Fresno State spring practice report: Situations still throwing backup QBs

There was a play in red zone where Marcus McDade, one of three quarterbacks at Fresno State vying to backup Derek Carr, was able to sidestep a blitz and loft a ball just short of the back line of the end zone where his intended receiver, Taylor Stewart, was able to run under and catch it for a touchdown.

It was a nice play to avoid the rush, the right idea where to go with the football and a well executed difficult throw for a touchdown, McDade pretty much hitting the trifecta on that one.

But McDade, Myles Carr and, presumably, Brian Burrell, who did not practice on Monday because of a bruised right (throwing) shoulder, have yet to prove this spring they can manage game situations consistently. They will flash on one play, Coach Tim DeRuyter said, but then take a sack in the red zone or make the wrong decision where to go with the football on a third-and-short play.

McDade did that, too, when the Bulldogs were in a 3rd-down period. On a 3rd-and-4, he tried to hit slot receiver Greg Watson 25 yards down field when bracketed by defenders when Davante Adams was all by his lonesome, wide open at the first-down marker.

Part of that, offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said, is trying too hard to make a play. But there’s more to it, which is why the Bulldogs’ last padded practice of the spring (they will go helmets-only on Friday and play their spring game Saturday) was loaded with situational periods.

‘’It’s also not understanding the situation,’’ Schramm said. ‘’It comes with experience and it comes with playing, but at some point you have to demonstrate that you understand situational football. It’s a very high percentage throw. But that’s why we put them in those situations. Just coming out here and running plays doesn’t do anything for you. When you’re the quarterback in this offense, we’re not protecting both edges, we’re not handing the ball off 60 times a game. You’ve got to have the ability to show that you can handle those situations and not take sacks in two-minute or in the red zone.

‘’To continue to make the same mistakes day in and day out is not a good thing. There’s no better way to do it than to make them do it in practice and make them demonstrate that they can do it or they can’t, and we definitely have to be more consistent at quarterback in those areas.’’

Practice report

The Bulldogs went through a short practice in full pads and got in some live work running through situations – second-and-long to third-and-medium and third-and-short, red zone, backed up against the goal line.

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Fresno State spring football practice report: Quarterbacks have a way to go

In a photo from the 2012 Spring Game, Fresno State’s Nat Harrison, right, penetrates the line and grabs running back Daryl Cash. In a scrimmage on Monday, March 11, 2013, Harrison delivered a big hit for the defense on Cash, who on a different play scored on a 60-yard run.

Looking for clarity, or even just an inkling where the competition to be the backup to quarterback Derek Carr might be headed, Fresno State football coach Tim DeRuyter got only clouds.

The offense on Monday scuffled through the first scrimmage of the spring, which was muddled by an injury to backup center Patrick Kim in an individual drill before the scrimmage went live, some poor line play and a lack of competitiveness that impacted the Bulldogs’ play throughout.

“I just thought mentality-wise, our defense came to play, especially up front, and our offense didn’t, by and large,” DeRuyter said. “That’s not everybody, but clearly there were too many guys on the offensive side that didn’t come out and compete.”

The quarterbacks were part and a party to that, the first two scoring drives amounting to single plays. On the first, backup running back Daryl Cash picked up a snap from center Travis Harvey that rolled into the backfield and sprinted 60 yards for a touchdown. On the second, quarterback Brian Burrell hit Davante Adams in the left flat and the wide out put a wicked stiff arm on the cornerback and raced 35 yards down the sideline and into the end zone.

Running back T.J. Thomas later scored on a short run to cap a seven-play drive led by quarterback Marcus McDade, but the Bulldogs have a few issues to sort out.

The offense gave up eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss, and McDade hit 6 of 11 throws for 37 yards and one interception, Myles Carr was 6 of 11 for 15 yards with an interception and Burrell was 3 of 11 for 71 yards, most of it coming on the touchdown catch and run by Adams.

“It was popcorn — one or two plays here and there, but there was nothing consistent done by any of the quarterbacks,” DeRuyter said. “It’s a concern.”

The loss of Kim didn’t help — he suffered a stinger and had to be removed from the field in an ambulance. Travis Harvey had to move up to the No. 2 line, until back-to-back snaps went awry, one low and one high, and he spent the rest of the scrimmage on the sidelines doing some up-downs. Guard Mike Saenz moved over to center with the No. 3 unit.

Kim update (8:30 p.m.): Kim was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons after complaining of pain in his neck from the stinger. He was discharged after passing all of the tests. He’ll be evaluated by the team physician Tuesday and is not yet cleared to return to practice.

Notes

Offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said he would expect the quarterbacks to be a little farther along, after nine of 15 spring practices.

