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: learning a lesson the hard way …

Fresno State ran some live periods at the end of practice on Monday, their first hitting this spring. They flew around pretty good. But the physical nature of practice started well before they went live, and redshirt freshman safety Dalen Jones and the younger players watching learned a lesson there.

In team run, running back Marteze Waller came through the line running right at Jones. It didn’t appear that the safety was expecting big contact but he got it – Waller, who has been known to finish runs on the practice field, just plowed him.

Jones got Waller down, but he was flat on his back at the end of the play and he heard about it from defensive coordinator Nick Toth.

‘’You know, you have to make your decision when you get in those drills,’’ Toth said. ‘’You’re either going to be physical and deliver it and get yelled at for being too physical, or you’re going to catch it and get your face knocked off and I don’t want guys that are going to catch.

‘’I want to yell at them to pull it back and Dalen learned that from that drill. Dalen, he’s not afraid to hit, but he got in there and was a freshman. You better get in there and smack. You better get in there and go. But he learned a lesson, a lesson you probably have to learn as a freshman.’’

Jones recovered nicely the rest of the way. ‘’After I yelled at him early in practice, Dalen got better,’’ Toth said.

 

Practice report

There were a couple of injuries and the Bulldogs are lucky they weren’t more serious. Waller went down with a right leg injury. Coach Tim DeRuyter said it was a quad. Waller spent the rest of practice on the side with ice on it.

Cornerback Sean Alston was on the wrong end of one of the biggest hits in the live periods, trying to make a tackle on running back Malique Micenheimer.

He was down for a few minutes, but was able to get up and to the sidelines, albeit moving very slowly. He had a stinger.

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Micenheimer, who has played linebacker and fullback, is an absolute load with the ball in his hands, by the way …

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Quarterback Marcus McDade absorbed the other big hit in the live stuff, scrambling to the right sideline. DeRuyter had the quarterbacks live when they were outside the pocket, and Karl Mickelsen just drilled him, one of a number of physical plays the inside linebacker was involved in.

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During individuals, the wide outs and cornerbacks matched up in a sideline drill – the receivers catching a pass at the numbers, the corners needing to wrap up or get them out of bounds.

The corners routinely got killed in this drill a year ago, but were much better on Monday.

Still, no one had much an answer for Davante Adams. He got pretty much whatever he wanted, making a move to the inside or beating the defender to and up the sideline.

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Slot receiver Dillon Root (car accident) was in practice for the first time, participating in individuals. He is expected to be cleared for contact for the Wednesday practice.

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Here is some video from a ball security drill …

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There were no changes in the first, second or third offensive lines. James Le’au continued to run with the ones at left guard and seems to have separated himself a bit from Mike Saenz.

Le’au is not getting much of a push, but DeRuyter said he has come along.

‘’He has been making some strides,’’ he said. ‘’I think he’s separated himself a little from Saenz. He’s had an opportunity to work with that first group. He still has work to do, but I do see progress there.’’

One thing Le’au is doing better: competing play after play after play.

‘’Which is encouraging,’’ DeRuyter said. ‘’To be frank, a year ago at that position we weren’t real consistent with our starter there, either. I think he’s starting to figure it out. I think, when he came in, I don’t know if he had the mentality, ‘I’ll wait my turn,’ and he was dinged up a little bit and he never really was in a rhythm. He’s had a chance to get healthy now and I think he understands the offense better. When you understand things fully you can play closer to your potential and he’s getting closer to that.’’

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When 7 on 7 was going at the other end of the field, the offensive and defensive linemen were matching up in pass rush drills, first two-man and then one-on-one.

The Bulldogs’ defensive line got the better of most, which is no surprise.

Tyeler Davison didn’t take a lot of reps, but on one he just blew right by center Lars Bramer. He also tried a spin move in a matchup against Saenz and midway through decided to just go right through him, which he did.

Todd Hunt also had a good rep working to the inside against Le’au.

Maurice Poyadue, the backup nose, had a good rep against Bo Bonnheim.

Andy Jennings also was a handful for JC transfer Patrick Kim, though Kim come back and get Jennings later in the period.

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When the live periods started, Brian Burrell got the first reps with the No. 1 offense. McDade then worked with the No. 2s and Myles Carr with the No. 3 offense.

All three backup quarterbacks ended up taking some reps with the No. 1 offense.

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The field goal and PATs have been a question, but the placements could be a factor in that. Davante Adams has been holding when Garrett Swanson is taking kicks, and Swanson has been holding when Blake Dunn is doing the kicking. But it is an area that needs some development.

Punter Andrew Shapiro did the holding a year ago and, as DeRuyter said, was nails at it. But someone will have to develop some consistency there. ‘’Garrett has all day long to work with Blake, so you hope that he ends up emerging to be the guy,’’ DeRuyter said. ‘’As we get into fall camp we’ll figure who that guy is and we’ll go with it from there.’’

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Along with Mickelson, Kyrie Wilson had a very good practice. ‘’He’s starting to play with some confidence,’’ DeRuyter said. ‘’He’s always had the physical tools, but for him, understanding the scheme at times slowed him down … or, trying to understand the scheme. I think now he’s feeling more comfortable and you can see him really burst and when he gets there he’s a physical load.’’

Toth on the inside linebackers: ‘’Karl has had five good days, five really good days. I feel really good about him right now. Him and Kyrie, both, and (Jeremiah) Toma, have all played really well. The offense is doing some stuff schematically that bothers us, too, so for them to be fitting it the way they are, I’m happy.’’

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Rodney Mathews continued to get the reps with the No. 1 defense at strong safety, but DeRuyter and Toth both had a lot of positives on Charles Washington, as well.

The strong safety position should be interesting to watch throughout the spring.

‘’The hard thing is, they’re learning it for the first time. They’re not like most of these other guys, where it’s carry over. Charles was playing free (safety) and really didn’t even play that much. There’s plenty of work to do – we have 10 (practices) left and there’s plenty to do.’’

 

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 …

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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. …

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

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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. …

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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.

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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. …

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

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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 …

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

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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 …

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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.

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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.’’