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April 5, 2013

Thoughts on Fresno State spring practice

2012 was a season of firsts and excitement for the Fresno State Bulldogs.

In the category of firsts, the Bulldogs entered the 2012 season as the newest members of the Mountain West Conference (MWC); they were under the leadership of a new head coach, Tim DeRuyter, who brought a hard-nosed attitude and the spread offense from Texas A&M and they won their first conference title since 1999 when they played in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) under former head coach Pat Hill.

As for excitement, the Bulldogs provided plenty of that. Derek Carr and Robbie Rouse became stars-in-the-making playing in the spread offense and wide receivers such as Davonte Adams and Isaiah Burse helped transform the Bulldogs in to an offensive juggernaut.

Defensively, the Bulldogs showed a lot of promise as well, with Jim Thorpe Award finalist and All-American Phillip Thomas leading a secondary that attacked the ball and ranked among the nation's leaders in turnovers. Fellow defensive players Jeremiah Toma and Andy Jennings also made their presence felt in a young and aggressive defense.

Yet, despite all of their accomplishments in 2012, the Bulldogs entered spring practice in 2013 with many unanswered questions. Concerns about the depth at some of the key positions and very little explanations about how they will develop for defense of their conference championship next season.

The two most glaring holes that DeRuyter and his staff will need to fill are at running back and strong safety. With Rouse and Thomas gone and headed to the NFL, several players are capable of filling their spots, but in spring practice, it was still too early to tell who the clear cut front runners were to claim those spots.

Junior Darryl Cash and redshirt freshman T.J. Thomas showed plenty of promise during the spring, but it would be foolish to assume that they won't be challenged hard by talented sophomore Marteze Waller, who dealt with injuries this spring.

As for replacing Thomas, DeRuyter and his fellow coaches came away really impressed with sophomore Charles Washington. Washington got plenty of reps this spring at strong safety and he impressed with some heavy hits and surprising athleticism. It appears as if he has the inside track to replace Thomas, but fellow safeties Dalen Jones and Rodney Matthews, a junior college transfer, impressed this spring as well.

DeRuyter and his staff may have to make some tough choices regarding the replacements for Thomas and Rouse, but one position they don't have to worry about is quarterback. Last season, senior Derek Carr ended any and all comparisons to his brother David by conducting the Fresno State offense on a grand, orchestral scale of epic proportions. As a result of his offensive virtuosity, Carr was named the 2012 Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year and he became one of the nation's elite passers.

Despite the uncertainty regarding some of the competition battles, the Bulldogs used spring practice as a way to measure themselves against last season and to embark on bigger and better adventures in 2013. The motto this spring was, "fast, physical and fanatical". But it's not just a motto; it's also a belief, a style of play. For the Bulldogs, it is all that matters as they enter 2013 as conference champs.

When we last saw the Bulldogs, they were embarrassed by the SMU Mustangs in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. They limped off the field after receiving a 43-10 thumping at the hands of the Mustangs and all of a sudden, an exciting first year under a new coach in a new conference waned with the tropical breeze blowing through the stadium.

However, this spring has shown that the hungry team from last year is even hungrier now. Of course there are going to be struggles, position battles and uncertainty. But if spring practice proved one thing, it's that the Bulldogs aren't satisfied with being one year wonders. They are shooting for 2013 to be just as exciting as 2012, if not more so.

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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