The Fresno State Bulldogs fell short of defending their first outright Mountain West title in 2014, but despite the inconsistencies on the field last season, it's hard to blame head coach Tim DeRuyter for his optimism with fall camp set to open on Thursday.
"We're not going to have a big number of name guys out there, but I still feel strongly that we're going to have a team that's going to compete for a championship," DeRuyter said during his initial meeting with the local media on Tuesday. He cited the ongoing quarterback competitions across the conference -- Boise State, Colorado State and San Diego State, in particular -- as a plausible argument for the Bulldogs to ask themselves, "Why not us?"
"I thought they all competed real well," referring to his own trio of quarterbacks and their ongoing race to replace Brian Burrell as the starter. He did emphasize, however, that he expected Ford Childress's imminent arrival on campus to further bolster the competition: "We're still working through academics with [him]... but once he gets out there, absolutely, he's going to get reps and we're going to see what everybody does. He has some measureables... [and] he's got the advantage of actually playing in games."
DeRuyter also sounded excited about the offseason's other West Virginia transfer, graduate running back Dustin Garrison, claiming his arrival would allow the Bulldogs to feature more two-back sets and, with fifth-year senior Malique Micenheimer, provide some much needed depth behind Marteze Waller. "As we saw in the San Jose State game," he noted, "At some point, you keep handing the ball to the same guy and he keeps taking shots, you're going to be susceptible to injury. You've got to have a viable number two and, a lot of times, a number three."
Regarding the defense, the coach sounded confident that last year's trials would benefit his returning starters in 2015, especially in the secondary: "Our biggest area of need was consistency at corner. You know, we ended up playing a true freshman (Malcolm Washington) last year and consistency for any freshman is difficult. We had to switch Charles [Washington] from safety to corner and, while he was a team guy and did that for us, he played well at corner but not as well as he could have if he'd concentrated on that the whole time... I think he can be one of the best corners in our conference, given the opportunity that he's going to just play corner."
It is somewhat interesting that DeRuyter did not commit to Malcolm Washington as a starter heading into camp, instead falling back on the ongoing theme of competition, though it's likely that he, along with Jamal Ellis and Anthoula Kelly, are likely to see a lot of reps regardless of whomever is penciled into the starting eleven.
"I liked how [Kody] kept battling through, and at the end of the season, he felt much more comfortable," DeRuyter said, addressing another imminent controversy between incumbent kicker Kody Kroening and junior college transfer Jimmy Camacho, adding that "[Kroening's] going to be the starter going in." This would seem to contradict the two-deep that Fresno State provided at last week's media days, in which Camacho was listed at placekicker, so it is a situation to watch.