“I would,” he said, “especially with the guys that have been here for a year. I think when you’re not playing you have a tendency not to study as much as you should or not pay as close attention as you should because it’s not your job. But you never know when your number is called and you have to go.

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Fresno State spring football: Micenheimer making himself into intriguing option at RB

Malique Micenheimer is getting reps this spring at running back.

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.

Practice report

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.

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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.

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Bulldogs spring practice report: interceptions will hurt QBs more than usual

Marcus McDade stepped in to take his first rep in a team period during the Fresno State Bulldogs’ first spring practice on Monday, and threw a pick. His throw was high and behind tight end Marcus Jensen, the intended receiver, and linebacker Kyrie Wilson made a nice play on the ball, picked it off and took it back for a defensive score.

McDade was yanked.

Brian Burrell, the JC transfer from Bakersfield City College, dropped back to throw on his first rep, looking for Taylor Stewart on the sideline and that pass also was picked off. Safety Dalen Jones undercut the route on the sideline and made a great diving play on the ball to come up with the turnover.

That was it for Burrell – he, too, went to the back of the line.

The Bulldogs’ competition to be the backup to quarterback Derek Carr took an interesting turn there. The three candidates – McDade, Burrell and Myles Carr – all need to reps to make an impression and win the job and they are going to lose them for game-changing errors. They can’t count on taking five or six consecutive reps, then rotating.

‘’I like it here,’’ offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. ‘’If you turn the ball over a lot and you’re the offensive coordinator, then you have to go find another job somewhere.”

That is one way to crank up the competition within that position group – and perhaps fix an issue from a year ago.

‘’We have to do a better job,” Schramm said. ”We turned the ball over 18 times and gave up five touchdowns on offense last year. We can’t allow that to happen.

‘’If you want to play, then don’t give the football to the other team. We’re a better football team if we punt than we are turning the ball over and offensively, we’d like to end every drive with some sort of kick. We don’t want to punt, but that’s a lot better than throwing an interception or fumbling.’’

The Bulldogs’ quarterbacks all got back into the rotation after the interceptions. But the message there was perfectly clear – those types of mistakes will hurt.

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Fresno State offensive coordinator Dave Schramm: Spring focus on fixing things that cost victories

Dave Schramm says the Bulldogs’ spring focus will be on cutting down on sacks and turnovers, and improving third-down and red-zone efficiency.

With quarterback Derek Carr, running back Robbie Rouse and Davante Adams, Fresno State did a lot of good things on offense last season in winning a share of the Mountain West Conference football title — the Bulldogs were 12th in the bowl subdivision in passing offense, 16th in total offense and 17th in scoring.

But there were some things that definitely needed improvement, the things offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said cost the Bulldogs possessions and games.

On third downs, in the red zone and with turnovers, the Bulldogs had some rough stretches. Though running better than 77 plays per game, Schramm also said the Bulldogs need to play at a better tempo.

So there will be an emphasis for the Bulldogs this spring on clean up, perhaps just as much as finding replacements for Rouse, starting center Richard Helepiko, starting left guard Matt Hunt and wide out Rashad Evans, along with developing depth in the line and at the receiver positions.

There is a lot of work to do in the 15 spring practices, which start Monday morning. Schramm discussed some of what is ahead for the Bulldogs and his expectations.

Question: You guys got a lot of stuff done last year, put up a lot of points, even with some depth issues on the line and at the receiver positions. For the first year in the system, I’d have to think you’re pretty happy with at least some of the aspects of that …

Schramm: It’s a good start. We did a lot of good things. We’ve got a lot of things to improve on, but I’m certainly happy with the start we had in the first year and looking forward to building on that.

Obviously you showed a lot with some of the trick plays. But, in that first year, how deep did you get into the offensive playbook. How much is still there?

A lot of what we do is personnel-based, and I’ve said it since the day I got here: It’s a player’s offense. It isn’t about the plays, it’s about the players and what we can and can’t do and what we believe our strengths are. We try to always play to our players’ strengths, and at the same time don’t ask them to do stuff that we don’t think they’re good at. When you start to do that, and you start to get stubborn about the scheme … you know, the scheme isn’t any good if the players can’t do it.

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This year, Bulldogs’ recruiting road is paved with wins

Fresno State Coach Tim DeRuyter is sending his assistant coaches on the recruiting road on Thursday – practice will be run by DeRuyter, offensive coordinator Dave Schramm, defensive coordinator Nick Toth and the graduate assistants. They will remain on the road through Saturday, using the NCAA evaluation days to look at high school and junior college players in the 2013 recruiting class.

The Bulldogs are in need of a lot of help, losing key seniors in strong safety Phillip Thomas, linebackers Travis Brown, Shawn Plummer and Tristan Okpalaugo, offensive linemen Richard Helepiko and Matt Hunt, running back Robbie Rouse and wide out Rashad Evans, among others.

