Bulldogs’ spring practice report: corrections on the fly are a good sign for improving defense

Fresno State had a pretty good season a year ago, defensively. The scheme got put in, absorbed. The Bulldogs played it well enough to make a huge jump in turnovers gained, as well as total and scoring defense. And all of that has shown through in their first two practices of the spring, particularly in a secondary that is without strong safety Phillip Thomas, but does return three starters.

The Bulldogs are making plays, and the difference from this time a year ago with the scheme and playing techniques is rather large.

‘’It’s funny, a year ago we were worried so little about scheme and just trying to establish a whole bunch of other stuff,’’ defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. ‘’I feel real good. Our kids are showing up and they’re playing pretty hard right now – the intensity is real good, they’re running to the ball.

‘’So we’re getting to worry about more technique and scheme stuff and the DBs, they’re the ones we’re seeing a whole bunch of results with that. Three of the four are back and they’re light years ahead.

‘’They’re all self-correcting, which is a sign of the scheme sinking in. I saw (linebacker) Kyrie Wilson today self-correct. As he was making a mistake, he felt it, and that’s because he had all those reps from before. I feel good about that stuff. Everything looks good, but we don’t have pads on. We’ll find out more on Friday, but I’m happy with where we are.’’

 

Practice report

Defensive lineman Andy Jennings was back in practice – he missed the first spring practice due to a death in his family. Wideout Dillon Root was at practice, but not in practice – he was involved in an auto accident on Sunday and is moving a bit stiffly. Tight end Marcel Jensen was excused from practice, so the Bulldogs had to move third-string tackle Andrew Gustafson to tight end for a day. …

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Coach Tim DeRuyter on the practice: ‘’It was much cleaner than it was on Monday, which is to be expected. I thought our intensity, we had a good bounce in our step. Things were good today. We took care of the ball much better on offense. We put two fumbles on the ground – we can’t do that. The defense did a good job of stripping the ball. They were contact fumbles. But overall, I like what we’re getting done on both sides of the ball.’’

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The Bulldogs will put on the pads for the first time on Friday and will scrimmage for the first time next Monday, which is practice No. 9 of their 15. …

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A decision regarding the status of receiver A.J. Johnson is expected on Friday. Johnson, who missed last season for violating team and NCAA policy, is under suspension for a violation of team rules. …

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Backup long snapper Chad Preacher, who is graduating this spring, has decided not to return to the team, leaving the Bulldogs short at a key position behind starter Dylan Detwiler. Coach Tim DeRuyter said there are some in-house candidates to provide some depth there, including junior college transfer Josh Tremblay, who is running at the No. 2 left tackle. …

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The Bulldogs’ offense went through some individual drills that hinted at some more interesting stuff from coordinator Dave Schramm in the fall …

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The backup quarterbacks were all sharper than they were on Monday, in the first of the Bulldogs’ spring practices. There was only one interception thrown – that on an errant throw by Marcus McDade.

On that pass, McDade was a little high and a little late on a throw to Anthony Riggins, the play broken up and the football popping into the air, where it was picked by safety Dalen Jones. …

JOHN WALKER / THE FRESNO BEE
Among the top goals for Fresno State in 2013 is keeping Derek Carr upright and giving him the time to find his receivers. The Bulldogs ranked 78th in the nation last year, allowing an average of 2.23 sacks per game.

Derek Carr threw in the two 7 on 7 periods, but again sat out both team periods. The line play should be improved with some competition in the position group and the receiving corps should be healthier, meaning they won’t be shuffling players between positions as much. But it wouldn’t be like Carr to sit back and expect that to cure the ‘Dogs problems with sacks and interceptions a year ago.

‘’For me, it’s continuing to grow however I can grow,’’ he said. ‘’If there’s something I see, then I’ll work on that. Right now, I’m working on my eyes, making sure my eyes are right 100 percent of the time, make sure I make the decision right 100 percent of the time here at practice.

‘’My whole goal throughout spring ball is to not turn the ball over once. Keeping that as a goal, keeping my eyes right, that will help me get better and that will help the offense.’’ …

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That no-turnover streak came close to ending after one practice. In 7 on 7, Carr made a late throw to Isaiah Burse and safety Rodney Mathews came over and was able to make a play on the ball, batting it away. Aside from that throw, he was spot-on, completing the other four he had in the period.

For what it’s worth, scribbled in the notebook were three ‘’NTC’s’’ … nice throw and catch.

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Of the backup quarterbacks, McDade had 10 reps between the two 7 on 7 periods and completed six and three of them were to backs. Myles Carr hit seven of his 10 reps including a perfectly placed pass to Burse running up a hash and bracketed by defenders. Brian Burrell hit six of his eight reps …

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In team, running back Marteze Waller was stripped of the ball on the very first play of the period and, like the quarterbacks on Monday, lost reps for the turnover.

The best pass-catch in the team periods was Myles Carr and Anthony Riggins up the right sideline. Carr threw a bit late and the ball hung up in the air, but Riggins went over cornerback Shannon Edwards to haul in the pass.

Riggins had trouble catching the ball last season, getting his eyes, hands and the football to intersect at the same time. But he did a lot of work after practices last year, and over the winter, and is catching it much cleaner than he had been.

‘’It’s coming along,’’ Riggins said. ‘’I’ve been working on it. I started OK, but started struggling later in the season. I just have to keep working on it to get it perfect.

‘’I’m a lot more confident and comfortable playing the game at this speed. I just have to get my eyes on the ball – they told me to take a picture of it when I’m catching the ball and that’s what I’m working on. I have to make that second nature. A lot of times, I was trying to catch the ball and I wasn’t even looking at it. I have to look at it every single time all the way in.’’

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Riggins did some work after practice again, catching balls fired out of the Juggs gun. Aaron Peck also took some extra work after practice, something he did not do a lot of last season. …

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Wide

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA / THE FRESNO BEE
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter chats with wide receiver Victor Dean during a November 2012 game. Dean is working to return from a broken leg suffered last season.

out Victor Dean, coming back from the broken leg, did not participate in team, but he stayed after practice as well, running some routes and catching passes from receivers coach Ron Antoine.

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Redshirt freshman Travis Harvey, who did his work at guard on Monday, got some reps at center. He had one bad snap in team, when Burrell was in the shotgun. He stayed after to work on that – snapping the ball to quarterback turned slot receiver Greg Watson. …