Logan • D.J. Tialavea made his name as a pass-blocking tight end. He calls himself a block-first guy.
Tell that to the defenders he barreled over in Utah State’s practice Wednesday after making a handful of catches. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 266 pounds, the bulky senior is quite a load to wrap up, even without pads.
Tialavea isn’t changing his identity, but he’s ready to step up in the Aggies’ receiving game after the graduation of all-WAC honorable mention Kellen Bartlett. That might not mean grabbing 20- to 30-yard bombs, but Tialavea wants to become more of a chain-mover.
“I’m not really a deep guy, but more of a reliable source in the middle,” Tialavea said. “On short yardage plays, I want the team to trust me. When we get in those third-down situations, I want to help the team out.”
The big tight end who converted from defensive lineman was hampered by injuries for parts of last season. He was hoping for more of a splash last season, but he hopes this year is when he becomes more of an impact player.
He spent some extra time catching a few passes Wednesday, and he said his hands have improved. He made some solid catches in practice drills but acknowledged he has some work left to do.
“I’ve got to use my size better, which is something still working on,” he said. “I’m never going to be super fast, so I’ve got to use what God gave me: my body. I’ve got to go up and catch the ball and make sure it’s secure.”
In the mix at tight end is junior Keegan Andersen, who also has been more of a blocking end at this point. The two have caught a combined 16 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Jefferson Court and Derek Keller boast less experience, but Tialavea said he felt the group is coming along well.
Nielsen showing well on the line
Jordan Nielsen will be one to watch Thursday.
No pads meant fewer fireworks in the trenches during Wednesday’s practice, but the returning all-WAC pass rusher looked fierce in position drills. Nielsen was tough to block in the one-on-one matchups.
His 6-foot-5 height helped him block two kicks last season, but Nielsen said the biggest change this offseason has been his mass. He’s gained about 15 pounds with his workout regimen, which he hopes can give him a better burst.
“We’re working on a lot of shooting and exploding out of the hips — our whole D line worked on it a lot,” he said. “We feel like we’re doing pretty good. We have pretty good depth, and everybody’s working hard.”
Coach Matt Wells called the defensive line one of the highlights of Wednesday’s practice, but he added that he was waiting on the padded practices to judge the pass rushing aspects of his defense.
The secondary again had multiple interceptions, with Cameron Sanders and Jesus Valero getting picks. … Joe Hill took snaps with the first-team offense, but Kelvin Lee also had a few looks. … Craig Harrison got most of the second-team snaps Wednesday, with Jeff Manning taking third-team snaps. Wells said he was hoping for some improvement from the quarterback unit but that it still was early in the process.
Thursday’s practice schedule
O 3:15 to 5:15 p.m.
Romney Stadium (Laub Complex in case of inclement weather)
• First padded practice
• Open to the public