Logan • The Aggies broke in some young talent on Tuesday, but also a new coach.
Utah State announced Tuesday morning that Ikaika Malloe, the special teams coordinator and defensive line coach at Portland State, has been hired to lead the Aggies' defensive line. And before the official announcement even went out, Malloe was in practice that morning working with his new group.
"I saw today exactly what I saw in the interview," Matt Wells said. "He's got a very different mix in that room. He's got three or four guys that have played a lot and have played really well, and he's got a couple guys that he has to develop. He's going to have a challenge on his hands, but it's a very talented room, too."
Malloe comes to Utah State after two years working for the Vikings. He helped Portland State hold seven teams under the century mark in rushing while coaching a pair of all-conference defensive tackles in 2013. He also has been the defensive coordinator at Yale and the special teams coordinator at Hawaii. He's previosu been a defensive line coach at UTEP and Western Illinois.
A native Hawaiian, Malloe was a graduate of Washington, where he played defensive back for the Huskies.
Malloe takes on a group with two defensive ends, B.J. Larsen and Jordan Nielsen, who have earned all-conference honors in their careers. He'll have to oversee the progress of newcomers such as Siua Taufa and John Taylor throughout the spring. His Polynesian background also makes him a factor in recruiting: The Aggies have stressed the importance of bringing in Polynesian players over the last several years, and Malloe cited the Polynesian community in Utah as one of the factors in coming to Logan.
"I can't wait to become part of the success of this defensive line, and I can't thank Coach (Frank) Maile enough for the job he's done and the players I will inherit," he said in the school release. "Hopefully, I can tweak things here and there that might continue the success of the defensive line."
Apparently he couldn't wait until the release even came out.
Also Tuesday, linebackers coach Joe Lorig had his first official spring practice with the Aggies. Linebacker Zach Vigil said the pairing has gone well.
"I like him. He's doing a good job for us," Vigil said. "He brings a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of knowledge to the table. He's different than coach [Kevin] Clune but in a good way."
As a former quarterback, Matt Wells takes a little extra to impress on the offensive side of the ball. The Aggies' coach came away from the first day wanting a little more consistency from his group. He was most frank about this with receivers: "I think our receivers had bright spots and lazy spots."
The Aggies lose a pair of senior receivers who have graduated, but Jojo Natson, Brandon Swindall and Ronald Butler are among the targets who have high expectations for the year. Each of them had their moments Tuesday, but will look to assert themselves more.
Some of their play, of course, was affected by the Aggies' defense, which had a good morning.
"They're going to be the same guys they were last year," quarterback Darell Garretson said. "They're going to be physical, hard-nosed, they're going to get to the ball and make stops. A lot of stops."
Although Garretson did throw a pick-six in the practice and Wells mentioned a few problems with center-quarterback exchange - which has a lot to do with replacing three-time all-conference center Tyler Larsen - his receivers said they could sense that the second-year quarterback has gained some extra edge in the two months since he last took the field.
"He's improved his confidence," Swindall said. "I like his confidence coming out, knowing that he's going to complete the pass every play, every snap. Controlling the offense, controlling the O-line, telling a receiver what he wants. He improved good mentally."
While the prospect of football without pads isn't the most exciting one, making sure those workouts are intense could be a critical piece of Utah State's success this fall.
The Aggies have a very back-heavy schedule with at least 10 games in a row to finish out the regular season. If they play in the Mountain West championship again, it would be 11 straight. That means the tail end of the year is likely going to flesh out with non-padded practices to pull back the physicality and wear-and-tear.
"Especially this year, late in the year, we're going to have to play 11 straight games or something like that," Vigil said. "We're going to have to learn how to practice without pads. We're going to be beat up at the end of next year, that's just how football goes. Obviously we can't wait to put on pads, because that's when you know whether people can play football or not."
Wells said he liked the energy of his group, but is seeking a little more urgency and comprehension from the younger players.
"Veterans know how to practice," he said. "The kids coming off redshirt years and maybe some guys coming off scout team don't know. They've got to learn. It's about practicing intense, understanding the drill, understanding the speed and the tempo of the drill, and understanding the objective, team or group, of the certain drill. They've just got to understand it better, and it's up to us as coaches to get them to do that."
The Chuckie Keeton watch is on. The Aggie senior-to-be was in practice Tuesday, wearing a red jersey and a helmet. But much of his time at the end of practice was spent watching.
That's unlikely to change soon, but Keeton is progressing after tearing his ACL last season. Wells said his star quarterback should get a chance to throw a bit more in the second week of spring practice.
"He'll be limited," Wells said. "He'll eventually work himself back in after spring break into some throwing drills. He's straight-ahead right now. His lateral stuff will start pretty soon with Coach [Dave] Scholz. We'll progress him as he's able."
Wells mentioned running back Joe Hill was on a similar timeline in his recovery.
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