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Utah State depth could get chance to shine against Weber State

Published September 12, 2013 2:16 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Even Nick Vigil's toughest critic has been impressed so far.

The freshman linebacker has been critical on special teams, and has even gotten reps at middle linebacker. And his big brother, junior Zach Vigil, likes what he sees.

"He's a special player, and he has a really bright future," Zach Vigil said. "On his pass rush, he gets off the line really quick, so that's strong. But to me his greatest asset is speed and vision."

Coach Matt Wells and the Aggies have been diplomatic this week, suggesting that he expects a tough challenge from Weber State. But similar to the Air Force game, there's a good chance Nick Vigil and a host of other reserves see extended time - especially if they take a lead close to what Utah did last week.

Ahead of a stretch of big games, the Aggies will hope to avoid injury and lead quickly against the FCS Wildcats. It seems less likely that second- or third-team guys could get reps against the likes of USC, San Jose State, BYU or Boise State, so they'll have a chance to make an impression Saturday.

Of course, some of those who could play Saturday have already made an impression. Here's a few guys who might get minutes against Weber State who Wells said he has already seen good things from (and note that the analysis is my own, though Wells cited each of the players):

RB Robert Marshall • The big-bodied, physical back got some time to shine on Saturday, grinding down Air Force with his punishing style of running. He's not particularly elusive, but he seems to be the kind of back that can wear out a defense late in games. He's only averaging 3.8 yards per carry, but when there's three yards to the end zone, that talent can be useful.

WR Ronald Butler • One catch for 23 yards and a touchdown. Not a bad start for the junior college receiver who came in with some expectations. Utah State has benefitted so far from its veteran leaders who already know the offense, but Butler definitely has some speed and good hands. If he can put up some more numbers against Weber State, he might get targeted more often.

OL Jake Simonich • The 6-foot-5 freshman has been described as one of the hardest workers on the line by his teammates, and he's being groomed to take over the right tackle position next year. When the line switched out against Air Force, they struggled at times, but Simonich adjusted well. Wells, for good measure, also cited Sini Tauauve'a as another player who did well on the line.

OL Bill Vavau • The Aggies like this Snow College lineman's versatility most of all, and he got more than 30 snaps against Air Force. With his size and strength, Vavau is already getting some extra looks, and Wells has been citing him for great performances since camp.

TE Keegan Andersen • In fall camp, Andersen was able to make tough catches in the middle of the field. On Saturday, he scored his first touchdown, and also moved the chains on a drive. Andersen may be the best overall pass-catching tight end the Aggies have, with no disrespect to D.J. Tialavea, and he is making some small strides to take over some of the pass-catching role that Kellen Bartlett left behind.

DL Ricky Ali'ifua • Coming off his mission, Ali'ifua seems to be a steal. He played some snaps against Utah, but Air Force allowed him to shine. He's athletic, can take on an extra blocker, moves to the ball well and could have room to grow. He had a tackle for a loss last week. He's technically listed at nose guard, but seems to have some versatility up front.

CB Jeremy Morris • Wells cited his performance on special teams as laudable this week. Morris still has work to do in coverage, but he's athletic and was in the mix for more first-team reps this fall. He'll probably have some reps against Weber State to work a bit on his coverage.

Who are some of those who could also step up this weekend? Some familiar names in the mix: Craig Harrison, Kelvin Lee, Shaan Johnson, Cam Sanders, Tavaris McMillan. Really, anyone on the depth chart could get a chance. The coaching staff will be watching, and possibly taking some notes for next year.

— Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon