Notes:
Coach Pat Hill's son and 2007 recruit Zak Hill was on hand witnessing practice hanging out with fellow 2007 recruit Kenneth Borg.

2007 recruit Ryan Skidmore attended Saturday's practice with his dad, former Bulldog offensive linemen Jeff Skidmore. They were seen talking to former Bulldog coach Jim Sweeney.


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