Tim DeRuyter and the Fresno State Bulldogs have lots of work to do to put together a suitable encore for last year's campaign. The questions surrounding this year's team have been asked again and again, so for now it's worth simply seeing what we might be able to learn about how practices have gone so far.
1. The defense is ahead of the offense, at least for now
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the defense has shown the upside of last year's baptism by fire by putting together a string of strong performances in the early going. The offense had some nerves to work out in the first practice, a session in which the defense intercepted four passes, but the secondary has flashed its ballhawking skills nearly every day. DeRuyter spoke today about the benefits of depth in the defensive backfield, and while the question was meant to specifically concern Bryan Harper it should be noted that Curtis Riley's name has crept into a few recaps in the early going.
2. The coaches aren't shy about tinkering with the running game
Overlooked in the discussion about who will replace Derek Carr is the fact that there's a good chance Fresno's stable of running backs will get a lot more touches than last year, which means finding ways to get everyone the ball. The Fresno Bee's Robert Kuwada noted that the 'Dogs showed off a two-back set during last Sunday's practice and scrutinized pass protection in the backfield Thursday in an effort to give their five running backs as many reps as possible.
Though the Bulldogs appear to be set in the two-deep with Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller as 1A and 1B, the situation is (and should be) pretty malleable. Malique Micenheimer should have a role as a power back if healthy, while Kurt Scoby and Dontel James have a bit of well-earned recruiting pedigree behind them. All in all, it's a good problem to have, though it will take time to suss out roles.
3. LeKendrick Williams might be a name to keep an eye upon
The fifth-year graduate transfer from Texas A&M did not get much playing time during his days with the Aggies, and his arrival in the Central Valley was not nearly as heralded as Brandon Connette's, but he's acquitted himself well in the early going as one of the few veterans in a largely untested wide receiver unit. Listed at just 5'8" and 170 pounds, he's been a logical choice as a stand-in for Isaiah Burse's old role in 7-on-7 drills and, as Kuwada notes in the linked article above, was able to make catches against Derron Smith and Charles Washington. While the situation may change by the end of next week, it's worth noting the newcomer in the mix.
4. Tyeler Davison, nose guard?
Perhaps it is not justice that the All-Mountain West performer is buried by so many ongoing developments, especially considering his recent selection to yet another award watch list (this time, it's the Ted Hendricks Award). He will not be ignored, though, especially considering the early emphasis he's getting at the point of attack in this first week of practice. From DeRuyter (via Kuwada and the Fresno Bee):
"He'll be on the field regardless and he'll be at both," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "The nice thing about having the flexibility of having him at both positions is whoever is playing better, whether it's one of our nose guards or one of our ends, he makes the pieces fit. That way, we can get our best three and then our best six out there. The other thing it does, it gives an offense more issues of, 'Hey, we can't just know that he's going to be inside to be doubled. He's going to be in different positions.' "
The "whoever" that DeRuyter refers to is the trio of Maurice Poyadue, Nathan Madsen and Todd Hunt, each of whom have seen first-team reps.
5. What, you were expecting a resolution to the quarterback controversy so soon?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but really, you should've known it was going to take more than a week for either Brian Burrell or Brandon Connette to seize the starting role. Following last week's take from offensive coordinator Dave Schramm, Burrell must still be considered the presumptive leader, though both players have led a fair share of successful scoring drives in this first week.
A final note for Fresno State fans: You may want to clear your schedules on Saturday because the 'Dogs have announced that both practices that day will be open to the public. To my knowledge, this will be the only chance fans will get to see the team before the opener down in Los Angeles. The morning session takes place from 9:15 to 10:45 and will be followed by an autograph session, while the evening scrimmage runs from 7:00 to 9:00 and will feature a couple of freebie giveaways.