FRESNO, Calif. -- The sun was out for the Fresno State Bulldogs at the annual spring game, as well as a fair crowd interested in what the next edition of the team will look like. As expected, the coaching staff did not reveal any answers to the big questions surrounding the 2014 season, but the performance of the players themselves will inevitably become pieces of the puzzle.
With that in mind, here's what stood out to me this morning:
1. It is no surprise that the decision makers are tight lipped about who will be the next starting quarterback, but last year's backup, Brian Burrell, is thought to have a "half step" on Myles Carr and Zack Greenlee at the moment. Burrell's passes were crisper in the warmup lines, and though it took time for him to get going when the scrimmage got underway, I believe he had the best showing.
The junior's best pass was a long completion up the seam to Greg Watson, who was double covered on the play, and would've had another if tight end Riley Barnes had not dropped it. He also placed the ball where it needed to be on crossing routes, a staple of the offense, and rolled out of the pocket to find Aaron Peck for a touchdown. He admitted after the showcase that he had called for a couple of incorrect protections, but there were only or two miscommunications and rushed throws by my count.
Greenlee was a bit less accurate than the others, most notably a poor decision returned by Jamal Ellis for a touchdown. There were a few other passes that were overthrown, and a couple of plays were disrupted by mishandling pressure, to boot. He did lead the offense on a lengthy scoring drive of 65 or so yards, but I would credit that more to the athleticism of the wide receivers. The redshirt freshman may still be in the running when fall rolls around, but I would be very surprised if he won the job.
Carr may have missed his chance to seize the job with a forgettable showing. He was the only quarterback who was unable to lead a scoring drive. Though he showed some elusiveness by escaping the pass rush once or twice, he had a fumbled snap and had a couple of passes that were near-interceptions.
2. Alex Fifita saw a significant amount of action at left tackle. For today, no bad news equals good news. The defense wasn't shy about sending aggressive blitzes from every angle, but Fifita held his own even as the running backs behind him struggled now and then with their own assignments. He figures to be the leader in the competition to replace Austin Wentworth.
3. The narrative all spring has been that the defense is ahead of the offense, and that story held for most of the morning. Defensive coordinator Nick Toth was pleased with the way that the secondary depth has developed in spring practices, singling out Curtis Riley in particular for building on last season's experiences. Ellis had an interception, Stratton Brown nearly had another, and the tackling was sound enough that big plays were the exception rather than the rule.
4. The kickers had an off day. By my count, Colin McGuire and Garrett Swanson combined to miss four kicks this morning. The attempts shouldn't have been particularly challenging, as they were all from around 40 yards with no wind. McGuire missed two from the left hashmark, one left and one right, and while this may have been an aberration (most of McGuire's misses in 2013 were actually blocked kicks) it is a potential Achilles heel if it doesn't get straightened out.
5. Dillon Root made some plays. Fresno State's wide receivers have dealt with a variety of aches and pains throughout spring practice, which may have allowed Root to play his way into the conversation for a slot receiver role. He got around the corner for a significant gain on a shovel sweep pass during Greenlee's scoring drive, then got open in play action a few plays later for a first down.
Peck, Watson and Josh Harper will likely be next year's top three, which means that Root will have to beat out Justin Johnson and Da'Mari Scott for playing time. Johnson and Scott had their share of positive plays today, but Root had the best day of any pass-catcher.
6. The running game could be dynamic. Could be. Malique Micenheimer and Darryl Cash spent a lot of time at the quarterbacks' sides this morning, and their performance was a microcosm of 2013's ground attack. The defense stuffed quite a few runs, as the offensive line got an inconsistent push all morning, but the duo were responsible for two of the offense's three scores. Micenheimer took a 20-yard draw to the house, powering through tackles inside the five, while Cash pounded his way to paydirt in short yardage. They may not be 2014's starters, but they are a reflection of the backs' capabilities.
Spring Showcase - Brian Burrell (via Jeremy Mauss)
Spring Showcase - Defensive Coordinator Nick Toth (via Jeremy Mauss)
Spring Showcase - Offensive Coordinator Dave Schramm (via Jeremy Mauss)