But sitting at the top of the Mountain West Conference race, tied with San Diego State, DeRuyter and his staff are finding the going a little better this year compared to last, when they first came in.

There has been …

‘’A little different response?’’ DeRuyter asked. ‘’Oh, yeah. You know, the phones are ringing a lot more coming this way as opposed to always going that way. That’s typical. Guys want to go where they can have success, so if they see a team having success, playing an exciting brand of football and seeing guys having fun doing that, it becomes an attractive product for future players. We’re looking forward to going out and finding the next generation of guys that can do what these guys have done.’’

Freshmen filling void at receiver for Fresno State, and on Tuesday they did it well

They have played some snaps in games, both Aaron Peck and Justin Johnson. And, it’s a good thing they have because this week at Nevada, the Fresno State Bulldogs are going to need both of their freshman receivers to make some plays.

Victor Dean is out for the season with a broken leg, Josh Harper has been dealing with a groin injury and Anthony Riggins with an ankle.

Peck has not yet caught a pass and Johnson has one reception for five yards, that coming last week in the Bulldogs’ victory over Hawaii.

But, offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said, they are ready for what is in front of them – on Saturday that will be a Wolf Pack secondary with three senior starters and six upperclassmen in the two-deep at the cornerback and safety spots.

‘’We’re going to need them both,’’ Schramm said. ‘’Again, it’s college football. A year ago they were in high school playing high school football. But it’s a position where it’s not like an offensive lineman where they’re overmatched physically.

”They’re athletic enough and they’re smart enough, so they can play out there and we expect those guys to play well on Saturday.’’

Both freshmen got first and second team reps in practice on Tuesday, and, as they have in spots here and there this season, both made an impression. Peck had one play where he got away from a corner in coverage, but it was the way that he did it that caught the attention of quarterback Derek Carr.

‘’He ran a route today and totally just threw the corner – freshmen just don’t do things like that,’’ Carr said. ‘’He ran his route, threw the corner, came back, caught the ball and sprinted 20 yards down the field.

”Just things like that, if he can continue to work hard and not let the lazy bug hit him, so to speak, which guys tend to do with a lot of talent and he has a lot of it. If he can just continue to work hard he’s going to be a special player.

‘’But my comfort level, I’m comfortable with both of them. Victor went down and they’re stepping up in practice. They did very good (Tuesday). They know their routes, they’re very smart. I was proud of them. But just getting them to play at a high level, because you have to grow up fast as a freshman, especially when you’re playing, I think they’re doing a great job and they’re looking good.’’

Is Fresno State prepared for a raid on its assistant coaches?

It’s November, which means it’s getting to be firing season around college football. Kentucky already has announced that Coach Joker Phillips won’t be back, more changes will be made after the season, and that will trickle down to assistant coaches through the winter closing in on spring, many with opportunities for better jobs in bigger places.

Fresno State Coach Tim DeRuyter has coaches on his staff that could be attractive candidates this offseason, given the Bulldogs’ turnaround this season.

And that could become an issue for Fresno State if BCS schools start calling. The athletic department has a budget of $2,600,136 for salary and benefits for its football staff in 2012-’13, up from $2,216,380 in 2011-’12. But there are 20 head coaches in the bowl subdivision making more than the entire Bulldogs’ staff this season.

‘’(Athletics Director Thomas Boeh) was great about giving me a salary pool to hire the guys we were able to hire. When you can get a guy like Dave Schramm from Utah to come here, Nick (Toth) from Texas A&M, those guys were making pretty good money so to be able to compete with those schools to bring them here, that was big for me to be able to get this thing off the ground,’’ DeRuyter said.

‘’Of course, these guys want to make as much money as they can and I don’t blame them. We’re going to try, at least I am as head coach, to do everything I can to get these guys as much money as I can.’’

But the reality in college football these days is the bigger the school, the bigger the budget and the bigger the paycheck.

‘’In this business, it’s very difficult to hold on to great assistants,’’ DeRuyter said. ‘’BCS schools have resources that, frankly, we don’t have. So what you have to try to do as a head coach is create an environment that is more comfortable for their families, a great work environment to come to and give guys opportunity for growth.

‘’If someone on our staff has an opportunity to double or triple their salary and they think it’s the best professional career move, I’ll thank them for their time and encourage them to go if that’s what they want to do. I think it’s a compliment to what our players have done that people would look at our staff.

‘’Obviously, it’s a reflection of both. But we don’t want to lose anyone on our staff because I feel I was very fortunate to be able to put a great staff together. But staffs want to be at places where they feel there’s a commitment to winning and it’s not always dollars, it’s can you consistently compete in the league that you’re in and hopefully we’ll be able to do that here.’’

