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USU football: Utah State fall camp linebackers preview

Utah State’s football team held its fourth practice of the 2017 season Tuesday afternoon, and the linebacker position is garnering more and more attention each day with the play of its veterans and newcomers.

“We made an emphasis in recruiting to get more athletic, and we needed more depth,” said co-defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach Kendrick Shaver. “Last year, we were hurting at depth. So, we went out and got more depth and more athletic, because we have to do a better job rushing the passer, and we have some guys we think that can do that.”

Utah State returns seven letterwinners from last season and eight linebackers total who have combined to play in 106 games with 21 starts.

In all, Utah State returns 13 linebackers who were members of the program during the 2016 season, including two starters in senior Alex Huerta and junior Derek Larsen. USU also welcomes back five other letterwinners in senior Patrick Lee Miranda, junior Chase Christiansen, as well as sophomores Dalton Baker, Justus Te’i and Mason Tobeck.

“I think as camp has gone on, the competitiveness has really gone up,” said Christiansen. “It’s a big emphasis for us to elevate our defense to the level that it was in the years of 2013 and 2014. As we focus in on stopping the run and playing more assignment defense, it’s important for us to keep our intensity up as well. We have competitions with the offense to try to increase the intensity, and it’s been doing great things for us. A lot of the people here really care a lot about winning, and we have a good time, we celebrate and we really are enjoying the success of ourselves and our teammates.”

Huerta has the most returning game experience for Utah State as he has played in 24 contests with seven starts, while Larsen has appeared in 21 games with seven starts. Christiansen has played in 13 games and made two starts, junior Chasen Andersen, who missed last season due to injury, has appeared in 13 games. Te’i has played in 12 games with four starts, while Tobeck and Baker have each seen action in eight games with Tobeck making one start and Miranda appeared in seven games a year ago.

Newcomers who have opened eyes and drawn praise during the first week of fall camp include three junior college transfers in Louy Compton, Ofa Latu and Suli Tamaivena; one four-year transfer in sophomore Sialao Mobley; along with incoming freshmen Jamaal Evans and Maika Magalei.

“We added a lot of new faces to the linebacker room and there’s a lot of athleticism,” said Christiansen. “We’re really pushing each other to understand the defense better and make more plays. The new guys have come in and pushed the guys who have been here awhile like me and (Alex) Huerta to be better at what we’re doing, as well as help teach them. I think having them there to help them learn and to push you in a competition setting has been doing great things for the linebacker corps as a whole.”

Tuesday was the fourth of 24 practices for the Aggies leading up to their season-opening game at No. 10 Wisconsin on Friday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m. MT.

Doug Hoffman is the associate athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.