Utah State football: Linebackers have high expectations
Logan • In Joe Lorig's case, "into the fire" may not be the appropriate metaphor.
After his first morning practice at Romney Stadium in freezing temperatures, the Aggies' new linebackers coach who came from Arizona State found a fire more appealing as he trotted off the field.
"It's cold this morning," he said. "The guys tell me this is not bad, but it's pretty cold to me. But I'm excited. We had a good practice today."
In one aspect, the metaphor holds: Much is expected from the linebacking corps, which has led Utah State as one of the top statistical defenses in the country each of the past two seasons. And while the group returns plenty of talent with starting experience, roles must be solidified and improvement is still needed in areas.
There won't be any dramatic overhauls: With defensive coordinator Todd Orlando leading the show for a second year, Utah State will stick with what works. But the linebackers, the most experienced group on the defense, will need to do what they did last year plus more.
Early in spring, Matt Wells said Lorig and his backers are doing what needs to be done.
"He's jumped in with two feet," Wells said of Lorig. "He's been willing to learn, eager to learn and helped put his little spin on it. I think it's been a great move. Those guys are learning from him. He's a really great teacher. He's very clear, consise, and he brings a lot to our staff room."
The Aggies are replacing all-conference standout Jake Doughty with Nick Vigil, who is moving inside to play next to his brother Zach Vigil. Lorig said he likes the tandem, but Nick said he's still working to meet the demands of his new position.
As part of that, he's tried to get better at his footwork and fundamentals. The Aggies want him to be as sure a tackling machine as Doughty was, finishing as one of the top tacklers in the nation last year.
Vigil went in to the spring knowing he had big shoes to fill.
"It's a pretty cool position, but it's a little different," he said. "When you're outside, you're in space a little more. When you're inside, you're banging it up a little more with the big guys. Gotta be a little stronger, a little tougher in there."
On the outside, the Aggies have one of their best returning players in Kyler Fackrell. But even the improving junior has high standards for himself. One of them is adding weight. Another is improving his pass rush. Fackrell had five sacks last season. He thinks he can do better.
"I'm not where I think I should be," he said. "Pass rush is a big thing for me right now because I don't have a lot of time to work on it in practice. But that's something that I need to try to improve."
The words "relaxed" and "calm" came to the lips of Utah State's linebackers when describing their new coach. But one thing Lorig is not: complacent.
"Coming in with a clear lens, I don't have any biases for or against anybody," he said. "Maybe just coming in with a different perspective, and maybe some of the things we did well at Arizona State fit the wrinkles here. But for the most part, this has been a top 10 defense for a while. We don't need to change much, we just need to be hungry, humble and not be complacent."
Top Aggie returners at linebacker
Zach Vigil, senior • 124 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 2 forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered
Kyler Fackrell, junior • 82 tackles, 13 TFL, 5 sacks, INT returned for TD
Nick Vigil, sophomore • 61 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL, INT
*Returning all-Mountain West honoree