DeRuyter and his status?

‘’I don’t worry about that kind of stuff,’’ he said. ‘’To me, all that stuff does is compliment what these guys have done. All we’re worried about is winning on Saturday. I talked to our team about it (Monday), we have not been in this position since 1999, where we have a target on our chest in November, and that’s where you want to be and where this program should be.

‘’So we need to go out and focus on Nevada because if you don’t they will embarrass you. If we have a week like we had last week, I think we can go out and take care of business.’’

‘Dogs having to refile flight plans more often, as defenses scheme to slow them down

At the end of the game, the Fresno State Bulldogs had 49 points on the scoreboard, 600 yards of total offense on the stat sheet and a road victory at New Mexico.

But counting back from there and often in large chunks – the Bulldogs produced 19 plays of 10 yards or more and seven of 20 or more against the Lobos, including an 89-yard scoring pass from quarterback Derek Carr to Davante Adams – there is trouble brewing.

On its first drive, Fresno State was three-and-out, losing 11 yards. On its second, New Mexico picked off a Carr pass that ricocheted off his intended receiver and returned it for a touchdown. The Bulldogs then punted and turned over the ball on downs and punted again, their first five series against producing no points and 68 yards.

And what turned it around are adjustments Carr said the Bulldogs will have to make more often in the final third of the season as they get new and different looks from opposing defenses, basically revising their flight plan when on the sidelines.

‘’We knew going into the game that whatever blitz they showed, that’s kind of what they’re going to stick with,’’ Carr said. ‘’But I was talking to my brother (David) about it. Teams his senior year, whatever they did on film, they didn’t do it when they played him and that’s kind of what they did.

‘’That’s what teams are starting to do to us, and it says a lot about the weapons that we have. We saw things on film, and this is not the first time we’ve seen this, but we see things on film and they come out and do something totally different. It took us a little bit to get used to, but we knew once we saw what coverage they were going to play that we could rely on that and attack it.

‘’(Offensive coordinator Dave Schramm) did a great job of figuring it out and drawing up some stuff on the sideline and really game-planning it that way.’’

Once dialed in, Fresno State scored touchdowns on seven of its next nine possessions and the Bulldogs efficiently sliced up that defense.

They went 77 yards in six plays and one minute, 22 seconds, to score their first touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Carr to Victor Dean, and only one of their touchdown drives took more than three minutes off the game clock.

It was 72 yards in 2:43, and 35 yards in 2:11, and 84 yards in 52 seconds; scoring pass to Adams, scoring pass to tight end Marcel Jensen, another scoring pass to Adams.

They were gone, wiping out a 21-0 first quarter deficit in a quarter and a half of football.

Schramm credited the Bulldogs’ defense for continually getting stops and giving them opportunities to right things, but communication between the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator, Carr and assistant Phil Earley in the press box is instrumental in identifying coverages and putting together a plan of attack.

‘’Phil is upstairs and he sees everything and Derek is great,’’ Schramm said. ‘’When I’m on the sidelines I’m looking at certain things and Derek sees it. I’ve got to make sure No. 1 he’s seeing the same things I am and in talking to Phil, it’s ‘OK, what is that safety doing? OK, this is what they’re trying to do.’ Is it bracket coverage? Are they just playing two over the top of one? What are they doing?

‘’They were doing some different stuff coverage-wise than they had shown all year and obviously we hadn’t prepared for it. Once we figured out what they were doing – it was unique; it was not something that was very conventional – so it just takes a while to say, OK, this is what they’re trying to do, so this is what we’re going to do. We attacked them with a tempo drive and got them on their heels a bit and from there, we just had to catch up. The thing that was great was our guys, they hung in there, they didn’t panic, they understood that we were going to get it figured out.

‘’After we figured out what they were doing it was, OK, this is the plan and here we go.’’

Carr figures the Bulldogs will be at it again on Saturday against Hawaii, again in two weeks at Nevada and in the final game of the regular season against the Air Force.

‘’That’s one thing I was talking to my brother about, because I wanted to get his input – how do you really get ready for that? And he tells me, you’ve seen all the coverages, you’ve seen all the blitzes, just maybe that team hasn’t run it,’’ said the Bulldogs’ quarterback, who has thrown for 2,766 yards and 26 touchdowns, second and tied for second in the bowl subdivision, in his first nine games working with Schramm and the new up-tempo spread offense.

‘’You get used to seeing something on film and then, bam, they hit you with something else, quote-unquote, a left hook out of nowhere. He told me just play it smart, get a feel for what they’re doing, but at the same time just play your game. You’ve seen the coverages, so don’t let it surprise you.’’