Fresno State Fall Camp rewind: What we learned

The Fresno State football team entered August with 28 practices to prepare for the season opener. With the first game coming this Saturday, we take a look at what we’ve learned about the 2016 Bulldogs so far.

Click here for a full rundown of our Fall Camp coverage

1. Virgil is the guy

The Fresno State Bulldogs had four quarterbacks start over 12 games last season. Chason Virgil was the only one of the four to both return to the team and be healthy for fall camp as he was joined by newcomers Zach Kline, Quentin Davis and Christian Rossi. Last week, Fresno State Head Coach Tim DeRuyter announced Virgil as the team’s starter and it appears the team is committed to their redshirt freshman. Virgil was elected by his teammates as one of four team captains, joining three seniors, which speaks volumes for what the team thinks of him.

There are no plans of switching quarterbacks by each quarter on Saturday and it would come as a surprise to see another quarterback make a start in September unless it is due to injury.


2. Fall Camp Standouts

Though Chason Virgil did not blow the other quarterbacks out of the water, it became clear that he was the top option on this year’s team by the end of camp. What separates Virgil from the rest? Whether he is composed in the pocket or on the run, once Virgil locates his target he typically throws a really good ball. When options are not there, he has faster wheels than anyone we can remember seeing taking snaps at Fresno State. The speed is deceptive too as he flies through open space in a hurry.

However, inexperience at the FBS level is bound to lead to mistakes by the young QB, as just about anyone in his shoes would. In the team's open scrimmage, an early forced ball that was intercepted and erratic throws when no receivers were open were later corrected to smartly thrown away balls and better decision making. Hopefully for the 'Dogs that is a sign that Virgil is a quick learner and new offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau is a good teacher.

Jamire Jordan was one of the most frequently featured players in Fresno State’s top plays of the day tweeted from practice.

Regardless of what he did the other 99 percent of the time at practice, Jordan’s playmaking abilities will be big for the Bulldogs in 2016. Fresno State has lacked a true playmaker in the slot since Isaiah Burse and Jordan looks to be a big-play threat every time he is on the field.

Nate Madsen broke into the defensive end rotation as a redshirt freshman in 2014, but was sort of lost in the shuffle at nose guard last year. Madsen height and length make him a dangerous defensive end but an awkward nose guard. Back at end, Madsen’s improvements have become evident. Look for Madsen to be a terror for quarterbacks this fall.

James Bailey's abilities were undoubted as he made his way onto the field as a true freshman last year. He has been described by the coaching staff as a special and potentially next-level athlete. His unique skillset to play both linebacker and defensive back will keep him on the field as much as possible.

3. Freshmen impact

Fresno State’s 2016 recruiting class didn’t separate itself from others in the DeRuyter era on paper, but it became clear that many of the newcomers were closer to the competition than in year’s past.

The Bulldogs’ two-deep revealed Monday featured four true freshmen and several other newcomers.

- Cornerback JuJu Hughes of Hanford made his way to the second team CB position with four straight practices with interceptions.

- Inside linebacker Jeffrey Allison from Georgia took advantage of minor fall injuries to his competition to prove he was worthy of a spot in the two-deep.

- Defensive end Elijah Piper of Washington made a splash at both defensive end and nose guard, earning the second team DE spot.

- Walk-on, yes walk-on, freshman Josh Hokit of Clovis High is also listed on the Bulldogs’ two-deep. The wrestler and football athlete impressed so much during camp that they changed his position just to find him a spot on the two-deep, taking one of the second team outside linebacker spots in a deep and veteran group.

Other newcomers on the two-deep

- Junior college transfer Austin Vaimili is listed as a second team defensive end

- Junior college transfer Malik Forrester will be the Bulldogs’ starting nose guard. He joined the team in the spring. His backup is Pat Belony, another JuCo transfer who redshirted at Fresno State last season.

- Graduate transfer Zach Kline is the Bulldogs’ second string quarterback. He has had two separate stints at Cal with a stop in between at Indiana State.

- Junior college transfer Christian Cronk earned the starting left tackle position. He joined the team in the spring. Fellow spring JC add Ryan Popolizio is slotted as the second team right guard.

- Junior college transfer Logan Hughes is the second team right tackle. Hughes was a late signee this summer and joined the team for fall camp.

Unfortunately, three freshmen running backs may have all had a chance to play this year but injuries are keeping them all out for the time being.

4. High hopes for defense

Fresno State Head Coach Tim DeRuyter’s defense was flying all over the field in 2012, creating turnovers and touchdowns weekly. It seems that the unit has diminished over each year since. The 2016 defense is not the 2012 defense, but it could be a big jump from last year.

It all starts on the defensive line. We will take a closer look at the group for you this week where an overhaul has occurred that should send shockwaves of improvement to the next layers of the defense. On the D-Line, junior college transfers Malik Forrester and Pat Belony bring the Bulldogs more ideal sized nose guards at 6-foot-2 and over 310 pounds in the middle, allowing undersized nose guards to move to a more natural end position. The lone returning starter Nate Madsen is reaping the benefits of moving back to end and is one of our top breakout candidates in 2016 because of it.

The Bulldogs lose linebackers Ejiro Ederaine and Kyrie Wilson from last year, but the group will look much improved thanks to a better defensive line. Three seniors hold down the defensive backfield, led by corner Tyquwan Glass and joined by up-and-coming safety DeShawn Potts.

Fresno State’s defense is full of upperclassmen with either experience or the body types of players who have played two or three years at the Mountain West level. Offensively, the Bulldogs have little experience outside of second-year returners from last year’s three-win team. The ‘Dogs could be depending on defense to carry the team early on, and they appear to be qualified for the task.

5. Wait-and-see on O-Line

If you have to pinpoint a biggest concern on the 2016 Bulldog team, offensive line may be it.

Though new O-Line Coach Mark Weber has impressed all at practice and comes with an impressive background - and the Bulldogs’ current starting offensive line may very well have adequate talent - it is a thin and inexperienced group.

Of the first team, only one of the five linemen (guard Aaron Mitchell) has a full starting season under their belt. Two have starting experience from last season (center Jacob Vasquez and guard Micah St. Andrew), while another two (tackles David Patterson and Christian Cronk) have yet to play significant time at the FBS level.

The depth there is a concern too, where none of the five back-ups have ever played a down of FBS football - two of which are redshirt freshmen who were switched over from the D-Line mid-camp.

If healthy, the group should be ready by conference play, but there is little room for error with the young Chason Virgil taking snaps behind them.

Click here for a full rundown of our Fall Camp coverage


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