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."
Monday was the first of 15 spring practices for Fresno State. The team practiced with no pads and the offense wore red while the defense wore white.
Even though practice started just a few weeks after signing day, one coach told us it was smoother overall because the staff has a years experience together now.
Coach DeRuyter mentioned he is looking at four prospects to fill Robbie Rouse's shoes at the running back spot and that he expects a great competition.
Victor Dean was back out for the first spring practice despite breaking his leg and missing the rest of the 2012 season. Derek Carr was quick to notice his return. "It blows my mind to see him out for spring practice," Carr said. "It amazing what they can do now to get him back out here."
Carr also admitted to taking a back seat during spring practice as backups took a majority of the reps today. "I'm not the future of the program anymore," Carr said. "I'm putting on my coaching hat to help the future of the program."
Running backs coach Joe Wade was pleased with day one of spring football "I thought there was good effort," Wade said. "I think the kids are excited about getting back out here and having the footballs and being able to throw them around."
Wade said the first practice without Robbie Rouse was, "definitely different."
Rouse finished his work at the NFL Combine and will be heading back to Fresno soon where he will continue to work out.
You can follow Rudy Rendon on Twitter at @rendonrudy.