Fresno State football spring scrimmage notes: Northern opens up another position battle on O-line

Head coach Tim DeRuyter, top, talks to his team following Fresno State football team’s Spring Game held at Bulldog Stadium on Saturday, March 23, 2013. (ERIC PAUL ZAMORA/THE FRESNO BEE)

The interior offensive line is fluid, but it was expected to be at this point. Fresno State, looking to replace starting center Richard Helepiko and left guard Matt Hunt, had some options to explore this spring with more coming in this fall and line coach Cameron Norcross is making concessions to make sure he gets a look at those bigger, longer, linemen, most notably guard Sean Rubalcava from Cerritos College.

A proponent of finding his five best linemen and putting them to work, developing continuity and a confidence across the line, Norcross in the fall will get Rubalcava some reps right away with the No. 1 group to get a gauge where he is coming in and how quickly he can assimilate the Bulldogs’ schemes and calls up front. ‘’He’s a guy that we’re going to have to do that for,’’ he said.

But exiting spring practice, the right tackle spot also is wide open, which was not expected. Justin Northern, a 6-foot-5, 280-pound redshirt sophomore, made it that way. And that would be the case whether or not returning starter Alex Fifita had not missed the last week-plus with a hamstring injury.

‘’Alex coming (into the spring) was a clear-cut favorite, but it didn’t finish that way,’’ Norcross said. ‘’They’re going to finish head-to-head or Justin may be a little head because Alex has been hurt and Justin took the opportunity he got and ran with it.

‘’He didn’t back down and step away and concede to Alex. He said, ‘No, I’m going to take this opportunity, I’m going to take this starting job’ and I love that attitude. I was proud of him that way.’’

Northern didn’t have the best spring in the position group, but Norcross said he had made the most improvement coming off a solid offseason.

Read more →

Bulldogs get their Mountain West Conference championship rings

Fresno State safety Derron Smith shows off his Mountain West division championship ring he, along with the rest of the team, received at the annual awards banquet March 22, 2013. (CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE)

The Fresno State Bulldogs received their Mountain West Conference championship rings on Friday at their annual awards banquet; big, bright numbers with a Bulldog logo prominently featured in the middle. ‘’They’re blingy,’’ Coach Tim DeRuyter said, with a smile.

Running back Robbie Rouse, who set the all-time school record for rushing yards, was honored as the team’s most valuable player, and linebackers Tristan Okpalaugo, Shawn Plummer and Jeremiah Toma, punter Andrew Shapiro, quarterback Derek Carr, strong safety Phillip Thomas, running back Josh Quezada and defensive end Matt Akers also won individual awards.

Akers, a senior who had started all 13 games in 2011 as an undersized defensive end, lost his chance to play much less start when the Bulldogs switched to a 3-4 from the 4-3, spent the last half of the season preparing true freshman Alex Fifita to start week to week at right tackle and was honored as the defensive scout team player of the year. ‘’He had as big a role in us winning those last five of the regular season as anyone did,’’ offensive line coach Cameron Norcross said.

Akers in practice went at Fifita on every rep – he was working with the first and second teams to get as much work as possible – using his quickness to get the freshman used to the speed of the game.

‘’I think it’s quite a testament to his character,’’ DeRuyter said. ‘’A senior who was a former starter … scheme switches, coaches change, a lot of times those guys go south and become problems in the locker room. He was a guy that really pushed Alex Fifita to get better and I don’t know that Alex would have been good enough to start for us a year ago if it weren’t for Matt Akers.

‘’To me, he’s the essence of what a team guy is – ‘I may not get the glory of playing on Saturday, but I’m going to make our team as good as possible.’ For him to earn that award, I think it speaks volumes.’’

Read more →

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.

-

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.

Read more →

Bulldogs’ spring practice report: running backs are spinning a bit

Robbie Rouse was at practice, which put a bit of a spotlight on the running backs.

Fresno State has Marteze Waller back and Josh Quezada, the transfer from Brigham Young, now in the mix. T.J. Thomas has done some good things. Daryl Cash and Malique Micenheimer also are getting some looks. But it’s likely to be a while before there is any clarity at the position in replacing Rouse, the Bulldogs’ all-time leading rusher, because they’re all swimming a bit with a lot of new stuff they are being asked to do.

Waller played last year, but has a lot more to do this spring than he did a year ago. Quezada and Thomas were on the scout team, so there is a lot of new information to digest in lining up in the backfield or at different spots wide when in empty sets.

‘’They’re doing a lot of things, so right now we’re just trying to get that implemented so they’re comfortable with the procedure and how it pertains to them,’’ running backs coach Joe Wade said.

‘’We’re installing all this stuff so it’s like, ‘Hey, you’re over there …’ If you’re not a veteran, you haven’t done it all that much. Marteze did some so he has somewhat of a base, but it was only in one area and now he’s in multiple areas, so you just keep asking him to learn more and more.

