What to watch for in Utah State football's first spring scrimmage
Logan • It's as close as you get to real football in March.
Utah State will scrimmage for the first time tomorrow, running about 100 plays on Friday afternoon in an effort to see how the returning roster is coming along in the second week of spring practice. Like the Aggies did last year, they'll run situational drills starting anywhere from the offense's 1-yardline to the defense's 12.
A day ahead of the first big test with some fans in the stands, coach Matt Wells felt like the Thursday competition was a little one sided. The first group on defense made some solid stands in full team drills, including noticeable improvement in the red zone.
"I think the give and take was all the defense giving them a hard time, and I think they took everything from them," he said. "So that was a complete win by the defense. Offensively, you've got to understand situational football. You've got to hold on to the football, take care of the football better if you're going to give yourself a chance to win."
The Utah State coaching staff is looking for signs of life at all positions: Wells and company want the all-Mountain West to prove that label, while players who want starting roles to assume them.
Here's just a few things to watch for if you make it out to Romney Stadium tomorrow:
RUNNINGBACK BATTLE • A lot of different backs have been getting carries, with no one monumentally ahead of any other. Rashard Hall and Kennedy Williams have each had some highlights in full pads, Hall with his power and strong shifts, and Williams with his elusiveness and speed. Kelvin Lee and Karris Johnson also want to fight their way into the mix. All four should get carries on Friday, and if one breaks out, that could start some separation and maybe carry momentum for a guy looking to be the change-of-pace back to Joe Hill.
WIDEOUT DEPTH • While Brandon Swindall, Ronald Butler and Jojo Natson all return with experience and appear to be the top options thus far, some of the interesting action could come down the depth chart. Alex Wheat continued his spring trend of making some tough, contested catches, including a red zone touchdown. Hayden Weichers hasn't seemed to drop a lot of passes. Braelon Roberts has gotten a few attaboys out of spring. It'll be worth watching to see if the practice standouts bring it for the scrimmage situations.
OFFENSIVE LINE COHESION • There's not really surprises at the moment: The spring depth chart seems to be holding true at the moment with Kevin Whimpey, Taani Fisilau, Joe Summers, Bill Vavau and Jake Simonich each manning a first-string spot in most reps. Is that group going to be the one this fall? It comes down to how well they play together, aside from their individual match-ups. Are they missing assignments? Are they communicating well? The performance of the offense in the run game and pass protection will tell the story of the offensive line's progress. Thursday's offensive struggles shows that this group has work to do, and mistakes will magnify in scrimmaging.
RUSHING THE PASSER • Arguably, getting sacks should be one of the defense's greatest strengths on Friday. Just how good are they? Although the quarterbacks will have non-contact jerseys for the scrimmage, the Aggies should show their strength in this area. Look for B.J. Larsen, Jordan Nielsen and Kyler Fackrell to get in the backfield. Fackrell did this all last spring, and he's said he wants to make it even more of a strength this year. New signee John Taylor has also been getting a lot of reps here, so Utah State fans can see him for the first time - his hair makes him look like Connor Williams with a helmet on, but can he make that kind of impact?
SECONDARY IN THE SPOTLIGHT • Today's story was on the opportunity in the secondary, which is also an implication that there isn't much nailed down. The top-line defensive backfield is still trying to prove itself, with Brian Suite and Rashard Stewart seeming to be the clear standouts thus far. Daniel Gray and Frankie Sutera still want to lock down big roles this fall. Down the depth chart, especially at safety, there's Myron Turner, Marwin Evans and Devin Centers - any of whom could leap in if Brian Suite has any lingering shoulder issues. Perhaps a playmaker emerges from there? And can a corner have any luck in the nickel? It's a bit of a hole right now. Expect the coaching staff to fully test the leakiness of this retooled backfield.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon