Fall Camp Practice Begins Thursday

Marlon Moore

The start of fall camp is something diehard fans relish each year. Fresno State kicks off fall camp practice on Thursday for what many across the nation believe to be a rebuilding year for Pat Hill's Bulldogs…

It all starts at the quarterback this year for Fresno State, where the Bulldogs will have to replace three-year starter Tom Brandstater.

Spring ball did not really tell us too much, save for the fact redshirt freshman Ebahn Feathers is fast, true frosh Derek Carr will be special, and junior Ryan Colburn is a man. But when it comes to who will start the season opener, Hill has kept a tight lid on it.

He has stated at that he expects all three quarterbacks to play early on. At WAC Media Day last week, he expressed the excitement the three quarterbacks bring to the table. "We've never had speed like we have now at the quarterback position," said Hill. "This gives us great flexibility and options.


Colburn looks to take the reigns in camp.
Photo by BB.C
"In Ebahn Feathers we have a guy who can run a sub-4.4 40 yard dash at 215 pounds. He's an exciting, exciting player. We've never had that dimension at quarterback before. Ryan Colburn is 235 pounds and he runs better than any quarterback we've had in a long time. He likes to run power, like what Florida does with Tim Tebow. Derek Carr runs well, too, and in his final scrimmage, he completed 17 of 18 passes."

The speed and skill level on offense is the best in Hill's 13 years. But can they stay healthy? Can the new quarterbacks get them the ball?

"We have a lot of talented receivers and running backs who are versatile and if they stay healthy, there are going to be a lot of different looks and formations," said Hill. "We will be getting them the ball. I'm very excited about the skill level of this offense. If we stay healthy, we will be very exciting and explosive."

Junior running back Ryan Mathews is likely the one key skill position player Hill focused on in his last quote. When healthy, the Bulldogs are 12-2 when Mathews scores a touchdown. Those losses were a 3OT loss at Texas A&M in 2007 and a blowout loss at Oregon, where Mathews scored a late touchdown when the outcome was already decided.


Mathews must stay healthy in 2009.
Photo by BB.C
He was one of the nation's leading rushers when he suffered a nerve injury during the fourth game of the year at UCLA. He played only sparingly the rest of the season. Senior Lonyae Miller also could not stay healthy the entire season. Only senior Anthony Harding remained healthy throughout the 13-game schedule finishing as the team's leading rusher with 822 yards. All three will share the load in 2009.

The receiving corps also suffered with senior starter Marlon Moore and key backup junior Devon Wylie missing a combined nine games and parts of others. Only seniors Seyi Ajirotutu and Chastin West played in all 13 games with Ajirotutu leading the team with 47 receptions for 795 yards and five touchdowns. But the unit is very deep.

Sophomore Jamel Hamler who redshirted last season may be the team's most complete receiver. Wylie is certainly the fastest after running a 4.25 forty-yard dash this summer, and sophomore Rashad Evans could be the most versatile with the ability to line up at quarterback in the "alien" package.

The ‘Dogs will start a new tight end this year with Bear Pascoe departing for the NFL. Promising redshirt freshman David Gory had another offseason knee surgery and his status for the fall is unknown. Sophomore Ryan Skidmore is the most experienced prototypical tight en, but the ‘Dogs will likely rely on its veteran H-backs senior Isaac Kinter and junior Vince Pascoe early on in fall camp. Sophomore Kulitapa Taumoepeau and redshirt freshman Michael Butler will add depth.

The offensive line is one of the biggest question marks on the team as three positions are open as the ‘Dogs head into fall camp.


Bernardi is one of three returning starters
on the o-line.
Photo by BB.C
Juniors Andrew Jackson and Joe Bernardi return to start at left guard and center, respectively. Senior Richard Pacheco started last season as the starting center, he shared some first team reps in the spring at both guard and center. Junior Devan Cunningham started eight games last year at left guard, but he could move back to tackle, his more natural position. If he does not battle for the left guard spot in fall camp, the position will likely be between junior Charley Robbins and freshman Matt Hunt who had a great spring. Redshirt freshman Max Devlin can play any spot on the line, but he saw most of his reps at left guard with Robbins missing spring.

The starting left tackle spot was occupied solely by sophomore converted defensive tackle Bryce Harris during spring. The opposite side saw junior Kenny Wiggins take most of the reps in the spring along with Cunningham. Redshirt freshman Trevor Richter and true frosh Austin Wentworth are slated to backup the tackles. Talented Porter Hill moved to offensive tackle this summer from the defensive line.

"The position is even better for me because it was kind of difficult to get off the ball [on defense]," said Hill. "But on offense I can engage and get off the ball because I know the snap count. I most definitely like blocking."

Defensively, the ‘Dogs return many starters and experience letterman; however, that is not necessarily a good thing.

Health is the key once again, as FS did not have a Jon Monga healthy for most of 2008. Now with him gone, junior nose tackle Cornell Banks and junior defensive tackle Mark Roberts must stay healthy for the entire season, something that seemed impossible for both last year. Furthermore, both sat out spring for different reasons – Banks to concentrate on academics, and Roberts to rehab from offseason surgery.


Harrell was atop the depth chart at DT
after spring.
Photo by BB.C
Logan Harrell and Chase McEntee are experience true sophomores that took all of the first team reps at defensive tackle and nose tackle, respectively.

The lone senior on the defensive line is Wilson Ramos. He was only about 75% during spring after missing the last half of 2008. He can play inside and outside but with Porter Hill's move to offense, he could be slated for more time inside. Nose tackle Anthony Williams would have likely played last year as a true freshman if not for an injury that forced him to redshirt.

Junior Chris Carter and sophomore Kenneth Borg started at defensive end during spring. Carter was a second team All-WAC selection last year. Coach Hill experimented with moving him to weak side linebacker last year in fall camp, but he moved him back to defensive end permanently by midseason.

Borg missed all of last season with a knee injury sustained in the spring of 2008. He is in excellent shape, but he will have to fend off junior Chris Lewis for the starting spot in fall camp. Lewis could take over the roll of defensive end/defensive tackle Ikenna Ike played last season. At 6-foot-3 and 250-pounds, Lewis could play inside this season on passing downs.

JUCO recruit Donnie Pritchett will likely make the biggest impact of any of the incoming players. He gives the ‘Dogs great size and speed off the edge. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound junior will battle for significant playing time in camp. True frosh Marcel Jensen (6-7, 265) also adds great size, but he will likely redshirt this season as he continues to learn. Redshirt freshman Matt Akers had a great spring, and he is in the same mold as Carter and Borg – small and quick.

The linebackers are a huge concern. Despite returning all three starters from a year ago, none can cover the run and the pass.

Junior middle linebacker Ben Jacobs is the most experienced backer on the roster, but his pass coverage is still suspect. He played some strong side backer in the spring in place of junior Nico Herron. Herron is better suited for inside to disguise his lack of speed. Sophomore Kyle Knox emerged last year at weak side linebacker, but he will have to fend off sophomore Shawn Plummer who had a great spring.

True freshman Travis Brown is the highest rated linebacker recruit Coach Hill has ever signed in his 13 years. The son of the late Dan Brown is also the most polished backer to enter the program. He will contend for significant playing this year at either middle backer or on the strong side.


Whittington is second on the depth chart
heading into fall camp.
Photo by BB.C
Fellow true frosh Damion Whittington is also expected to battle for playing time at the strong side spot. He is extremely fast for a linebacker moreover he can cover. Daniel Salinas was recruited as a weak side backer, but the 2009 early enrollee made a significant impact as a middle backer in the spring.

The secondary has taken a brunt of the blame for the lack of turnovers the past three seasons. The unit has failed to garner double-digit interceptions during that span. Only Sharrod Davis departs a unit that returns six players with starting experience.

Senior cornerback A.J. Jefferson returns after losing his starting job to sophomore Desia Dunn midway last season. Jefferson is an All-American candidate as a kick returner, but he is also the fastest and most talented defensive back. Dunn, a walk on, has become a solid cornerback. Senior Damion Owens, who started multiple games over the last three years, has regressed to a backup role. Grayshirt freshman L.J. Jones had a good spring, and he is the most promising corner prospect on the team. Sophomore Isaiah Green is in a battle with Owens and Jones for the nickel back spot.

Despite the returning experience, incoming true freshmen cornerbacks Erik Brown and J.B. Dock have a great shot to move up the depth chart this month.

Senior strong safety Moses Harris is the team's leader in the secondary. The two-year starter shared playing time with junior Lorne Bell last year before Bell moved to free safety, where he started the last four games. Bell continued to take some first reps at free safety in the spring in place of 2007 starter Marvin Haynes but a hamstring injury hampered him. Haynes did not start a game last season and missed six full games in all because of injuries. And like Bell, injuries effected his spring and in their absence, redshirt freshman Phillip Thomas emerged as the starting free safety heading into fall camp.

Besides Harris and Bell, sophomore Zak Hill and redshirt freshman Terrance Dennis add quality depth at strong safety.

Sophomore Kevin Goessling and junior Robert Malone return as kicker and punter, respectively. Sophomore Bobby Shepard also returns as the long snapper. The only key battle to watch for this month is at punt returner. Evans, Moore, and West each returned a punt for a touchdown last season. Moore started the season as the punter returner until suffering an injury in game four at UCLA. Evans emerged as a quality returner and may get the nod this season in order to help keep Moore healthy this year.


2009 Bulldog Fall Camp Practice Schedule

Here's Fresno State's Fall Camp Practice Schedule. Dates, times and locations are subject to change.

 

Date                 Site                              Time                            Type

August 6           Practice Facility             9 a.m.-12:45 p.m.          Shells

August 7           Practice Facility             9 a.m.-12:45 p.m.          Shells

                        Media Day                    1-3:45 p.m.                   Duncan Building

August 8           Practice Facility             9 a.m.-12:45 p.m.          Half Pads

August 9           Practice Facility             9 a.m.-12:45 p.m.          Half Pads

August 10         Practice Facility             9 a.m.-12:45 p.m.          Full Pads

August 11         Practice Facility             9-11:30 a.m.                  Full Pads

                        Practice Facility             8-10 p.m.                      Half Pads

August 12         Bulldog Stadium           3-5:30 p.m.                   Full Pads

August 13         Practice Facility             8:50-11:30 a.m.             Half Pads

                        Practice Facility             8-10 p.m.                      Full Pads

August 14         Bulldog Stadium           3-5:30 p.m.                   Full Pads

August 15         Practice Facility             9:45-11a.m.                   No Pads

                        Practice Facility             8-10 p.m.                      Scrimmage


*All other practices are closed to the public.


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