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February 25, 2013
With a definite chill in the air, spring practices began today at Bulldog Stadium for the defending Mountain West champions.
The first day of practice was a day for the Bulldogs to shake off some of the rust that may have carried over from the off-season as players ran through individual and team drills. Position coaches mainly emphasized fundamentals on the first day and implemented basic formations that will be utilized throughout the season.
Returning players guided the newcomers and today's practice was a chance for the team to gel and learn from one another as it was their first time seeing the new guys in action.
One of the position groups that eyes were drawn to was in the secondary as first year defensive back coach David Brown was roaming the defensive backfield for the first time. Coach Brown coming fresh off leading Division II Missouri Science and Technology to a 10-1 season looked geared up and ready to go as he instructed his players through coverage drills.
Coming in coach Brown takes over the second best passing defense in the country and has the huge task of replacing unanimous first team All-American safety Phillip Thomas, which head coach Tim DeRuyter admitted is a big loss, but was optimistic in finding a replacement in time for their season opener against Rutgers.
"We've got some good young players that we're excited about that will get their opportunity," DeRuyter said. "We'll see who rises to top."
With Thomas gone, new leaders have emerged in the secondary like All-Mountain West free safety Derron Smith, who along with Thomas accounted for 14 interceptions in 2012. Thomas has accepted his role as a leader and is confident the coach Brown will push the secondary in the direction to continue their dominance as one of the conference bests.
"The transition has been real good for him and we have a good relationship," Smith said. "He's a great X's and O's guy and he's picking up really fast."
Smith was happy to get back on the field and back in the flow of the game. He did acknowledge that it will be different not playing with his partner in crime, Thomas. However, Smith did feel good about the prospects of Thomas' replacement and the secondary being one of the well suited position groups on the team.
"There's no way to replace Phillip Thomas," Smith said. "But the group feels like it will have the potential to have great depth and there are a few players that can fill the starting roll."
The two players that Smith mentioned as possible replacements were junior college transfer Rodney Mathews and returning redshirt sophomore Charles Washington. Smith said both can really get after it and are great athletes capable of filling Thomas' void.
Smith said he came in the 2013 season looking to better himself from last year's production and while he and his teammates know the expectations are huge for the upcoming season, Smith says they have tried to ignore the outside pressure.
"We try not to pay any attention to that," Smith said. "We are just focused on winning every game and doing what we have to do to get better."
And while focus is a major part of spring, Smith did emphasize one important aspect of going out for the beginning of the season.
"We're out here practicing, but you try to have fun," Smith said. "You're not playing the game if you're not having fun."
You can follow Rudy Rendon on Twitter at @rendonrudy.
Fresno State NEWS