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March 1, 2013
After day two of spring ball on Wednesday, it's probably too early for Tim DeRuyter and his staff to answer all of the questions about some of the key positions on the Fresno State football team.
While the coaching staff uses this time to figure out who's going to replace key players such as star running back Robbie Rouse and strong safety Phillip Thomas, one of the positions the Bulldogs are very strong at is tight end.
The returning starter for the Bulldogs is Marcel Jensen, who emerged in DeRuyter's spread offense last year. Jensen finished the season with 19 catches for 310 yards and four touchdowns in all 12 games. These numbers may not seem eye-popping, but Jensen developed into a nice security blanket for Derek Carr last season.
The other tight end on the depth chart for the Bulldogs is junior Riley Barnes, who is a native of Tulare, Calif. He is a physical presence for the 'Dogs at 6-foot-3, 250-pounds. And if Jensen is the pass catcher, then Barnes is the punishing blocker who paves the way for teammates like Jensen.
"I consider myself more of a blocker," Barnes said. "I like to get out there and hit people and show my will on them."
Barnes, like Jensen, played in all 12 games last season. His numbers were pedestrian compared to Jensen's, catching two passes for 19 yards. However, one of his two catches was a memorable 14 yard reception against Hawaii.
Looking to improve upon his numbers from last year, Barnes is using spring ball to work hard and make a good impression on the team.
"I'm feeling good right now," Barnes said. "I'm just trying to earn my spot and come out here and work hard and do what I can for the team."
While Barnes didn't see much action as a pass catcher last season, he foresees playing more of a vital role in the offense this year. And for him, that is the biggest motivator in spring ball this season compared to last season.
"This year, I feel like I'm in a better spot to get more playing time," Barnes said. "I think the coaches know that too. I've just got to prove myself out there."
The spread offense is designed to open up multiple vertical seams for both the running and passing game to exploit. The Bulldogs proved how lethal of an offense it is by setting or breaking many records in their first year in the Mountain West.
While players like wide receiver Davante Adams and running back Robbie Rouse were the main beneficiaries of the spread last season, Barnes believes his role and that of Jensen's are equally important to the success of the Bulldogs.
"I think they (tight ends) play a very big role in the spread offense," Barnes said. "I think we can be utilized a lot. We can threaten them with the run for blocking and the pass."
It is clear that Barnes' work ethic and attitude have helped him prepare for another season this spring. And regardless of the role he plays in the offense this year, he realizes where his greatest contribution will come from.
"Right now, I feel like I've been used a lot as a blocker at that H-spot," Barnes said. "I want to become more of a receiver; more of a threat."
Even though Barnes and the Bulldogs are through two days of spring practice, a quicker, up-tempo and more fanatical pace of style in the offense is being preached. And that's what excites him the most about this system. "Get out there and tire them quick," Barnes said.
Proving himself to the coaches and team is what's going to separate Barnes from the rest of the pack. And when that happens, the Bulldogs could have two lethal tight ends in their potent offense instead of one.
"Right now, I just need to prove myself on the scene and get that spot," Barnes said. "I just want to show everybody what I can do."
Stay tuned to FSBulldogs.com for more updates on 2013 Fresno State spring football. You can follow Jason on Twitter at @dodgerjason.
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