‘’People don’t really realize how many things they have to do. But this is good for them. Sometimes when you make a mistake, it’s good, because if you’re a conscientious person, you’re thinking, OK, I’m going to take from that experience and learn from it. A lot of these things are things they need to go through and learn from.’’

They also have done any pass protection drills yet, which is another area that Rouse, even at 5-foot-7, really excelled and could be a separator at the position.

‘’I think we’ll be fine there,’’ Wade said. ‘’We should be pretty stout, because we’ve got some nice-sized guys. But we definitely have to work on technique and all those things.’’

 

Practice report

First day in full pads, though there was nothing live …

-

Tight end Marcel Jensen was back in practice … Wide out Dillon Root is still out, following the traffic accident he was involved in. There is a chance he could do some individual work on Saturday. SAM linebacker Jamaal Rose, coming back from knee surgery, was on the field for some individual stuff. …

-

Wide out A.J. Johnson is now suspended indefinitely. There is a chance he could return at some point.

-

Kicker Quentin Breshears also is not with the team. He decided to be a full-time student, leaving the field goal and PATs to Blake Dunn and Garrett Swanson for now. Dunn has an early class and doesn’t get much time to warm up after he gets to practice, but hit his first two kicks very well. There was a third, however. Both Dunn and Swanson had their third kicks blocked in that special teams period. The Bulldogs have a scholarship kicker coming in the summer – Colin McGuire from Austin, Texas. …

-

The search for a punt returner will pick up next week, but for now the staff has a lot of players catching kicks – Isaiah Burse, Josh Harper, Davante Adams, Sean Alston, Jonathan Norton, Taylor Stewart, Greg Watson and Davon Dunn all got work off the Juggs gun. When they went to special teams and a live kick, Burse, Harper and Adams fielded the punts. Burse, who handles kickoff return, would be the favorite in the punt return competition right now.

-

The wide outs and corners and safeties did some one-on-one work, with Derek Carr and Marcus McDade chucking the football while Myles Carr and Brian Burrell worked team run on the other side of the field. There were some interesting results …

Burse won all of his matchups – some by big margins. His first rep he made an inside move on safety Charles Washington and beat him deep badly. On his second he beat Washington again, shaking him with an inside-out move. Burse also got safety Derron Smith pretty good later in the period.

Washington did have some issues, not only with Burse. On his last rep Stewart was going to get by him deep so he stuck out an arm and grabbed him– better a penalty than a TD, though.

Alston made a nice play to break up a pass to Adams, Dunn had a good rep against Anthony Riggins on a deep ball, Norton made a nice play on the ball against Victor Dean and a better play against Harper.

The DBs were the ones doing the pushups at the end of the period. …

-

Dean, for someone who broke his femur midway through the season, is moving incredibly well.

-

The 7 on 7 and team periods were a bit sloppy on offense …

Derek Carr had his no-turnover spring ruined … well, not really. But in the second of the 7 on 7 periods he tried to make a tough throw to Jensen over the middle that was broken up. The ball popped into the air and was caught by cornerbacks coach Jordan Peterson, who was watching the DBs from behind the play. Peterson showed some good moves returning it before he was tracked down by receivers coach Ron Antoine. … Guess we won’t count that one against Carr …

-

Linebacker Jeremiah Toma made a nice play in the 7 on 7, stripping the ball from Jensen after a catch.

-

Not a lot of NTCs (nice throw and catch) in either period, but there were a quite a few METs (missed easy throws). All three backup quarterbacks were a bit erratic. Myles Carr was only 1 of 4 in his second set of reps in the 7 on 7 and threw a poor pass to Riggins that was picked by Alston. Burrell did have a nice deep ball to Riggins, but the receiver dropped the pass …

-

In team, working third-down plays, Burrell had a pass tipped at the line and picked by Ellis. The accuracy hasn’t really been there yet with Burrell, which is understandable given he is three days into a new offense and working with new receivers. He does lose some zip on the ball on his middle to deep throws, though.

-

D-line coach Pete Germano on backup nose guard Maurice Poyadue: ‘’One of the things is he’s done is he’s lost weight. He came in too heavy in fall camp and he couldn’t move his body. He’s done a great job with his diet, he’s really committed to that. He’s down to 285 (pounds) now and he’s having a really good spring so far, and when I say so far, it’s only three practices and one practice with pads. But he’s moving a lot better and he’s grown up a little bit. Like a lot of kids, he’s grown up and realizes what’s out in front of him and he’s lucky to be on scholarship and he’s fortunate enough to play the game of football and he’s going to maximize his time. So, right now, he’s coming out of the gate as one of the pleasant surprises, and that’s great.’’