Utah State football: Under Wells, Aggies look to answer questions in spring ball
New Utah State head coach Matt Wells has his coaching staff together. He signed a class of new recruits in February.
Here comes the real stuff.
Wells is preparing to preside over his first spring practice with the Aggies, getting back to the field as a team for the first time in months. A lot has changed, starting with Wells' job title and his surrounding cast. But for a Utah State team looking to follow up an 11-2 season with similar success in a new conference, the new chief isn't looking to change all that much.
"I think there will be some subtle changes, and that's very normal from year to year," he said. "I expect all the coaches to be on the same page philosophically, and we'll try to continue what we've done. I think I already identify with the culture here, and I think some of what we do already has my stamp on it."
Headed into the Mountain West, there's going to be a strong cast of returners to help the Aggies stay competitive. On offense and defense, 15 starters are back, and 10 all-WAC performers.
That includes quarterback Chuckie Keeton, one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in college football, and five offensive linemen to keep him on his feet. There's also depth in the front seven of the defense, with Kyler Fackrell and Zach Vigil coming back.
But the biggest thing to address in the spring are the "question mark" positions. Who replaces running back Kerwynn Williams? Who replaces receivers Matt Austin and Chuck Jacobs? Who takes over for cornerbacks Will Davis and Terrence Alston?
The summer depth chart will change as freshmen and JuCo players come into the program. The spring offers some returners who haven't played yet to resolve some of the question marks early.
"The first two days are easy with no pads, but we're going to be looking for the consistent guy," Wells said. "Who is going to show up every day? Who is going to play hard when we put the pads on? Those are the guys who will get time."
In key positions, Utah State is expecting some players to show they're ready to start. The running back spot has Joe Hill atop a very talented depth chart. Cornerback Devonta Glover-Wright is looking to lock down a spot by locking down receivers. Pass-catchers Travis Van Leeuwen and Jojo Natson will try to show they can be reliable targets.
The 15 practices will also mark a time when the Aggies can get comfortable with the new coaching staff. Of the nine coordinators and position coaches, five are recent additions.
New defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has watched film of his new players, but he's ready to see who stands out in real situations. Orlando and the other new arrivals give the Aggies a clean slate, but they also expect to see something special.
"When you have a whole offseason to get bigger, faster, stronger, you know there's guys out there who can do new things," Orlando said. "This is a chance to see who we have, where we're at. It's not set in stone, but you need guys who play winning football taking snaps for you."
It's not quite fall ball, but Utah State expects to grow and start to figure out who might fill leadership roles this fall.
"We've got some key areas with some depth and young guys," Wells said. "We want to throw them in the fire and see how they react. It's when backups and guys who haven't played a lot have a chance to earn their stripes and some confidence."