Pencil in these answers for Bulldogs' football team

Fresno State has more than 3 months to figure out what the spring has meant for its upcoming season.

04/22/2008 6:35 AM

04/22/2008 6:36 AM

Spring football is over. Well, almost. Fresno State still has one more practice left, a light workout Wednesday at Bulldog Stadium.

It'll be closed to the public. But that's fine.

Unless something dramatically happens Wednesday, the Bulldogs already have filled in their Scantron with answers to questions they faced entering spring camp. Here's the key to follow along:

A. Good to go.

B. Still the same.

C. Getting better.

D. Ugh, better ask later.

They might not be the answers coach Pat Hill wanted, but at least he knows where the Bulldogs stand as he sends them off for player-only, no-coaches-allowed workouts for the next 31/2 months. The Bulldogs will reconvene with coaches Aug. 5.

Here's a review of Fresno State's spring exam.

How will quarterback Tom Brandstater perform under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who is the Bulldogs' fourth OC in four years?

Answer: A -- Good to go. Brandstater is adjusting just fine to Nussmeier, and his coaching style and play preference. Brandstater, entering his third year as the starter, is playing with confidence and showing great knowledge of the offense. He's making smart decisions and has shown the arm strength and accuracy to get the ball through the tightest of windows.

"I expect good things from Tom," Nussmeier said. "He's looked amazing."

How is the center spot coming along?

Answer: D -- Ugh, better ask later. The center exchange couldn't have gotten off to a worse start.

There were botched snaps, shotgun hikes that sailed over the quarterback's head and snaps that were fired off before the quarterback actually wanted the ball.

But as guard-converted-center Adam McDowell got more familiar with the position, the bad snaps ceased. And the center spot became unnoticeable -- a good sign when you're an offensive lineman.

"It's not a big deal," Brandstater said. "The first couple of practices we had some problems because [McDowell] had never done it before. But since then, he's fixed the problem and we haven't had issues."

Let's see if it's that way in the fall.

What player could have a breakout season?

Answer: B -- Still the same. The answer before spring camp was running back Ryan Mathews. The answer after spring camp remains Ryan Mathews.

The soon-to-be sophomore has bulked up in the offseason yet still has shown the quick feet and vision that made him so lethal last season when he led the Bulldogs in rushing as a true freshman.

Mathews' blocking still is a work in progress, as is his route running. So maybe he's not ready for the do-it-all role departing back Clifton Smith had, but Mathews has all summer to work on that.

"I think I've shown what I can do," Mathews said. "Now I just got to keep doing it when it matters."

The linebackers seemed to be the primary area of concern on defense. How has that come along?

Answer: C -- Getting better. As long as the starting three of weakside linebacker Quaadir Brown, middle linebacker Ben Jacobs and strongside linebacker Nico Herron are manning the spots, the Bulldogs look good. Herron has been one of the biggest surprises in spring, adjusting quickly to his starting role and playing physically and aggressively.

Brown missed Saturday's scrimmage to attend to a personal matter, but he'd be a four-year starter if it wasn't for an injury two years ago. He's solid, as is quiet defensive leader Jacobs.

But the Bulldogs are extremely thin in depth, with Nick Bates appearing to be the only steady option off the bench.

"I don't think you can say we're a weakness," Herron said. "We've improved so much from the first day to now."

The Bulldogs suffered a rash of injuries last season. How are those injured players doing in their rehab work?

Answer: C -- Getting better. Fourteen players sat out the final scrimmage with various injuries -- some that dated to last season, others from offseason surgeries and a few who got hurt in the spring. Two players, defensive end Jason Roberts and linebacker Ryan McKinley, saw their careers ended by injuries suffered last season.

Left tackle Bobby Lepori (biceps) and left guard Cole Popovich (shoulder) are expected back for summer camp after missing most of the spring -- Popovich practiced a little. Center Joe Bernardi (knee) says he feels better than he's ever felt after knee surgery. He should know, considering he's had three in four years.

"I didn't come here just to start five games and be done," Bernardi said. "I've got plenty more games to start ahead of me. I'm going to keep working hard and do all of my treatments to get back on the field as soon as I can."

Safety Marvin Haynes (pelvis) and defensive tackle Cornell Banks (knee) are expected to be fully recovered before the summer. And receiver Chastin West (knee) said he'll be able to join contact drills by the summer.

Is Fresno State ready for a big 2008 season?

Answer: D -- Ugh, better ask later. It would appear Fresno State is ready for the season as long as it's going with its main guys. The Bulldogs' first-team offense and defense looked solid overall. But the depth wasn't apparent during the three weeks, particularly at backup quarterback, linebacker, tight end and along the defensive line.

That leaves Fresno State counting heavily on its starters to stay healthy.

Quarterbacks Ryan Colburn and Matt Faulkner failed to impress in the final scrimmage, which might mean incoming freshman and prized recruit Ebahn Feathers could move up the depth chart quickly.

Left tackle Kenny Wiggins had a good spring and looks like a safe option if Lepori, a soon-to-be three-year starter, doesn't recover as quickly as expected.

Tight end Ryan Skidmore has shown he can get open and has the hands to reel in passes. But he's prone to fumbling and hasn't shown the blocking ability like that of starter Bear Pascoe.

The loss of defensive end Kenny Borg for the season (injured knee in spring) puts more emphasis on Chris Carter and Chris Lewis to perform.

Fresno State is stocked at receiver (seven capable options), defensive back (as long as Haynes returns, the position seems fine) and running back (Mathews gets a lot of attention, but Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding are almost as productive).

"I'm happy with the way spring ended," Hill said. "I'm pleased with our progress. But we're not a finished product by any means."

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