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Utah State football: Spring practice begins for Aggies

Published March 4, 2014 1:44 pm

USU football • Coach lauds team's intensity but calls youthful Ags "a work in progress."
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Logan •Â It's been brewing for a while. Years actually.

Receiver Brandon Swindall and cornerback Rashard Stewart have been practice rivals for a few seasons now. That one-on-one battle was renewed Tuesday morning, as the two got to scrapping with the rest of the Utah State squad in the start of spring practices in the team's indoor complex.

At least once, Stewart broke up a pass to Swindall in traffic, earning him a side bump from defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. Swindall is expecting that intensity all the way through April, and the competition has taken on a new fervor now with both in the mix for a lot more playing time come fall.

"That's what we talked about after the bowl game," Swindall said. "We wanted to work out — me, one of the best receivers, and him, the top corner. So it's best on best."

Less than 70 days removed from a 2013 Poinsettia Bowl win, the Aggies set out in the program's latest chapter. Starting at 6 a.m., the team was getting its first official unpadded practice, giving coach Matt Wells a strong handle on what he'll have to work with in his second season at the helm.

The energy was good, he said, but there's work to do.

"I think we're really good in some spots and really skilled and youthful in others," he said. "It's a work in progress. It's fun to be back out here. Less than 70 days after the Poinsettia Bowl, we're back here and these guys are excited."

The Aggies return 15 total starters, but only 11 are on offense and defense, and two of the most prominent — quarterback Chuckie Keeton and running back Joe Hill — are limited as they recover from injury.

That leaves a lot of roles up for grabs for up-and-comers who can seize the opportunity a few months away from the start of the season. Without pads on Tuesday, the spotlight was at the skill positions and in coverage.

Quarterback Darell Garretson is one of those who will benefit from the opportunities afforded this spring. He completed a few passes in 11-on-11 drills at the tail end of practice, but also threw a pick-six to Zach Vigil that reminded him he can still progress.

"Biggest goals are just to get better and more fluid with the offense," he said. "Get it inside and out, just really get it down like Chuckie has it down."

Wells and a few players mentioned verbal and non-verbal communication as areas needing work. Younger players will need to work on their comprehension and understanding of drills and signals as spring develops. The time to iron out mental kinks is at hand, long before the team puts on the pads for real. —

USU starts spring practice

Highlights from Aggies' Tuesday morning practice:

Zach Vigil • Returns an interception for a touchdown.

Braelon Roberts • Makes a long catch in traffic.

Rashard Stewart •Â Gets a pass breakup in 11-on-11s