Aggies Sporting New Looks At Linebacker This Spring
March 30, 2010
LOGAN, Utah -
By Chet Wagner, USU Athletic Media Relations
In a perfect football world, changes in the offseason translate to better play and more wins during the season. The Utah State football team made a lot of changes last offseason, including signing a new head coach in Gary Andersen, and it translated into four wins, the most in a season since the 2002 campaign. As plenty of changes continue to happen this offseason at spring practice, the expectations and excitement surrounding Aggie football will certainly continue to climb.
The Utah State defense struggled a bit last year and they are now seeing plenty of changes. Especially changes at the linebacker positions. USU linebacker coach Kevin Clune has reason to be optimistic about his defense this year.
"The main new guy we have at linebacker is Devin Johnson, who was a defensive lineman last year. There has been some adjustment time there, but he is a big physical kid and he is doing fine. We've got Bobby (Wagner) back and we've got Kyle (Gallagher) back, who played a lot of minutes last year and we've got Reuben (Willis) who has improved tremendously from the last game last year to now and has probably had the biggest improvement out of anybody on this team, mentally," Clune said.
Clune also mentioned that Junior Keiaho will be moving to stud linebacker as well as continuing to work at defensive end, where he originally has played in the past.
"He's got really good football smarts. He'll do a bunch of different things and contribute in a lot of different ways," Clune said about Keiaho.
It was evident that changes were going to happen on the defensive side of the ball this year, and the coaches have come up with some plans to make that happen. Utah State defensive coordinator Bill Busch has a very specific plan for the linebackers.
"We wanted to get some bigger bodies in there; when you play against the Boise's and Fresno's they will bang you around pretty good," Busch said.
A lot of the linebackers you will see on the field for the 2010 version of the Aggies are defensive lineman converted to linebackers. Also a standout from last year's linebacker core, Wagner will move from inside to outside linebacker. Last season, Wagner led not only Utah State, but the Western Athletic Conference in tackles, making 115 stops, the second-most for an Aggie sophomore in school history. Wagner also led the team and ranked tied for 13th in the WAC with eight tackles for loss.
"It kind of opens thing up for me a little bit," Wagner said of his shift to the outside. "At inside linebacker, I have a lot of linemen coming at me really fast and at outside linebacker, I'm feeling pretty loose and not as many linemen are coming to attack me."
Spring practice is about getting things prepared for the fall season, and it is also a good place for players to compete for positions and show the coaches what they can do and what they've been working on. With a lot of new faces at linebacker, it has created a lot of depth and competition at the position. It brings out the best in competitive players like Keiaho, who tied for the team lead with three sacks last year amongst his 36 tackles, which ranked tied for sixth overall and most among the defensive linemen.
"I like it. I think it's much better with competition. It means everyone is going to battle to see who comes out the best and that just makes our team better. The new guys have come in and they compliment us well," Keiaho acknowledged about the depth at linebacker.
For some players, these last two weeks mark the first ever spring practice at Utah State. Johnson is a junior-college transfer, joining the team in the summer before fall camp opened in August, and is loving the atmosphere during the spring, amidst all the changes he's going through entering his senior season.
"It's been difficult at times in learning some of the new plays, but other than that I'm getting the basics down. I'm starting to adjust to it," Johnson said of his change in position after posting 20 tackles with three and a half tackles for loss last year as a defensive end. "My expectations have been really high, and now that I'm here it's exactly what I thought it'd be and much better actually. Coach Andersen is the best coach I have ever had. He's given me a chance and I'm really happy about that."
Overall, the expectations are much higher among all the coaches and players, and with Andersen starting his second season with the Aggies, the players are moving with more confidence for many reasons. Keiaho likes the idea of knowing most of the plays.
"We're moving fast and we've progressed a lot from last year. We know our plays really well and we're familiar with the defense. We know what we need to do and we come in and try to execute and make plays," Keiaho said.
Johnson, Keiaho and Wagner are three of the Aggies' 45 returning letterwinners (21 offense, 22 defense, two special teams), including 19 starters (eight offense, nine defense, two special teams), from last season's 4-8 squad.
Aggie fans that are continuing to hope for a better season can find solace in the words and attitudes of players like Wagner.
"I'm just trying to do whatever it takes to make this team better," Wagner said. "I'm just trying to come and help people get more excited to come out to the games and show them that we're improving and show them that we're about to be a top team in this conference."
The Aggies are in their second week of spring practice, which culminates with the annual Blue-White Spring Game on Saturday, April 24 at 2 p.m. at Romney Stadium.
Utah State has six home games in 2010, including a nationally-televised game on the ESPN network for the second-straight season, as the USU-BYU game on Friday, Oct. 1 will be televised by either ESPN or ESPN2.
Utah State football season ticket renewal applications have been mailed out. Fans can also renew online 24 hours a day at www.UtahStateAggies.com and clicking on the "buy/renew tickets" under the "tickets" drop down menu.
For more ticket information, contact the USU Ticket Office at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, or by phone by calling 1-888-USTATE-1 or (435) 797-0305.