LOGAN, Utah - by Megan Allen, USU Athletic Media Relations
In his second year at Utah State's defensive coordinator, Todd Orlando has had some time to adjust and learn the ins and outs of the program. The defense is continually a strength for the Aggies, as they ended the 2013 season ranked among the top 35 teams in the nation in 10 different statistical categories, including ranking seventh in the nation in scoring defense allowing just 17.1 points per game.
As fall camp draws to a close, Orlando and the defensive staff are working to fill in the gaps left by graduated players and prepare for the impending 2014season. We met with him to discuss camp and the work going in on the defensive side of the ball.
Overall, how has fall camp been for the defense? "It's been good. We had some question marks coming into it, but a lot of guys stepped up. One of our biggest deals coming into the spring and fall was to establish depth and starters. I think we've achieved that goal and we feel good."
Of the newcomers, who has stood out to you or shown the most promise at this point of camp? "Cornerback Jalen Davis is a guy that has played extremely well. Cornerback B.J. (Bryant) Hayes is another guy that has impressed us going into the season. Linebacker LT Filiaga has done a really good job. Those are the newcomers that have impressed me the most."
Has there been a specific area of focus on the defensive side of the ball during fall camp?
"Not really. We're just learning what everyone can do well because it's such a different team. When you lose seven guys who are playing professional football at this point, it's hard to replace them. You know what they can do well. Some of these guys who are new starters or who are getting more reps than last year are just trying to adapt to the system into what their strengths are. That's the biggest thing fall camp does for us. We can say, `This is what this guy does extremely well and this is what we have to run with.' We can stay away from some of the things that could get them in trouble on the field. I'm continuing to learn that and will continue through the whole year."
One of the big question marks for fans has been the cornerback group. How are they progressing and developing? "Coach (Kendrick) Shaver has done a great job. He's developed the guys, some of them in just a short amount of time. We've had guys coming in the last couple weeks. The thing I love about that group is that they are very competitive. They all know what's on the line and they all go out to try and get it every day. That's all you can ask for. There are a lot of them, so we have to make decisions as we go into this week as to who we're going to travel with. I've been impressed by them. Every day they show up and continue to get better."
You have a young, but relatively experienced defensive line. What have you seen from them and what can we expect to see this fall? "At the defensive end position, we know what B.J. (Larsen) can do with it. He and Jordan (Nielsen) are legitimate guys. I've been impressed with some of the guys underneath them, guys like Siua (Taufa), John (Taylor) and Ricky (Ali'ifua). At the nose guard position, they understand. You could say they are 1A and 1B. It could be a coin toss between Elvis (Kamana-Matagi) and Travis (Seefeldt). I've been super impressed with those two guys. They go about it every day and are very professional. I'm very happy about that part. We just need to continue to have depth. We know we're going to run into teams that have a fast-pace offense and collectively as a group we're going to have to play eight guys in a game. We just have to continue to develop and work with the guys who are six, seven and eight."
The linebacker corps is always a dominating area of the Aggie defense. How are they looking as we head into the season? "Having LT (Filiaga) come into the program and pick up the packages as fast as he has has been good. He's very much respected by the Vigil brothers and (Kyler) Fackrell. He gives us a fourth guy in that rotation with Alex (Huerta) getting hurt. We're very happy to have him. He really solidifies that group and gives us four legitimate guys."
How have the additions to the defensive staff in linebackers coach Joe Lorig and defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe fit into and benefited the defense? "Each of them brings a dynamic that's a little bit different in terms of the guys that have been here in the past. Joe is an expert at a lot of stuff. He's seen it. Ikaika is an expert at what he does. They bring in these little wrinkles of things that can make it better without going outside of what we do schematically. From our standpoint, it's just getting caught up on all the nuances and chucks that go along with the wrinkles. If you haven't been in these packages long, there's a learning curve. That will come in time. Our meetings are super-productive. The one thing that these guys are is great teachers. Their guys play hard for them. To me, outside of the recruiting part, that's what a good coach does."
Is there anything from last season that you are specifically hoping to see improve in 2014? "It's difficult to answer that because we're so much different. We lost 11 guys that had significant playing time. It's hard to look back and say we should have done this and this. There are always things schematically. We study ourselves after each game to find out what people are going after and have answers for. It's just continuing to learn. Everyday these kids will change athletically from what Dave Scholz does with them in the weight room to how they get in terms of reading their keys. Once you find out what they're really good at, you start to make calls and things that fit what they can do. That's every year. You just try to study your personnel and find what they can do well. This second year for myself, I'm trying to find out what good things are to do with Zach Vigil, with Nick Vigil, with Kyler Fackrell and and Brian Suite. You can go right down the line with it and find what they're comfortable with and making sure to stay away from what makes them uncomfortable. That's what I'm continuing to learn in year two."
What can Aggie fans expect from the Utah State defense this season? "Like I say all the time, there are three absolutes that we talk about as a defense. Number one is to be organized. Then I want us to be disciplined and chase the ball. If we can do those three things, outside of reacting to plays, we've got a chance. That's the most important part we're trying to preach."
Utah State will open the 2014 season on Sunday, Aug. 31 at Tennessee and plays its first home game the following weekend against Idaho State on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 6 p.m. USU's first Mountain West game will be at home against Air Force on Saturday, Oct. 11 and the Aggies conclude the regular season at MW foe Boise State on Saturday, Nov. 29. The Mountain West Championship game will be held on Saturday, Dec. 6 at the home stadium of the divisional champion with the highest College Football Playoff Committee ranking.
Fans can follow the Aggie football program at twitter.com/USUFootball or on Facebook at Utah State Football, as well as on Instagram at instagram.com/USUFootball. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program at twitter.com/USUAthletics or on Facebook at Utah State University Athletics.
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