Ogden • On the first day of Weber State football practice, head coach Jay Hill could reasonably envision a continuous two-season improvement rate, considering how many returners the Wildcats have for the 2016 season.
Coming off a 6-5 record, Weber State brings back 17 starters and plenty of experienced depth in spots such as the offensive skill positions.
Hill noted that the majority of the Wildcats' losses took place in the first half of the season.
"We had a couple of times last year where things went bad for us early and we didn't respond fast enough, but most of those games were early in the year," Hill said. "Late in the year, we had one go south on us against NAU [Northern Arizona], but we had one of the best halves — in the second half — all year."
Weber State dropped one other game in the second half of the season, a 14-13 loss to Eastern Washington.
"Then we finished, with the last 14 quarters of the season, playing great football," he added. "I've seen this team get tougher, more mature and they've really progressed."
WSU starts this season with a Thursday night game at Utah State on September 1.
All four of the Wildcats' leading ground rushers from last year, including quarterback Jadrian Clark, return for another season.
"We have four running backs right now who have gone for over a hundred yards in a game," said Hill, whose runners include junior Eric Wilkes and sophomore Treshawn Garrett. "Those two guys are playing exceptionally well. And Zach Smith last year didn't play and he was our leading rusher the year before. And Emmanuel Pooler, on our last game of the year, who played the best."
Clark, who threw for 1,875 yards and ran for 362 more, is now a senior for Weber. Statistically, the top seven targets for Clark from last season have also returned and that made the first step of Friday's practice fairly smooth.
"Being able to run a lot of our deeper-in-the-playbook plays, right off the bat, is huge," Clark said. "We were able to install five, six pass plays right away. Last year, we started out with two or three."
On defense, Weber State also returns four of its five top tacklers, including junior Emmett Tela, who graduated from Timpview High. In '15, Tela made 27 solo tackles and assisted on 45 more.
"We got closer, even during spring ball, than ever before," Tela said. "I feel real confident."
Hill noted that it was just Day One, however.
"The ones looked really good, the twos were okay and the threes have a long way to go," Hill said. "For practice one, that's the way it should be, but we've got to get some of the twos and threes to step up and add some depth to what we're doing."