Fresno State Fall Camp is less than a week 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 quarterbacks and running backs:
In 2015, Fresno State had four quarterbacks get a shot - only one will be in the mix this fall. At running back, the Bulldogs had four running backs touch the ball - only one will be back, Deonte O’Neal who carried the ball 16 times.
The Bulldogs had 826 offensive plays last season. Only 98 of those plays were snapped to, or handed off to, a player who returns healthy this fall - 12 percent.
This could be either good news or bad news for a team that won only three games last year.
For a third straight year Fresno State enters fall camp with a quarterback battle. Yet again, the Bulldogs have a returning quarterback with hopes of stepping into the starting position - met by a transfer who could step in right away.
There is no doubt about it, the Bulldogs have to have a competent quarterback to bounce back in 2016. In our prediction series, we have highlighted expectations for an improvement at on the defensive line, as well as solid cornerbacks play. If the Bulldogs’ defense becomes the strength, it may not take a lights-out quarterback to earn wins, but they need stability.
Stability is not the word to describe the Bulldogs’ offense in the last two years. Three quarterbacks got their turn in 2014 and four did in 2015. The Bulldogs go into fall camp without a starter, but with higher hopes of an answer. Chason Virgil may or may not step into that role, but it sounds like his competition will be tougher this fall than last.
Meanwhile, lining up next to (and this year behind, too) the quarterback is a whole new crop of running backs. Marteze Waller’s senior year ended with a fizzle after strong sophomore and junior campaigns. A new scheme should give way to more success at the position in 2016.
The Bulldogs bring a variety of options to the table in 2016, ranging from 5-foot-6 playmaker Dejonte O’Neal to 6-foot-2 freshman athlete Justin Rice.
Open - QB - Chason Virgil / Zach Kline / Quinten Davis
Last year Chason Virgil won the starting job just to lose it immediately due to injury. None of the other three starting quarterbacks he narrowly beat out a year ago will be in the mix this fall. Zack Greenlee and Ford Childress are gone while Kilton Anderson is recovering from injury.
The narrative all offseason has been that Virgil would return to be the starter. This spring Virgil was the guy, though he performed only slightly better than his competition.
Sources tell BarkBoard.com that the team’s new quarterback additions may change the narrative sooner than thought. Get ready for another ride.
Sources tell BarkBoard.com that graduate transfer Zach Kline has been impressive this fall, enough to challenge the frontrunner and then some. Quentin Davis has also been impressive this summer, sources say. The chances of the true freshman starting this year should still be considered a long shot, but with the recent QB departures he will get plenty of opportunities for reps in fall camp. Fresno City College addition Christian Rossi is also there in the mix.
Will the coaching staff pick one of the four before the season opener? We just can’t be sure. Coach DeRuyter has said in past years that the staff wanted to see what the quarterbacks could do and played two or even three QBs in early season games.
Is that his strategy or the mindset relayed from Schramm’s strategy? We will see. Based on the responses received from coaches this past spring, it would be no surprise to see both Virgil and Kline play in the first two games, and hopefully a decision will be made before the team’s trip to Toledo.
All-in-all, if the winner of the four-man competition last year is being pushed by two newcomers, we think that is a good sign.
Open - RB - Dontel James / Bryson Oglesby / Dejonte O’Neal / Wesley Hill / Justin Rice / Deonte Perry / Saevion Johnson
The Bulldogs were down to two healthy backs this spring - Now six will compete to be a part of the committee this fall. A much different look than the one-man show of Marteze Waller, side-kicked by grad transfer Dustin Garrison last year. Schematically, Offensive Coordinator Eric Kiesau’s will be more running back friendly too.
Dontel James was given extremely high praises by both head coach Tim DeRuyter and his previous offensive staff. Had it not been for his injuries, he would have likely stolen carries from Waller and been a key part of the offense already. After his injuries mounted up, he went to junior college for a fresh start and DeRuyter gladly welcomed him back.
James looked as good as ever this spring. He’s doing everything including yoga to be healthy. Expect James to be the top option, but given his health concerns, he will be the leader of the committee rather than the workhorse.
It is a true free-for-all to join him in the committee.
Bryson Oglesby provides a similar balance of strength and speed to the field that James does. He also appears to be well-developed for a redshirt freshman and looks able to handle many carries a game. However, he suffered an injury in the spring and whether or not he is ready for the season remains to be seen.
James and Oglesby could provide a good one-two punch, but the committee scenario provides a diverse, and likely dangerous, group of athletes.
Dejonte O'Neal was elusive, shifty, and surprisingly strong at 5-foot-6 in his reps this spring. He was the most electric player out there this past spring, but will the Bulldogs give him a shot? The previous offensive staff was determined to recruit tall, strong backs, but the next Robbie Rouse may have fallen into their laps.
We still don’t know much about Wesley Hill, but the former UTEP commit has had a good offseason, we are told.
Three freshmen compete for a spot too, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see one or maybe two get a shot this year.
Six-foot-two Justin Rice could be an immediate addition to the rotation. BarkBoard.com saw Rice compete at The Opening as a wide receiver a year ago. While he joins the Bulldogs as a running back, his versatility makes him an intriguing option for Kiesau. Expect to see him on the field in some capacity as a true freshman.
Deonte Perry was also a three-star back out of high school. Perry was expecting a shot at carries as a true freshman when he was committed to San Jose State, so we expect him to get a shot now that he is on campus. Perry is an all-around back, but that may get him lost in the shuffle with all the options the Bulldogs have.
Saevion Johnson was the under-the-radar recruit of the three, coming out of Texas. If we had to wager, Johnson would be the most likely to redshirt. All three were said to get a fair shot as true freshman on signing day via DeRuyter.
The quarterback position is Chason Virgil’s to lose, but graduate transfer Zach Kline may be the more experienced, talented and game-ready of the quarterbacks. It will be a wait-and-see with the staff’s pick of the one-year solution or investment in Virgil. The last two years have been a struggle to find “the guy.” This year is expected to be an upgrade as it may be a decision between two worthy options at QB.
For a team that lost nearly all of its rushing production last year, the Bulldogs have a multitude of legitimate options to pick from. While it is a talented unit, be prepared for some growing pains with only one upperclassmen in the bunch.
(QB - RB)
First: Virgil - James
Second: Kline - Oglesby
Third: Davis - Rice
Fourth: Rossi - O’Neal