Friday, September 2, 2011

Position Breakdown 2011: Defensive Backs

Returning Lettermen: Jermaine Thomas, Isaiah Green, L.J. Jones, Derron Smith, Zak Hill, Terrance Dennis, J.B. Dock
Newcomers: Charles Washington, Beau Fryer
Lost: Desia Dunn, Lorne Bell, Justin Webber

Isaiah Green: Senior Not Green Anymore
Sr, 5-10, 180
Long Beach (Polytechnic HS)

Many fans still have nightmares about cornerback Isaiah Green being exposed in the embarrassing loss to boise state last season, but that’s not a true picture of Green’s ability. Green is one of the hardest workers on the team. He can be seen year-round in the grass lots surrounding Bulldog Stadium doing any number of drills, or just out with a couple teammates covering pass after pass. Green’s the defense’s fastest player, though he’s showed suspect hip flexibility in the past. As a senior, he’ll be expected to raise his level of play and that of his teammates, and should do a good job of it. Green had 34 tackles last season and ranked second on the team with 8 pass break-ups and 8 deflections (second only to Phillip Thomas, who’s out for the season with injury). For the Bulldogs to do everything they need to defensively, Green and his battery mates will have to be able to stick in man coverage, play fast and be aggressive. If they can’t, we’ll be looking at another subpar Bulldogs’ defense.

L.J. Jones: Jonesin' for a Playmaker
So, 5-11, 180
Encino (Crespi Carmelite HS)

One guy who’s going to help make sure the defense is far from subpar is L.J. Jones, who got his first taste of big-time college football last season. Jones was good enough to play as a true freshman, but the team didn’t have a need for him until last season. And he didn’t disappoint. Last season was a learning experience that helped season Jones, and he can be expected to have a breakout year of sorts this season. Jones is athletic enough to jump routes and force turnovers. He’s got natural corner instincts and will be a lock among the Bulldogs’ top three at the position. Last season, he totaled 14 tackles (one for loss).

Jermaine Thomas: Recognizing the Game
Jr, 5-11, 190
Duarte (Duarte HS)

As is widely known, the Bounce has long been a Jermaine Thomas proponent. Thomas was injured against louisiana tech last season and is still battling back toward 100%. It’s unclear if he’ll be full speed during Saturday’s opener at cal, but he’s getting close. Thomas remains the team’s top cover corner. He quickly made that fact known last season in the opening win over cincinnati. If you’re lucky enough to catch a ball on Thomas, you’re probably not going to get many yards after the catch. Thomas had 25 tackles and an interception last year, along with 5 break-ups, 6 deflections and a fumble recovery. While his stats aren’t all that impressive, consider how much less opposing quarterbacks throw to his side of the field because of his lockdown coverage. Most folks around the nation and even the so-called WAC experts haven’t yet caught on to Thomas’ ability. If he’s healthy, it’ll be a huge boost for the Fresno State defense – and not only in the passing game. He’s also the Bulldogs’ best run support corner, though Isaiah Green is right there with him.

Derron Smith: Putting on the Pounds
So, 5-11, 190
Banning (Banning HS)

Talk about immediate impact. Derron Smith stepped right in as a true freshman and started at safety in the team’s third game last season at ole miss after an injury to now departed Lorne Bell. Smith had 29 tackles (one for loss) while playing in every game of his first season. Want more good news? He had a stellar fall camp – even more so than last year’s – and looks to have gained 15-20 pounds. Alongside Phillip Thomas, Smith made up half of an overwhelming safety duo. Now, he’s got to carry the flag and act like a veteran with Thomas injured. Smith’s greatest strength is in pass coverage, as a ball hawk. He didn’t get an interception last year, but there’s a good chance he’ll have multiple picks in his sophomore campaign.

Cristin Wilson: Carrying the Flag
Jr, 5-8, 175
Stockton (St. Mary’s HS)

Suddenly, walk-on Cristin Wilson is the guy everyone’s talking about. With Phillip Thomas injured, Wilson becomes the new starter at safety and he’s never suited up for a college game in his life. Fans better hope he has nerves of steel because it’s a big-time game in a bowl-like atmosphere that he’s stepping right in to. Making matters even worse, he only had two days to mentally prepare himself to start. That’s a quick turnaround. Wilson obviously impressed coaches in camp, to be chosen as starter of the coach’s son Zak Hill and ultra talented true freshman Charles Washington. Wilson gives up about four inches of height to Thomas and isn’t nearly the hitter, but is a converted cornerback who offers coverage ability. The looming question is can Wilson do enough to allow the Bulldogs to play as aggressively as they need to and would like to? We’re about to find out.

Zak Hill: Call Him the Doctor
Sr, 6-2, 205
Fresno (Clovis West HS)

After missing all of last season with an injury, Zak Hill returned to camp ready to go and was injured again, missing several days of practice. He’s expected to play Saturday in the opener, but it’s not clear how much. Hill received significant playing time two years ago and was a big liability in pass coverage. And if he’s lost any speed since his injury, that liability will only be magnified. On the plus side, Hill, coach Pat Hill’s youngest son, is a very smart kid and doesn’t make a lot of mental mistakes. He might be needed badly if Wilson falters.

