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Communication key for Aggies' offensive line

Published August 9, 2014 2:50 pm

USU football • Five starters are gone from last year's unit.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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 • Kevin Whimpey's explanation for why he was the only offensive lineman to grow a beard in the offseason was that the rest of the linemen were too young to do so.

Was he joking? Maybe, and maybe not. No doubt about it, the offensive line is one of the youngest and most inexperienced positions on Utah State's team this season.

Gone are five players who started at least five games in 2013, including all-Mountain West honorees Tyler Larsen, Jamie Markosian and Eric Schultz.

In their place are … well, the Aggies aren't quite sure yet who will be starting alongside Whimpey, the senior left tackle.

Seniors Joe Summers, Bryce Walker and Bill Vavau have combined for playing time in only 28 games in their careers and are among those competing for starting roles. The Aggies also have junior Taani Fisilau and sophomore Jake Simonich returning while sophomores Austin Stephens and Austin Albrecht are others getting some looks.

Utah State coach Matt Wells said he isn't so much worried about the offensive line's talent, but the communication.

"You have one little breakdown and things can go south in a hurry," he said. "We need to work on that communication so we don't have those breakdowns."

Simonich said the offensive line has worked hard on that communication in the summer after spring football revealed it to be a weakness.

"We noticed in the spring our communication needed to get better so we all put an emphasis on that," he said. "It's essential that we be together."

Last year the Aggies' offensive line stepped up and played well in the absence of quarterback Chuckie Keeton. Wells said it's now time for Keeton to help out the offensive line.

"His leadership and guidance is going to be key," Wells said. "He's a very smart player and he can help them."

However, Whimpey said the offensive line should be able to stand on its own.

Whimpey, an honors candidate who had 35 knockdowns last year, made sure his teammates worked hard in the summer.

"He was always on our a—," Simonich said. "He made a huge impact on this team. I call him 'Grandpa Kevin,' because he has been around so long."

Whimpey gave the youngsters' work his approval.

"With Chuckie back we know we can count on him in every game and that is going to take some of the pressure off the offensive line," he said. "But our workouts have been good too. The guys who needed to lose weight lost body fat, and the guys who needed to gain weight did. I feel like we've gotten stronger as a unit, hands down."

But what happens when the Aggies go into Tennessee's Neyland Stadium, where most of the 102,455 in attendance will be screaming their heads off trying to rattle the Aggies? How will that communication work then?

Whimpey believes extra preparation will make up for youth.

"We've been watching film since January," he said. "We couldn't be more ready. We've talked a lot about our formations against what their defense presents and I'm confident we are going to be ready."

lwodraska@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lyawodraska