Fresno State offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb is back calling plays for the second year in a row, and he expects to lead a prolific offense.
“I would say being explosive is our goal,” Grubb told reporters Thursday. “We want to absolutely strain every inch of the field on the defense. That might be with the fly sweep, that might be with the four vertical concept or it might be pulling people apart and running power down the middle when they start to stress themselves out with the outside. We’re versatile enough to do that.”
The Bulldogs have the tools to live up to Grubb’s expectations.
Fresno State returns an experienced wide receivers group. Zane Pope, Jalen Cropper, Emoryie Edwards, Keric Wheatfall, Chris Coleman all made significant contributions last year, and Grubb noted that two of his second-year players Josh Kelly and Erik Brooks have also stood out in fall camp.
With eight wide receivers returning who caught a pass last year, the position group is arguably the deepest on the team.
“There’s a whole slew of guys that are stepping in,” Grubb said. “I think one of the best parts for us, in ‘17-’18 we worked our tail off as an offensive staff to disguise and hide KeeSean [Johnson] moving into different positions so opposing defenses couldn’t get a beat on him.
“And I think that there’s enough with true explosive power to be able to get behind defenses and scare them a little bit, just the versatility of how we can line people up and run the same concepts and push the football to different places has been one of our biggest strengths on offense so far.”
While the wide receivers are proving to be a versatile group, Grubb is hoping to see the same from the offensive line.
He noted that in 2017 – when he was the offensive line coach – Fresno State had five linemen start all 14 games without any injuries. Last year was a different story: 10 different starting combinations in 12 games due to a vast amount of injuries.
Now the Bulldogs return eight players who have starting experience, and the response to the injuries has created a culture of versatility. For example, Grubb said Tyrone Sampson and Bula Schmidt – two players who started at center last year – have been playing center and both guard spots so far in fall camp.
“Everybody’s got to know multiple spots,” Grubb said. “I think it’s been really deep.”
Ronnie Rivers returns as the ‘Dogs top running back for his senior season, and he’s added some weight, up to 192 pounds Grubb said. Last year the five-foot-eight running back was listed at 183 pounds.
“Ronnie looks better than ever, honesetly,” Grubb said. “He looks bigger, stronger, he worked his tail off during this time away – put on a little weight, he’s up to 192. He’s got some power behind his pads and still as explosive as ever out of the backfield.”
Joining Rivers in the backfield are Jordan Mims – who is returning from an injury that kept him off the field in 2019 – and Wyoming transfer and Central High School graduate Jevon Bigelow.
“Those three guys, I really feel like they can be a three-headed monster,” Grubb said. “They’re really showing that they got some skills.”
And finally, either Jake Haener or Ben Wooldridge will tie the whole offense together at quarterback.
Head coach Kalen DeBoer said Wednesday that he expects to name a starter next week. Grubb followed that up Thursday by saying they will name a starter at the end of next week, when the ‘Dogs begin their preparation for the season-opener against Hawaii.
Neither quarterback has a lock on the job yet.
“It couldn’t be any closer right now,” Grubb said.
Grubb echoed DeBoer’s sentiments that both gunslingers have been very impressive so far, in large part due to their preparation and attention to detail in the Zoom meetings over the last several months.
The duo have thrown about 500 passes throughout fall camp so far, only combining for three interceptions, Grubb said. At the end of the day, the decision will come down to who the coaching staff thinks will be the most productive leading the offense.
“When we say production, who’s got the ability to move the chains, take care of the football and at the same time threaten the defense,” Grubb said. “Because if you’ve got the guy who just wants to throw hitches all day because he wants 89% completion and he never is able to push the ball down the field, he’s probably going to be a sack machine. And that’s not what we’re looking for.
“Those aggressive, decision decisions and doing them with a better interest of the team is what we’re looking for. They’ve known the expectations since right out the gate, so they know if they’re just trying to be a game manager and play conservative the whole time, they won’t be the guy. And neither one of them have done that. We’ve pushed the ball down the field more than any time I’ve seen here at Fresno State.”
Photo: Fresno State Athletics