Davon Dunn: He's Dunn Sitting the Bench
R-Fr, 5-11, 185
San Diego (Lincoln HS)

Davon Dunn moved over to cornerback from wide receiver in the offseason and is one of the most gifted athletes Fresno State has had on defense in years. Dunn, the son of former Fresno State and NFL receiver David Dunn, originally committed to cal before changing his mind and choosing Fresno State. Having an athlete like him on defense is a sign the Bulldogs are putting more emphasis on shutting down opponents – great news. It was clear in spring camp that Dunn was good enough to be a starting corner right now. Fresno State is lucky enough to have three other deserving corners as well, but Dunn will be the fourth and will contribute. He’s a playmaker-type, who’s going to be aggressive going after the ball and cause a few turnovers in his career. And he’s also a dangerous return man.

J.B. Dock: On the Verge of Playing Time
So, 5-10, 170
Ventura (St. Bonaventure HS)

More proof of how talented Davon Dunn is is that he leaped past elder J.B. Dock on the depth chart. Dock will still get plenty of reps this season and is developing quite nicely, but doesn’t have the size of Dunn. Dock is a great fifth corner and may very likely develop into a starter in the next couple years. And give him credit for continuing to work hard, while the other corner who was part of his signing class, Erik Brown, saw that he was third on the depth chart and transferred. Dock performed far better than Brown in the past few camps and created separation. Now, he’s got to focus on getting experience under his belt and stepping it up another notch.

Terrance Dennis: Injured No More
Jr, 6-0, 180
Pomona (Diamond Ranch HS)

Terrance Dennis was expected to have made an impact at safety by now, but he’s still third on the depth chart. A nagging injury set him back last season, as he recorded just four tackles, but Dennis is still intriguing. With the Phillip Thomas injury, he, too, might get a look at a starting job if the team is searching for the right fit. Dennis isn’t the biggest defensive back, but does lay some hits.

Charles Washington: It's Go Time
Fr, 5-11, 190
Encino (Crespi HS)

If you want the Bounce opinion, Fresno State has to do everything it can to get Charles Washington on the field right now. It’s difficult for most true freshmen to come in right away and play, especially in big, high-pressure games like Saturday’s, but Washington has a college-ready body and, on film, looks like a star in waiting. His film showed similar qualities to those of Derron Smith, but in a bigger body. Washington is sound in coverage and big enough to step up on the run. If he’s at all capable of digesting the playbook and learning the schemes well enough to play this year, the ‘Dogs would be wise to get him some experience before the boise state game and others against spread-it-out opponents.

Sean Alston: In Good Hands With Alston
R-Fr, 5-10, 175
Alta Loma (Los Osos HS)

Sean Alston is another impressive young corner who should battle for playing time as soon as this season. He was the star of his first spring camp with an interception, and shows coverage skills regularly that this team needs. With the lack of turnovers forced by the defense in recent years, the Bulldogs have to focus on getting guys like L.J. Jones, Davon Dunn and Alston on the field.

Anthony Riggins: Dialing it Up
R-Fr, 5-11, 185
Fairfield (Rodriguez HS)

Anthony Riggins improved by leaps and bounds this fall camp. He’s got track speed, and turned that into legit game speed if camp was any indication. Another young, talented corner, Riggins looked to have grown up right before our eyes. This secondary lacks seasoned veterans, but makes up for it in upside.

Jonathan Norton: A Special Day at Camp
So, 5-8, 185
Moreno Valley (Moreno Valley HS)

Walk-on Jonathan Norton might be little in size, but he capitalizes big on his opportunities. During a spirited practice during fall camp, Norton had two consecutive pick-six interceptions – against two different quarterbacks, Kelly O’Brien and Marcus McDade. The defense mobbed the young walk-on, and Pat Hill blew the whistle, letting the defense end on a high note. Norton won’t see the field this season, but keep an eye peeled.

Beau Fryer: Who's the New Beau?
Jr, 5-8, 185
Manteca (Manteca HS)

Walk-on Beau Fryer joined the team in spring camp, and didn’t get many quality reps with anyone but the scout team. He’s also undersized, but has enough ability to work towards developing into a guy who gets a good look. (And no, before you even ask, Fryer is not Dwight O'Neil's twin).

Tyler Stirewalt: He Converted
Jr, 6-2, 200
San Bernardino (Aquinas HS)

Converted quarterback Tyler Stirewalt doesn’t have the speed or athleticism to be an impact safety at this level, but he gets a spot on the team – something many of us would and should covet.

Phillip Thomas: He Will Be Missed
Jr, 6-1, 205
Bakersfield (Bakersfield HS)

Fresno State received the most devastating defensive news it possibly could have late Wednesday, when its best player, best NFL prospect and potential leader Phillip Thomas was lost for 8-12 weeks on an injury in non-contact drills. Just how good is Thomas? The Fresno State secondary would get a 9 out of 10 rating with him. Without him, that rating drops to at least 7 of 10. You can’t help but feel bad for Thomas as a person. He was entering a season in which he would have likely gained national notoriety for his ability as hands down the best defensive back in the WAC and one of the best in the nation. Thomas does it all. He’s as good in coverage as the team’s best corners, and he’s as big a hitter with as good of instincts as the defense has had in years. And all that was obvious after his sophomore season – there’s no telling how much he would have turned up the dial in this, his junior year. Now that year will likely be lost. Thomas has already redshirted and greyshirted, and he won’t be eligible for medical hardship waiver.

Position Rating:


  1. Where's the game recap?

  2. ditto. Where's the game recap? I'm anxious to hear how all of our amazing "playmakers" did against Cal.


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