Fresno State’s Bramer closing in on magic number — and closing hole in middle of offensive line

Fresno State lost Patrick Kim before he could play a single down of football, the junior college transfer going down in spring practices with a neck injury. He has taken a medical retirement. And that leaves the Bulldogs with a huge question in the middle of their line, which remained unsettled through the spring outside of returning starters Austin Wentworth at left tackle and Cody Wichmann at right guard.

Lars Bramer worked with the No. 1 offense at center through the spring. But, ideally, they are looking for a bigger body there, a 300-pounder with presence.

Fresno State center Lars Bramer has made some solid gains through the ‘Dogs strength and conditioning program

‘’You’d love to have a 300-pound guy who can move,’’ coach Tim DeRuyter said. ‘’Patrick was like 290 or so, and was closer to that.

”Lars, he’s got to get himself up into that range and he knows, he knows this is his last go at it and he feels a sense of urgency to get there.’’

With one week remaining in the Bulldogs’ offseason strength and conditioning program, Bramer, a senior from Buchanan High, is in fact closing in on that number and improved his strength.

He is at 282 pounds, after playing at 274 or so last season.

‘’That’s huge for him and you see the improvements in the strength when we start putting on some weight (when lifting) with those guys,’’ strength and conditioning coach Joey Boese said. ‘’And Lars is a guy, movement-wise, that has gotten a lot better, just from pure running mechanics and things. He’s really cleaned up some of that stuff that he had going on.’’

Boese is confident the 6-foot-5 Bramer can carry 290 good pounds, but the question, as it was a year ago, is whether he will be able to hold it through the season.

Bramer started the first seven games a year ago, then missed a game when suspended for a violation of athletic department policy. When he returned, the Bulldogs had gone to a bigger lineup up front, with Richard Helepiko moving in at center from a guard spot, and he never regained playing time.

‘’Lars knows that and we’ve been pounding Lars about making sure he’s eating and what he’s putting in his diet and those things,’’ Boese said. ‘’He’s done well in here, from where he started to where he is now strength-wise, he’s gotten a lot better. And it’s important to Lars, which is huge.

‘’He knows he’s going to have to be a huge part anchoring that line and making sure we’re not getting that bull rush. When he sees a guy like Tyeler Davison (in practice) or that guy from Boise last year, that, ‘Hey, I’m not putting a move on you, I’m lining up right in front of you and I’m putting a bull rush on you,’ he knows that from last year now and that offensive line continues to grow.’’

Fresno State O-line coach Cameron Norcross has high expectations for spring practices

Offensive line coach Cameron Norcross demonstrates technique to Bulldogs players during fall camp in August 2012. (ERIC PAUL ZAMORA/THE FRESNO BEE)

The Fresno State Bulldogs will hold the first of their 15 spring practices bright and early on Monday morning, and the Mountain West co-champions have more than a few questions to answer.

Many are up front on the offensive line, which lost senior starters Richard Helepiko and Matt Hunt and do not have much ready-depth at any of the five positions coming back. There are no candidates to step up and slot in at the center or left guard – not without a lot of work, anyway.

That will make for some interesting sessions for offensive line coach Cameron Norcross, who still is stinging from the Hawaii Bowl loss to Southern Methodist.

The players, Norcross said, should be, too.

The line coach answers a few questions about the line and the expectations he has for the position group through the spring as well as scouting reports on the junior college players who could have an impact this season.

Bee: Your group had a pretty good season last year, but now you lose Richard Helepiko and Matt Hunt and that has to be a concern – one thing that wasn’t there was competition within the group or a lot of depth, and you have two starters to replace …

Norcross: “There was one thing we didn’t have enough of last year, and that was depth. The biggest thing this spring is not who are the five guys that are going to start, but it’s who is going to make the group better, because then you’ve got continual competition. We didn’t have that. We would have our five starters, our five to seven guys that are going to play, and there was no one else who stepped up. That’s what we have to have this spring. We’ve got to be able to find 10 guys that are going to be able to step up and compete day in and day out for jobs. I didn’t think we were as good as we could have been last year just because our level of competition in practice wasn’t there.”

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Bulldogs’ center Richard Helepiko added to NFLPA Collegiate Bowl

Fresno State center Richard Helepiko has been added to the roster for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl on Jan. 19, joining Bulldogs’ record-setting running back Robbie Rouse and outside linebacker Tristan Okpalaugo.

Helepiko, honorable mention in the all-conference team, started the first seven games of the season at right guard before moving to center for a Fresno State offense that averaged 47.2 points and 515.4 yards per game.