Utah State football: Offensive line chemistry coming together
USU football team has just one returning player; coach says linemen need to communicate better.
Published: April 3, 2014 10:26PM
Updated: April 3, 2014 10:21PM

Logan • Meeting room time was playtime for Bill Vavau last year. The 6-foot-4, 330-pound guard admits he may have not been as attentive as he should have been.

Focus — that’s what he’s been working on this year.

“Before, in the meetings, I was just playing around, and now I’m like, ‘Let’s go,’” he said. “I always watched the guys before me. I didn’t get the offense, that’s why I didn’t play more. This year, I get it completely.”

Plugging in as a starting guard this spring, Vavau is one of the new faces on a retooled offensive line. The group is a huge developmental priority for the Aggies, who featured five returning starters for the first half of the year last season and saw three linemen earn all-Mountain West honors. Only Kevin Whimpey returns as one of the experienced hands on the line. Vavau is one of those trying to prove he belongs with the top unit after rotating in during a handful of games last year.

Coach Matt Wells said Tuesday he likes where things are headed with the new group.

“Work in progress,” Wells said. “I’m pleasantly surprised still. I’m happy with them. They need to keep improving daily with communication. That’s such a group that one individual’s performance is drastically affecting the performance of the guy next to him.”

One benefit for Utah State is at least two of the projected starters have a lot of experience together: Vavau and Joe Summers. The duo played guard and center respectively at Snow College, and that’s helped them be more aware of one another as they work through schemes and concepts. It’s just like the old days, Vavau said.

“That combination is deadly every time,” he said. “From the first level to the second level to the third level — we just want to dominate everybody.”

Summers has the biggest shoes to fill, as All-American center Tyler Larsen was a fixture on the line for four seasons. But the Bear River grad said he hasn’t worked himself up to much trying to emulate Larsen, because he knows Larsen is “impossible to replace.”

What he’s concerned himself with is his own weaknesses.

“I definitely need to improve my pad level,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing, through flexibility and strength, and once I do that, it will improve my technique in the run game. That’s the big thing: improving pad level and just finishing blocks.”

With only a few padded practice sessions remaining this spring, the line has work to do in both pass protection and run schemes. Under the watchful eyes of line coach Mark Weber and graduate assistant Cole Popovich, the improvement has been gradual but definitely happening.

Most of the Aggies’ front seven returns, and the defense hasn’t been easy on the newcomers on the line. But leaning on each other, the linemen are gaining ground in that daily battle.