Fresno State Fall Camp is less than 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. Next is the defensive backs:
Fresno State’s pass defense has improved tremendously in the last two years - at least that is what statistics say. In the Bulldogs 11-2 season in 2013, the Bulldogs gave up 283 passing yards per game. That number dropped to 254 yards in 2014 and down to 211 yards in 2015.
There have been more factors than just improved secondary play though. For one, Fresno State’s explosive offense of the past led to opposing teams playing catch-up and passing more aggressively. Also, the Bulldogs’ run defense has suffered greatly since then. In 2013 the Bulldogs gave up 147 yards per game on the ground - then 201 yards in 2014 and 234 yards in 2015. The Bulldogs’ opponents have also gone from second-half catch up to holding onto leads.
When it comes to Fresno State’s defensive secondary, there have been some clear improvements regardless of how the statistics are construed. For one, they finally found an impact cornerback in Tyquwan Glass.
The additional gamechanger could have been Daquawn Brown, but he is ineligible this year.
The cornerback positions could still be one of the Bulldogs’ strong points, but the safety positions are a big uncertainty.
Lastly, Fresno State brings on its most respected defensive backs coach in a long time with Defensive Coordinator Lorenzo Ward. The Bulldogs have struggled to put reliable cornerbacks on the field more often than not in recent history, and talent was not always the reason.
Lock - CB - Tyquwan Glass
There is no doubt about this one. It took a few weeks into the 2015 season, but Tyquwan Glass established himself as one of the Bulldogs’ best players. After joining the team just in time for fall camp, he eventually found a rhythm in the defense and picked off a pass in three of the last four games.
Glass was sidelined for part of spring, which would have been a big help for Glass’s development, but he should be ready to go this fall. With a year under his belt, Glass is expected to be one of the program’s best cornerbacks in recent years in his senior season.
Open - CB - Jamal Ellis / Jerrell Sykes
Daquawn Brown may be one of the best talents Fresno State has had in the defensive secondary in recent years. Brown was a Freshman All-American at Washington State and backed up his talents with an impressive spring session in a Bulldog uniform. Brown and Glass together would have been one of the best cornerback duos in Group of 5 football.
Unfortunately, we won’t get to see that scenario play out. Brown is out for the year due to academic ineligibility.
Brown’s elite talent and athleticism is not replaceable, but the Bulldogs will be fortunate to have Jamal Ellis as an experienced alternative. Ellis has been a fairly solid cornerback since being thrown into the fire as a redshirt freshman. Had it not been for the arrival of Brown and Glass last offseason, Ellis would have come into his final season as the team’s top cornerback. He started all 12 games last year, and he could end up doing that again this season.
Ellis lined up with the second team this spring, along with Anthoula Kelly. Kelly is out this season due to injury.
Although the team’s top five corners from months ago has dwindled down to two healthy, eligible options, there is a wildcard in the mix - junior college cornerback Jerrell Sykes. The Bulldogs added Sykes as a late addition this summer. He has two years to play two, so one would expect Sykes to be competing for playing time sooner rather than later. He led the nation with 10 interceptions in his sophomore season of junior college. The two players ahead of him are both seniors, but you have to imagine Ward used the scholarship to find an immediate boost to his defensive backs unit.
Either Sykes or Ellis would fill in nicely as the nickel corner, depending on who wins the starting job.
The ‘Dogs return redshirt freshmen Mike Bell and Jalen Smith, and also bring in true freshmen Juwuane Hughes and Jaron Bryant. Any of these four could potentially break into the two-deep remaining spot in the two-deep.
Open - S - Stratton Brown / Dalen Jones / Jackson Finch
Safety was one position where the Bulldogs were healthy this past spring - but it was also a position where concerns were not resolved.
Dalen Jones has impressed at times. He started and played well in the 2013 Mountain West Championship game victory, which seems like ages ago. Jones can be aggressive and his style just has not seemed to mesh with the coaching staff as he has continually fallen out of favor.
Jones started the first four games of the 2015 season, but only once more after that.
Stratton Brown had a tough time transitioning from junior college in 2014 and served as only a role player in 2015. It was Brown that was playing as the first team safety in spring, however, with Jones behind him.
Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach Lorenzo Ward was not content with his team’s performance at the position in the spring and made it a priority to make an addition. Ward added Jackson Finch of Contra Costa College who should come in immediately as a competitor for playing time.
Open - S - DeShawn Potts / Alan Wright
The Bulldogs don’t have a player slotted to start at either of the two safety positions, and any pairing of the five could become the team’s starting two.
Potts has been praised for his football IQ, but knocked for his size. Potts now stands at 5-foot-11 and 196 pounds going into his redshirt sophomore year. Alan Wright joined the team as a mid-year transfer for the 2015 season and made two starts, but had little to show on the stat sheet.
Potts slotted with the first team this spring while Wright was on the second team. Ward reemphasized that the team needed to improve at the position.
The defensive backs unit will not be as strong as it could have been without DaQuawn Brown, but could still be a solid unit. The team’s cornerbacks should be one of the team’s more reliable positions when it comes to talent. Solid corner play and an upgrade to the team’s defensive line could make for a good defense in 2016. Safety still remains as a big concern. The team must find not one, but two safeties in order to capitalize on the talent at corner.
(CB - S - S - CB)
First: Glass - Finch - Potts - Sykes
Second: Ellis - Jones - Wright - Bell
Third: Hughes - S. Brown - Alvarez - Smith