Fresno State Football: Three Questions For Spring Practice
The defending Mountain West football champions have plenty on their plate as they begin down the path to a title defense.
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Big questions abound.
The Fresno State Bulldogs began their spring practice season today, the first steps in their trek to a second straight conference crown next fall.
Jeff Tedford’s team now looks much different from the one that ripped off a nine-game winning streak to close out 2022, but don’t underestimate his ability to figure things out. The trick will be, at least for now, trying to figure out a few more things than usual.
Spring football practice #1 for Fresno State. Mikey Keene (#1) and Matt Robinson working with receivers… pic.twitter.com/DasmZGXRdo
— Gabe Camarillo (@gabecamarillo_) March 6, 2023
Who will replace Jake Haener at quarterback?
The Red Wave got a glimpse at life after Haener last fall when he was knocked out for a month with injury and Logan Fife played in his stead. The backup was accurate, posting a 70% completion rate with a respectable 7.4 yards per attempt, but Fife struggled with protecting the football: Pro Football Focus marked him with a 4.6% Turnover-Worthy Play rate that doubled Haener’s 2.2%, more in line with the likes of Utah State’s Cooper Legas (4.7%), Nevada’s Nate Cox (4.3%), and New Mexico’s Miles Kendrick (4.9%).
With Mikey Keene’s arrival from UCF, the battle should be wide open. Though he backed up John Rhys Plumlee in 2022, Keene posted a PFF passing grade of 81.8 and, for the sake of comparison, had a TWP% of 3.3% on 83 attempts. Sophomore Jaylen Henderson may also get another extended audition, but whoever emerges as a serious contender will likely need to battle throughout the fall to claim the starting job, as well.
Where will all of last year’s targets go?
Jalen Moreno-Cropper, Nikko Remigio, and Zane Pope have all moved on, taking their 270 combined targets with them to the NFL ranks. Josh Kelly is gone, too, having transferred to Washington State. Erik Brooks, who had 37 catches and three touchdowns last year, is the team’s top returning pass-catcher, but the field to replace all of those impact athletes behind him is wide open.
Brooks, Mac Dalena, and tight end Tre Watson lead the veteran contingent on the team’s spring roster, but newer faces could step up and make an impression. Artis Cole, for instance, joins the Bulldogs after scoring 18 touchdowns in 19 games at Glendale Community College over the last two seasons, while Tim Grear Jr. was the team’s top 2023 recruit after starring at Ventura College. Redshirt freshmen Jalen Moss and Nathan Acevedo didn’t see action in 2022, but both came into the program with plenty of buzz a year ago. Whatever happens, this competition will be just as fascinating to watch as the one under center.
Can the defensive line disrupt without David Perales?
The Bulldogs finished in the top 50 nationally by team sack rate and stuff rate and right around the national average by power success rate, but there’s no question Perales drove a lot of that production: His 16 tackles for loss more than doubled any other defensive lineman on last year’s roster, while his 11.5 sacks accounted for more than a third of the unit’s overall total.
Needless to say, there will be plenty of work to do in Kevin Coyle’s second year as defensive coordinator to somehow fill in that production chasm. The upside is that a number of last year’s major contributors, from veterans like Isaiah Johnson and Devo Bridges to up-and-comers like Gavriel Lightfoot, who played in 11 games as a true freshman, and Johnny Hudson Jr., who had five tackles for loss after transferring in from the junior college ranks. The Bulldogs may not need another all-conference performance to thrive, but they do need more from the returning group to help battle the likely degree of regression coming on offense.