Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Underrated Spring Competitions

The Bulldogs return to the practice field this afternoon to continue spring drills. Today's practice will No. 2 in 15 total the NCAA allows. The quarterback battle is the one getting all the media attention, but there are a few others that deserve some consideration.

Left Tackle
The Candidates: #72 So. Bobby Lepori 6-5 285, #71 Jr. James Paulk 6-4 305, #52 So. Richard Pacheco 6-3 285

The consensus thought this early on is that south paw QB Ryan Colburn will redshirt, thus the left tackle will be protecting the blind side of the QB in 2006. There has not been a competition for this very important position since the 2001 preseason practice, when a former rFr. walk on tight end beat a host of candidates for the honor to protect David Carr's blind side. Logan Mankins was set as the incumbent for the next four years, but missed 2003 with a season ending injury. In his absence So. guard Dartangon Shack filled in nicely and was even named 2nd team all-WAC in 2003. Shack moved back to guard in 2004, but assumed the LT position last year after Mankins departure. Now the spot is open and the neither of the three candidates have started a game as a Bulldog.

Lepori is a Pat Hill type of guy, hard-nosed, aggressive and not afraid to hit someone. Paulk is a rare 4 star talent that FS would have never signed without the help of former OL coach Dennis Wagner. Pacheco, in my opinion, is the best of the bunch, but is better suited at guard. All three of these guys could start for just about any team in the WAC, but two of them will be riding the pine as a Bulldog in 06.

Tight End
The Candidates:
#85 So. Bear Pascoe 6-5 260, #88 Jr. Jesus Tapia 6-6 250, #80 So. Drew Lubinsky 6-6 250

In Pat Hill's tenure at Fresno State, the tight end has never really been a big part of the offense. His first year, Hill and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford were just trying to scrape by with what was available. When former Cal Poly OC Andy Ludwig came aboard as in 1998 Hill had a decent group of TEs that he had recruited in his first two years. Eventually through the evolution of the offense, Ludwig incorporated an H-back, mainly due to the fact of not having a quality fullback. Ludwig's schemes often called for double-TE, single back formations. When he left for Oregon following the 2001 season, Hill chose an NFL guy, Frank Cignetti to assume the OC job.

Cignetti brought the fullback back to the offense, but despite having an abundance of good tight ends, the position never developed in his offense. From 2002 until 2004 the offense had at least 3 tight ends that could start and be effective, including two-time Mackey award candidate Duncan Reid and current Philadelphia Eagle back-up Stephan Spach. Last year was the first year Cignetti did not have an experienced tight end on the depth chart. Of the four on the 2005 depth chart only two were true tight ends, Jesus Tapia and Drew Lubinsky, and neither had caught a pass in their respective young careers. The only experienced TE was Devyn McDonald and he was a converted wide receiver. The starter, however, was rFr. Bear Pascoe, himself a converted quarterback. The 2006 season begins with a new OC in Steve Hagen, and 3 very big but unproven tight ends.

Pascoe is the incumbent, but that doesn't mean Tapia or Lubinsky could not impress enough to be named the starter. Talented and big, 6'4 300, TE Maurice Graham is nowhere to be seen and it is unknown whether the 2005 Washington Union recruit will be a Bulldog in the fall. It doesn't matter, the starter will come from one of the three mentioned. Pascoe is the most experienced of the three, but needs to become a legitimate go-to-guy and not just an aggressive blocker. Tapia is the most natural tight end of the bunch, but did not make his first catch until the Liberty Bowl. Lubinsky has the toughest road to climb, but is a very promising prospect. If neither one of these guys steps up, will Hagen scratch the tight end, and revert to a 3 WR set? The fullback and tight end position have been interchangeable, per se, in Hill's nine years, but Hagen would like to run an attack offense. The WRs are big and physical and are capable of blocking just as good as most tight ends.

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