Fresno State Fall Camp is just over two weeks away and in preparation BarkBoard.com is taking a look ahead to the position battles. While there are many new eyes on the coaching staff and coaches won’t be guaranteeing any starting spots, BarkBoard.com picks our starting locks and analyzes position battles. First up is the defensive line:
Spring practice proved to be a big positive for Fresno State’s defensive line. Last year the Bulldogs’ defensive front was not a glaring weakness, but certainly one of many struggles that led to a 3-win season. The worries for 2016 came due to the fact that the starting defensive ends, Claudell Louis and Todd Hunt, were both set to graduate.
There is still a lot to prove, but multiple signs show that the Bulldogs are in good shape on the line.
First, noseguard Nate Madsen moved back to his original position of defensive end - and he looked more impressive than ever this spring in that role.
One question remains, will the Bulldogs find a stopgap for their second defensive end spot?
LOCK - DE - Nate Madsen
Madsen redshirted as a freshman, played in every game at defensive end as a redshirt freshman while making four starts, then started 11 games last year at noseguard.
Madsen was one of the most impressive players on the entire Fresno State roster this spring and looks like he will be one of the faces of the 2016 team with a big step-up as a junior. Madsen did not put up impressive numbers last year, but was often double-teamed or lost in the shuffle at nose. Madsen has size at 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds, but his frame is suited better at end than at nose. This spring showed what he could do at the end position with some space to work - and showed just how much he has really progressed since his redshirt freshman.
OPEN - NG - Pat Belony / Malik Forrester
An opening at Fresno State’s noseguard position may actually be a good thing - the Bulldogs appear to have two capable players in the middle rather than none.
Patrick Belony would have likely racked up several Power 5 offers had he stayed in junior college for another year, but he made the early jump to the Bulldogs. Surprisingly he redshirted, but proved this spring to be ready.
Malik Forrester did have double digit offers, but did exceed expectations this past spring considering none came from Power 5 programs.
Both are on the bigger side, even for noseguards. Forrester weighs in at 324 pounds and Belony at 314 poudns. Roster listings in previous years might suggest that they are even higher than that.
Somehow these two big guys squeeze through the “opening" at the position together. Look for both players to split time at noseguard, both bringing sufficient talent and alleviating each other’s concern of handling every-down roles at their size.
(Wide) Open - DE - Several Options
The Bulldogs have one solid defensive end and two capable noseguards, but a weakness at defensive end could be the downfall of the 2016 defensive line.
Nick Kristofers was the first team defensive end this past spring, but never really proved himself to be a level above his competition.
New faces are in this fall to add to the competition.
Back into the fold is Kyle Hendrickson - who suffered a serious leg injury in the season finale last fall. He was kept out of spring, but has been expected to be healthy by camp. Expectations for his return may have to be lowered, however. Hendrickson came to Fresno State as an undersized linebacker-turned-defensive end. According to Fresno State’s roster, Hendrickson had bulked up to 266 pounds in 2015, but has fallen to 248 pounds through the rehab process.
The most likely new face to make an impact to the team is junior college transfer Austin Vaimili, but he comes with questions too. When Vaimili failed to qualify as a mid-year transfer, the Bulldogs seemed to have second thoughts, but ultimately he still became a member of the 2016 class. Fresno State has had some success with junior college additions but it has been rare for them to be ready after just a month of practice.
None of those three defensive ends top the 261-pound mark. When Fresno State’s 3-4 defensive line was at its best in 2012 and 2013, the defensive linemen were closer to 280 than 260.
There is one young Bulldog that does have a preferred build despite being just a redshirt freshman. Mason Bradley weighs in at 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds. He also played on the second team this past spring. On the opposite end of the spectrum - walk-on Wyatt Mcbee of Fresno City by way of Firebaugh also played on the spring second team. At 6-foot-2 and 280 lbs, he moved from nose to end. Perhaps he can make a push for the job as a senior.
BarkBoard’s wildcard to this scenario is incoming freshman Elijah Piper. Piper already weighs in at 308 pounds with a 6-foot-3 frame. Piper also comes in as the Tyeler Davison type of athlete for Fresno State - one with the size to play nose but the athleticism to play end. He brings all that to the table as a true freshman. Fresno State has been reluctant to play new additions on the defensive line. Expect Piper to make a splash in camp, but ultimately redshirt.
Fresno State finds the answer at defensive end to round out one of the best defensive lines the Bulldogs have had in recent years. That being said, they are still an injury or two away from the unit going downhill in a hurry.
(End / Nose / End)
1st Team: Madsen / Forrester / Vaimili
2nd Team: Kristofors / Belony / Bradley
3rd Team: McBee / Carter / Hendrickson