Malique Micenheimer has moved around quite a bit in his Fresno State career, coming in as a linebacker and moving to fullback when he was a freshman, then last year starting out back on the defensive side of the football before moving again to offense midway through the season.
It is too early to tell whether he has found a more permanent home at running back this spring, but he is becoming an intriguing proposition in the competition to replace the record-setting Robbie Rouse.
Micenheimer, at 240 pounds, is nothing like Rouse physically and appears to be a much better fit as a short-yardage back or a fullback, when the Bulldogs put one on the field. But offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said he definitely has piqued his curiosity.
“Malique has done a nice job and having a big back in this offense can be a really good thing because of all the pass-protection stuff,” Schramm said. “Malique has got good feet and he’s a smart guy. We came into spring ball and talking with (running backs coach Joe Wade) I said, ‘Let’s give him, Malique, a chance and see what he can do, instead of just being a fullback all the time.’
“He would be a guy, and you hear it all the time, that a back gets stronger as a game goes on. Well, that’s really not the reality of the situation. Those big backs, those guys on defense get tired of tackling them. He’s still running as hard as he’s always running, but in the first quarter they’re hitting him and they’re tackling him and in the fourth quarter they’re ducking out of the way because they’re tired of trying to tackle him. A big back in this offense can be a really big weapon for us.”
The junior from Stockton will continue to get reps at running back, competing at the position with Josh Quezada, Marteze Waller (who is out with a quad injury), T.J. Thomas and Daryl Cash, and get a push to avoid being labeled strictly as a short-yard back or as a fullback.
Waller, who injured his left quad in practice on Monday, is out for the remainder of the spring. He had a brace on the leg at practice. Cornerback Sean Alston, who came away from a collision with Micenheimer with a stinger, had his left arm in a sling. There is a chance that he can return later this spring, but Coach Tim DeRuyter said both are likely out the rest of the way.
It wasn’t a great day for backup quarterbacks Myles Carr and Marcus McDade, both making some costly mistakes in the two team periods and again at the end of the practice when the Bulldogs were running their two-minute stuff for the first time this spring.
It didn’t help that the defense lit them up quite a bit, but a point of emphasis in the competition to be the backup quarterback is how they manage game situations, react and make plays under pressure.
Carr had a third-and-short play, and got out of the pocket to evade pressure. But once outside, rather than just scramble a few yards forward into what was wide-open space to get a first down, he tried throwing a pass that was … well, it wasn’t really close to a receiver. That was the end of the drive.
When they were running team in red zone, McDade got the first rep with the No. 1 offense and ended up taking a sack rather than unloading the ball.
Neither got the offense into field goal range or the end zone in two-minute.
“That’s why you practice,” DeRuyter said. “Myles and Marcus haven’t been in those situations a whole lot. They need to be put under pressure, put under the gun, and make good decisions. Right now, they’re learning from bad decisions. It’s part of the process. They’ve got to learn from it and get better.
“That’s what spring practice is all about. It’s putting guys in situations and they either sink or swim. If they sink, they better learn from it. We put enough pressure on these guys that hopefully they feel a sense of it so in the fall they understand the importance of it.”
The mistakes were troubling – perhaps something both quarterbacks should be past.
‘’You’d like to think that, but, again, Marcus hasn’t played in a year and same thing with Myles, who was the scout team quarterback a year ago. These guys got to be put in those situations and they better learn in a hurry or guys are going to go by them,’’ DeRuyter said.
Brian Burrell, the third quarterback vying for that backup spot to Derek Carr, still is getting sped up a bit and made some poor throws early in practice. He had two passes intercepted, rushing both times and leaving the ball high over the middle.
But he made some nice plays with his feet, managed the offense and the situations well, and got the No. 1 offense into the end zone in the two-minute drill. The Bulldogs came out of a timeout with 7 seconds remaining inside the 10-yard line, running one play, and he connected with Davante Adams in the corner of the end zone, taking advantage of a bust in coverage outside.
It should be pointed out that Burrell and the ones were running against the No. 3 defense there.
Tyeler Davison got his first reps this spring at defensive end and looked good out there: “He’ll be fine no matter where we put him,” DeRuyter said. “I know it gets a little bit tough being the nose guard all the time – it’s like getting a little bit of a new lease on life when you can get outside and just work an edge on guys, so I think he’s enjoying it.”
Charles Washington, in competition with JC transfer Rodney Mathews at the strong safety, got reps with the No. 1 defense for the first time this spring and continues to push.
“He’s really flashed,” DeRuyter said. “He’s playing with a lot more confidence. He’s always been a guy that has always had the natural ability, it was a matter of, ‘Is he ready to take that next step and play as fast as what he really is and be productive as a player?’ ”
The playbook got in the way a bit last year, but that hasn’t been the case this spring.
“That was a big part of it,” DeRuyter said. “On special teams, he really shined last year and did some really good things. But, on special teams, it’s a one play mentality. You don’t have to process a lot of things, it’s just get down there hard and fast and that was right in his wheelhouse.
“With the defense, I don’t know that he put in as much time as he is now. Knowing that he was a backup, sometimes it doesn’t seem as important to these guys and he knows that he has a chance to compete for a starting job and I think he’s putting the time in and he’s feeling much more comfortable.”
Backup nose guard Maurice Poyadue injured what appeared to be a left ankle during the team run period and sat out the rest of practice. After icing it for a while, he was able to walk around on it.
Garrett Swanson is the only punter in spring practice, and hasn’t been very consistent with his kicks. He didn’t hit a single good one on Wednesday. Colin McGuire, the freshman kicker coming in on scholarship in the fall, also punts, and DeRuyter said they are hoping to bring in a walk-on in the fall as well.
DeRuyter had them start practice with a Bulldog Drill again. Here is some video:
SAM linebacker Jamaal Rose, who is coming back from knee surgery, continues to make progress and was moving around pretty well. He has been working on the side with the group coming back from injury, which also includes inside linebacker Patrick Sua.
In the one-on-one matchups between the receivers and corners and safeties, the defensive backs again were doing the push up at the end of the period.
But the Bulldogs’ receivers … they just are making plays. Even when well covered, they find ways to come down with the ball, be it Adams, Victor Dean, Isaiah Burse, Aaron Peck.
Dean, up against Jonathan Norton, made a sick play on the sideline. Norton had good position, but didn’t get his head around fast enough. Dean, meanwhile, got an arm around Norton just enough to tip the ball up in the air, then catch it while keeping all 10 toes right on the sideline.
Peck also made a play against Shannon Edwards. Edwards was inside of and step for step with Peck running up the left hash, but the sophomore receiver was able to fend him off with one hand while catching a nice ball into a very tight window with the other hand.