Fresno State Fall Camp opens Thursday 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 offensive line:
Fresno State's offense was at its worse in 2015. How much did the offensive line play a part in it?
The Bulldogs’ offensive production dropped by nearly 100 yards per game from 2014 to 2015. Meanwhile, the O-Line allowed just 27 sacks in 2015 compared to 40 in 2014.
Fresno State loses their two tackles Justin Northern and Alex Fifita - they also lose interior lineman Bo Bonnheim.
Fresno State will have a new quarterback and several new running backs in 2016. Without a solid offensive line, they could be doomed to fail. Fortunately, the Bulldogs return three experienced interior lineman with the hopes of solidifying the two tackle positions.
BarkBoard.com expects Jacob Vasquez, Aaron Mitchell and Micah St. Andrew to hold down the interior line positions. All three have starting experience and maintained first-team spots last spring.
Only Shane Gama might have posed a threat, and a recent heat stroke could keep him off the field for a while. Zach Kinninger also experimented at center from tackle last spring. A new offensive philosophy could call for more bulk at center.
At the tackle positions, returning second teamers David Patterson and Ben Northup will compete with junior college transfers Ryan Popolizio and Christian Cronk. Fresno State will hope to find reliable picks at the tackle spots to both protect the QB and establish a smash mouth run game.
As for overall depth, the Bulldogs are hurting. Only 13 linemen are currently listed on the roster. Of them, Shane Gama is questionable, two-way lineman Netane Muti, listed as an OL, is out with injury according to sources. The Bulldogs could have to call on some late offseason additions to fill in the gaps.
Lock - Left Tackle - Christian Cronk
Redshirt freshman Zachary Kinninger was one of the Bulldogs’ top offensive lineman commits in an impressive 2015 class. He hoped to step into the starting lineup, but it was junior college transfer Christian Cronk who impressed most in spring.
In fact, new offensive line coach Mark Weber was so confident in Cronk at left tackle that he was willing to move Kinninger over to center.
Cronk was a two-star junior college midyear transfer who had committed to Utah State before flipping to Fresno State and enrolling for last spring. Cronk stands at 6-foot-4 and 302 pounds with the athleticism to handle the left tackle position - whether it be in a power-run or spread set.
Overall, Cronk looks like a formidable replacement for Alex Fifita.
Lock - Guard - Aaron Mitchell
Aaron Mitchell was praised by the previous offensive coaching staff since what seems like his first day of practice. He grew into a starter as a sophomore and is expected to hold onto his spot as a junior despite a new offensive line coach. Mitchell has logged the most starts among an interior line with three established first teamers.
Mitchell comes from a rugby background and was solid for the Bulldogs in both the run and the pass, starting all 12 games in 2015.
Lock - Center - Jacob Vasquez
Jacob Vazquez was a surprise talent at Butte College and another surprise at Fresno State. Vasquez earned a spot in the starting lineup last season and started a total of seven games. Expect to see Vasquez at center this fall.
With Kinninger working at center, enough progress could allow the Bulldogs to move Vasquez to guard. Fresno State will try to get its three best interior lineman on the field, but until proven otherwise we expect the spring two-deep to remain the same this fall.
Lock - Guard - Micah St. Andrew
Micah St. Andrew was welcomed to the Bulldog as a walk-on, and was easily identifiable as the heaviest player on the team. He has now worked his way down to, at most, 358 pounds, athletic enough to make him a viable option at guard.
St. Andrew started in five games last year and should be the front-runner for the right guard position.
Of the initial three second teamers from last spring on the interior line, only Isaiah Trevino returns as a healthy member of the team.
Open - Tackle - David Patterson / Ryan Popolizio
We expect four linemen to be locked in for the season opener, but one position should be up for grabs.
David Patterson is a fourth-year Bulldog - he has spent most of that time learning behind starter Justin Northern. Patterson was listed as a two-star recruit out of Irvine (Calif.) Woodbridge HS. His other offers included Nevada, among others.
Fresno State brought in three junior college midyear transfers last spring. Cronk is slated at left tackle, Gama at guard if healthy - Ryan Popolizio also slots in as a tackle and hopes to compete with Patterson for the right tackle position.
Popolizio stands at 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds. He was also listed as a two-star recruit, though his reported FBS offers included Boise State, Kansas State and San Diego State. Though he had the most impressive resume of the newcomers, it was Patterson who held onto the first team reps through spring ball.
Fresno State seems pretty confident with their first five lineman that came out of spring. Though in-game experience is limited, it looks like they will have all of fall camp to mesh together as a starting group. The skills positions could make this group look good or bad depending on how fast they come along this year.
(LT - LG - C - RG - RT)
First: Cronk - Mitchell - Vasquez - St. Andrew - Patterson
Second: Northup - Gama - Kinninger - Trevino - Popolizio