Fresno State had options with all of its freshmen and players who had a redshirt season available, and how coach Jeff Tedford and the Bulldogs would handle that through the season was a question, as it was for every college program after the NCAA implemented a rule allowing players to compete in any four games while retaining a redshirt year.
It isn’t a “play or not play” proposition anymore.
Now through five games, the Bulldogs have players who definitely will redshirt this season and eight – including former Downey and Central Catholic players – who have played and still can retain a year of eligibility.
Tedford intends to keep all of his options open with the Bulldogs 4-1 and 1-0 in the Mountain West Conference, with a game on Saturday against Wyoming and all of their goals still ahead of them.
“They’re available,” he said. “I think that’s the whole idea behind that rule – people are available as the season wears on, to create some depth for you so it doesn’t put you in a bind. I don’t know if it’s ‘insurance,’ but it helps you with your depth as a long season goes on. You start having bumps and bruises, you start missing people, and it gives you the ability to play some guys and get some young guys some reps.
“It could be for a lot of reasons – it could be for injury, it could be just to get them some quality time for their development for the future ... but it gives you more options.”
Eight still eligible to redshirt
Running backs Ronnie Rivers and Josh Hokit are among the eight players who have played but still are eligible to redshirt. But both are key pieces in a deep backfield rotation and on special teams and not likely to play in just four games.
It was more of an option with Rivers when injury seemed to point his return to the field to late in the season; instead, he has already played in two games. Hokit missed a game for the first time this season last week against Nevada.
The others are former Downey star Isaiah Johnson (two games played), a freshman defensive end, and Justin Rice (four), a junior linebacker out of Central Catholic. Also among the players are freshman offensive lineman Marc-David Bien-Amie (one game), sophomore defensive end Damien DeGruy (three), freshman linebacker Sherwin King (one), and sophomore safety Arron Mosby (four).
For the Bulldogs, there are benefits to keeping those players in a redshirt year with a roster that still is under repair.
Rice, who played in the first four games before sitting out at Nevada, spent his true freshman season at Fresno State playing at running back. He burned the year playing in six games and carrying the football just eight times in a 1-11 season.
By redshirting this season, Rice would have two years to play two seasons of football. He has the versatility to play all three linebacker positions and could be a valuable piece with starters George Helmuth and James Bailey and backups Trent Soechting and Mafi all in their senior seasons.
Bien-Amie, DeGruy, Johnson and the others will stay involved with the Bulldogs’ 1s and 2s in meetings and on the practice field.
“We keep them in our meetings, we keep them understanding the game plan and then depending on week to week how our injury situation is, we’ll determine whether they get more reps or not or are physically on the field,” Tedford said
“But we keep them in tune with what’s going on. That’s where it’s important that they’re in our meetings. They’re not in scout meetings, they’re in our meetings. We do enough crossover stuff to where they’re not separated from the offense and defense completely. Even if they’re not getting reps, they’re able to see it.”
At defensive end, Emeka Ndoh is a senior and Mykal Walker and Kwami Jones are juniors and if DeGruy and/or Johnson redshirt the Bulldogs gain balance there, as well.
“There are pros and cons” to the rule, Tedford said. “I think you have to see how it plays out as a season, as it gets further along. There are decisions to be made sometimes and nobody has a crystal ball. You can put guys on the shelf, but they have to stay ready.
“It’s definitely a learning experience going through it. Isaiah, for instance, only played in one game so far and we needed him last week and so he came in and gave us some minutes and now he has two, but he still has his redshirt year. You have to kind of pick and choose.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada